Justice Department files Federal lawsuit challenging Tennessee ban on gender-affirming health care

LGBT Health rainbow cross with doctors

The Department of Justice filed a federal lawsuit against the State of Tennessee challenging a recently enacted Senate bill, which denies necessary medical, gender affirming care for youth. The department is also asking the court to issue an immediate order to prevent the law from going into effect on July 1, 2023.

The complaint, filed back on Wednesday, April 26, challenges Senate Bill 1 (SB 1). It alleges that the bill’s ban on providing certain medically necessary care to transgender minors violates the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause. The bill was originally signed into law by Tennessee Governor Bill Lee months before.

“No person should be denied access to necessary medical care just because of their transgender status,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “The right to consider your health and medically-approved treatment options with your family and doctors is a right that everyone should have, including transgender children, who are especially vulnerable to serious risks of depression, anxiety, and suicide. The Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department will continue to aggressively challenge all forms of discrimination and unlawful barriers faced by the LGBTQI+ community.”

SB 1 makes it unlawful to provide or offer to provide certain types of medical care for transgender minors with diagnosed gender dysphoria. Its blanket ban also prohibits potential treatment options that have been recommended by major medical associations for consideration in limited circumstances in accordance with established and comprehensive guidelines and standards of care. Doctors, parents, and anyone else who provides or offers to provide the prohibited care faces the possibility of civil suits for 30 years and other sanctions.

“SB1 violates the constitutional rights of some of Tennessee’s most vulnerable citizens,” U.S. Attorney Henry Leventis for the Middle District of Tennessee said. “Left unchallenged, it would prohibit transgender children from receiving health care that their medical providers and their parents have determined to be medically necessary. In doing so, the law seeks to substitute the judgment of trained medical professionals and parents with that of elected officials and codifies discrimination against children who already face far too many obstacles.”

By denying only transgender youth access to these forms of medically necessary care while allowing non-transgender minors access to the same or similar procedures, the Justice Department claims SB 1 discriminates against transgender youth. In the complaint, the Department alleges that SB 1 violates the Equal Protection Clause by discriminating on the basis of both sex and transgender status.

Last year, Assistant Attorney General Clarke issued a letter to all state attorneys general reminding them of federal constitutional and statutory provisions that protect transgender youth against discrimination. Wednesday’s filings are the latest action by the Justice Department to combat LGBTQ discrimination, including unlawful restrictions on medical care for transgender youth.

“On April 26, the Department of Justice announced decisive action, recognizing what is at stake for transgender people’s lives in Tennessee and across the country. Rather than tackle any real issue at stake for Tennesseans, the legislature and Governor Lee decided to attack vulnerable youth who are at the mercy of politicians who think they know better than families, doctors, and the greater medical community,” Kelley Robinson, President of the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) said in a statement response to the lawsuit. “Gender-affirming care is life-saving care. Period. We appreciate that the Biden Administration is saying ‘enough is enough’ when it comes to attempts by Governor Lee and other Tennessee lawmakers to legislate transgender children out of existence.”