Tennessee bans access to lifesaving healthcare for transgender youth

Person holding a sign that says LGB With The T
Campaign for Southern Equality photo Unsplash by Karollyne Hubert
Person in a black coat holding a megaphone and a transgender flag
Campaign for Southern Equality photo Unsplash by Karollyne Hubert

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee signed into law a bill that prohibits transgender-related health care in Tennessee for people under the age of 18. The bill will take effect on July 1. However, legal groups, including the ACLU of Tennessee, have announced intentions to challenge the law in court. Young people receiving gender-affirming care prior to July 1 will be able to access care until March 31, 2024, according to a Campaign for Southern Equality press release.

So far, 35 bills introduced in 2023 U.S. state legislatures target life-saving healthcare for trans youth, according to the ACLU. New Jersey starts off the year with at least six anti-LGBTQ bills introduced in its legislative session. Of those bills, four are advancing, with one, S3076, being a gender-affirming care ban introduced to the legislature committee.

Now, Tennessee joins a handful of states in turning identical bills into law.

Earlier this week, Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves signed similar legislation that went into effect immediately. Additionally, South Dakota is the fourth state in the country, and the second state this legislative session, to ban gender- affirming care for trans youth. This comes after Utah passed a similar ban last month. Meanwhile, similar laws in Alabama and Arkansas are currently enjoined by federal courts.

Campaign for Southern Equality and Inclusion Tennessee, two Southern LGBTQ nonprofits fighting for equality, are taking action by building resource guides in preparation for the bill’s passage.

“The passage of this law cutting off trans young people’s access to life-saving care is devastating — but it won’t stop our community from holding and supporting each other,” said Ivy Hill, the director of gender justice for the Campaign for Southern Equality. “No law can stop the transgender community from charting our paths to thriving and living authentically.”

The Campaign for Southern Equality and Inclusion Tennessee has joined forces in facilitating rapid response emergency grants of $250. The grant will directly help those impacted by the new anti-trans healthcare ban. The two organizations, along with OUT Memphis, also hosted a “Trans Wellness Workshop” March 6 to share strategies for healing and resilience.

“To the youth of Tennessee and to the parents that support them, I want you to always remember that no matter what happens in life, you are amazing, you are beautiful, worthy of joy, happiness, and respect. Do not ever allow anyone to tear you down mentally or physically. Always demand respect and don’t accept anything less. The world is cruel, but you are stronger; you can overcome anything, just don’t ever give up or quit. Remember, there is always a rainbow after the storm,” said Molly Rose Quinn, executive director of OUT Memphis.

More than 84% of trans people in Tennessee said that having access to gender-affirming care was important to their overall well-being, according to the 2021 Survey of Southern LGBTQ Experiences by the Campaign for Southern Equality released this year. The survey had more than 4,000 LGBTQ participants who live in the South, including 381 people from Tennessee. The survey over-samples people in the 18-24 age range. The findings showed that a narrow number of participants used hormone replacement therapy (HRT) prior to the age of 18. Furthermore, only 5% reported using hormone blockers before legal age.

“Tennessee should be working to make this life-saving care more available to youth who need it, rather than banning it,” says the Campaign for Southern Equality.

Here are immediate steps from Campaign for Southern Equality for impacted communities to take before the bill goes into effect:
* See current provider as soon as possible to discuss current needs and options for continued care
* If you and your family have been planning to pursue gender-affirming care, try to initiate care before July 1, when the law takes effect
* Fill current prescriptions with regard to gender-affirming medical care
* To view a list of trans-affirming providers in Southern states, please visit the Trans in the South guide.