Federal judge stops enforcement of Florida’s transgender care bans for some families

“Gender identity is real,” the judge said. The move lets three parents treat their children as the legal challenge continues.
Three parents who sought an injunction against Florida's rules barring treatment for children with gender dysphoria were granted it by a judge on Tuesday.
Three parents who sought an injunction against Florida's rules barring treatment for children with gender dysphoria were granted it by a judge on Tuesday. [ RICARDO RAMIREZ BUXEDA | Orlando Sentinel ]
Published June 6|Updated June 8

A federal judge on Tuesday ordered Florida to stop enforcing its bans on gender-affirming care for transgender youth for three families challenging the rules.

The ruling stems from a lawsuit initially filed against the state medical boards and Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo by a group of Florida parents and their transgender children. Plaintiffs amended the lawsuit in May to seek an injunction on the bill Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law that placed the medical boards’ restrictions into statute.

Under the injunction, three of seven parents that challenged the ban and sought an injunction can access care for their transgender children while the overall legal challenge continues. In the injunction, U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle said that the parents are likely to win their overall case.

The plaintiffs alleged that the bans, which took effect in March and May, violated the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause because they singled out transgender children, blocking them from obtaining medically necessary care. The bans also denied parents’ rights to make medical decisions for their children, the lawsuit said.

The restrictions from the Florida boards of Medicine and Osteopathic Medicine barred doctors from prescribing puberty blockers, hormone therapies and surgeries to treat new patients younger than 18 for gender dysphoria, the distress one feels with the sex assigned at birth. Children already on the medications were grandfathered in and allowed to continue care.

The bill that DeSantis signed, SB 254, banned treatment for minors with gender dysphoria and required the boards to set emergency rules for how children already receiving care could continue to do so.

In a 44-page order issuing a preliminary injunction against the bans, Hinkle said that the “elephant in the room” should be noted — that “gender identity is real.” He said the “unspoken suggestion running just below the surface” that led to the adoption of the bans is that transgender identity is not real, and criticized some of the state’s experts for endorsing that idea.

“Any proponent of the challenged statute and rules should put up or shut up: do you acknowledge that there are individuals with actual gender identities opposite their natal sex, or do you not?” Hinkle wrote. “Dog whistles ought not be tolerated.”

Hinkle also said that the statute and rules make “the same decision for everybody, without considering any patient’s individual circumstances,” instead of allowing patients and their doctors to evaluate the risks and benefits of medical treatment.

In his ruling, he brushed off the state’s claim that professional organizations in support of medical treatment for gender dysphoria are biased.

“If ever a pot called a kettle black, it is here,” Hinkle said. “The statute and the rules were an exercise in politics, not good medicine.”

He mentioned that common experience confirms that there is bigotry directed at transgender individuals, referencing when Rep. Webster Barnaby, R-Deltona, in April called transgender members of the public at a committee meeting “mutants” and “demons.”

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A spokesperson for Gov. Ron DeSantis said that the injunction is limited in scope and besides the three children, the law remains in effect.

“We obviously disagree with the judge’s ruling,” said Jeremy Redfern, a spokesperson for DeSantis. “We will continue fighting against the rogue elements in the medical establishment that push ideology over evidence and protect against mutilating our kids.”

A spokesperson for the Department of Health declined to comment because of pending litigation.

The groups that brought the case, including Southern Legal Counsel, GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders, the National Center for Lesbian Rights and the Human Rights Campaign, issued a joint statement.

“Today’s ruling is a powerful affirmation of the humanity of transgender people, the efficacy of well-established, science-based medical care, and of the rights of parents to make informed healthcare decisions for their children,” the groups said. “The court recognized the profound harm the state of Florida is causing by forcing parents to watch their kids suffer rather than provide them with safe and effective care that will allow them to thrive. We are incredibly relieved that these Florida parents can continue to get healthcare for their children while we proceed to challenge these bans and eventually see them fully overturned.”

Though the injunction is limited to just the three parents, Simone Chriss, an attorney for Southern Legal Counsel, said “when a federal court deems a law or rule to be likely unconstitutional, the effect is that it should not be enforced by the state against anyone.”

She said her team is exploring options for broader relief, but said they feel grateful to the court for the “resounding affirmation of transgender lives and gender-affirming health care that is made clear in this order.”

The medical boards began the rule-making process last August after the Ladapo-led state health department urged them to do so. The agency argued that no evidence proved gender-affirming care was effective.

The bans conflicted with 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 anonymous plaintiffs, using pseudonyms, are seven mothers and their transgender children, ages 8 to 14, from Alachua, Duval, Lee, Miami-Dade, Orange and St. Johns counties.

In court papers, the St. Johns County mother said her husband is stationed in Florida as a senior officer in the U.S. Navy. The restrictions put them in “an impossible position,” she said, because they can’t move to another state “where the rights of parents are truly respected and upheld.”

Their 11-year-old transgender daughter would not have been able to start puberty blockers because of the ban.

“We worry daily about what will happen to our healthy, happy, thriving daughter if she is forced to go through what she has described as her worst nightmare, become something she isn’t,” the mother said. “‘Torture’ is the only word I’ve identified to adequately describe the feelings of terror a parent experiences in a situation like this.”

The Lee County mother said in court papers that she scheduled a March appointment at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital for her 8-year-old transgender son. That morning, she called to confirm the visit. She was told the St. Petersburg clinic wasn’t seeing new patients because of the boards’ rules.

“This information was shocking to my husband and me,” she said. “We had not known it was possible that doctors would be prevented from assessing and prescribing medical treatments our children may need.”

Under the injunction, both parents would be able to seek medical care for their children.

DeSantis, who recently announced his run for president, has leveraged gender issues in front of socially conservative crowds on the campaign trail.