Sixth Circuit court allows Tennessee’s ban on trans youth healthcare to take effect

Person in a black coat holding a megaphone and a transgender flag
Campaign for Southern Equality photo Unsplash by Karollyne Hubert

For the first time, Federal Court allows for gender-affirming care ban to take effect

A panel of the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals has accepted a request by Tennessee’s attorney general to lift an injunction issued by a lower court blocking enforcement of the state’s ban on gender-affirming care for transgender youth. The law, originally set to take effect on July 1, will now take effect immediately.

In June 2023, a federal district court granted a request for a preliminary injunction against Public Chapter No. 1, in a lawsuit brought by Samantha and Brian Williams of Nashville and their 15-year-old daughter, as well as two other anonymous families and Dr. Susan N. Lacy. The law prohibits medical providers from providing gender-affirming health care to transgender youth and requires trans youth currently receiving gender-affirming care to end that care within nine months of the law’s effective date of July 1, 2023 — by March 31, 2024.

“This ruling is beyond disappointing and a heartbreaking development for thousands of transgender youth, their doctors, and their families,” The American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Tennessee, Lambda Legal and Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP said in a joint statement. “As we and our clients consider our next steps, we want all the transgender youth of Tennessee to know this fight is far from over and we will continue to challenge this law until it is permanently defeated and Tennessee is made a safer place to raise every family.”

This is the first federal court to allow a ban on gender-affirming care to take effect after courts have unanimously blocked similar bans in Arkansas, Alabama, Florida, Indiana and Kentucky. In June 2023, a federal court in Arkansas struck down that state’s ban on gender-affirming care in the first ruling on the merits of such a law, finding it violated the Equal Protection Clause, Due Process Clauses, and First Amendment of the United States Constitution.

“This irresponsible ruling from the Sixth Circuit is a ruling layered with assumptions about transgender lives and gender-affirming care,” Phil Cobucci, founder of Inclusion Tennessee said. “We continue to affirm that this law is unconstitutional and will ultimately be overturned — and Tennessee families deserve a more through examination of this outrageous policy.”

He continued, “SB 1 does not protect children, it only hurts our most vulnerable community members, causing only harm and pain. In the ruling itself, the judges emphasized that the findings were not final and that they were made under rushed circumstances, utilizing perceived facts from debates in states that have been hellbent on eradicating transgender people from our communities. Families and parents should have the ultimate decision of how to aid and support their children, with the support of their physicians and medical practitioners — not the government. All transgender people, no matter their age, should be able access the healthcare they deserve.”

This decision made on July 8 is a preliminary one. The panel of judges indicated that a full ruling on the injunction would come before September 30. 

“This is state-sanctioned cruelty against Tennessee families, who are only seeking health care for their kids as best they can,” Molly Rose Quinn, Executive Director of OUTMemphis said. 

“They’ve faced unrelenting confusion and heartbreak this year because they’re afraid the state will take away their ability to live free and happy lives in the Volunteer State.” 

She continued, “We are doubling down on navigation services and support for trans youth and their families. Don’t give up. OUTMemphis is behind you in this fight, and we won’t stop until Tennessee is a safe and affirming state.”