Editor’s note: This story includes discussion of suicide. If you or someone you know is considering suicide, resources are available to help. Please see the information below.
Since third grade, a 14-year-old transgender boy in Alachua County has known he wasn’t a girl.
At age 5, a transgender girl in Duval County grappled with suicidal ideation and wanted to hurt herself until she began living as a girl during elementary school.
As soon as she could walk and talk, an Orange County transgender girl preferred feminine clothes and toys, and an 11-year-old transgender girl in St. Johns County also expressed similar feelings at an early age.
These children and their mothers are suing the state of Florida over its ban on gender-affirming medical care for transgender minors, alleging it’s unconstitutional in a federal lawsuit filed Thursday against Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo and the Florida Boards of Medicine and Osteopathic Medicine.
Nikki Whiting, the Florida Department of Health’s communications director, in an email Friday said the agency doesn’t comment on ongoing lawsuits. But she also attached and referenced an animated GIF of Gov. Ron DeSantis, a U.S. flag dominating the background, that said: “If you want to waste your time on a stunt, that’s fine. But I’m not wasting my time on your stunt.”
Scot Ackerman, chairperson of the Board of Medicine, in an email said he couldn’t comment on pending litigation. Tiffany Sizemore Di Pietro, the Board of Osteopathic Medicine chairperson, couldn’t be reached for comment.
The anonymous plaintiffs, using pseudonyms, are four mothers and their transgender children, ages 9 to 14, who say in the 28-page lawsuit that the prohibition on treatment violates the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause because it singles out transgender minors and blocks them from obtaining medically necessary care for gender dysphoria. The restrictions also violate parents’ rights to make medical decisions for their children, the lawsuit alleges.
The families want a federal judge to stop the state from enforcing its ban and plan to request a preliminary injunction to halt the restrictions while the case continues. The families, who are seeking attorney’s fees, also want a judge to declare the ban a violation of the 14th Amendment.
“This ban puts me and other Florida parents in the nightmare position of not being able to help our child when they need us most,” the Alachua County mother said in a news release.
“Cruel and discriminatory”
The lawsuit, filed in the Northern District of Florida, says the ban will “irreparably harm” the plaintiffs.
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The transgender boy in Alachua County became distressed after starting puberty because of the mismatch between his body and gender identity. He experienced depression and was hospitalized after a self-harm incident, the lawsuit says. Now, doctors think he may need to start hormone therapy after turning 16. But he and his mother fear the state’s ban will block him from doing so.
“He was finally getting to a place where he felt hopeful, where being prescribed testosterone was on the horizon and he could see a future for himself in his own body,” his mother said in the news release. “That has been ripped away by this cruel and discriminatory rule.”
From an early age, the transgender girl in St. Johns County told her parents she was a girl, and she was diagnosed with gender dysphoria. Medical providers say she will likely need to start puberty blockers soon, but the state’s ban will prohibit her from getting treatment, the lawsuit says.
The parents of the Duval County child, now 9, worry she won’t be able to get the medical care she needs after puberty begins.
As she got older, “Freya Foe,” the 10-year-old Orange County transgender girl, became upset about being seen as a boy, according to the lawsuit. She was diagnosed with gender dysphoria. With her parents’ consent, she started taking puberty blockers. But the ban will stop her providers from prescribing hormones.
Bills would go a step further
The Board of Medicine’s ban took effect last week, and the osteopathic board’s restrictions will start Tuesday. They bar doctors from prescribing puberty blockers, hormone therapy and surgeries to treat new patients younger than 18 for gender dysphoria.
The ban on puberty blockers and hormones doesn’t apply to children who were on those medications prior to the restrictions taking effect. Previous patients will be allowed to continue care. But a House bill seeks to close this grandfather clause. The proposal would force youth to stop treatment after this year.
The House bill and a companion Senate proposal would also ensure the ban becomes state law. Doctors who violate the boards’ rules could lose their medical license. But under the bills, they would be charged with a third-degree felony.
The rules go against widely accepted and long-standing guidance published by the American Academy of Pediatrics; the Endocrine Society, a global medical organization; and the World Professional Association for Transgender Health, an international group focused on gender dysphoria treatment.
The medical boards began the rule-making process last August after the state health department, which Ladapo leads, urged them to do so. The agency argued that gender-affirming care was “experimental” and no evidence proved it was effective.
“I know everyone may not understand what it means to have a transgender child,” the mother of “Freya Foe” said in the news release. “But taking away our opportunity to help our daughter live a healthy and happy life is cruel and unfair.”
If you or someone you know is contemplating suicide, call or text 988 to reach the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline or chat with someone online at 988lifeline.org.
Times staff writer Romy Ellenbogen contributed to this report.