Advocates relieved but wary after court strikes Florida anti-trans law: ‘Gives me a lot of hope’

<span>People protest guidelines limiting gender-affirming care in Lake Buena Vista, Florida, on 4 November 2022.</span><span>Photograph: Ricardo Ramirez Buxeda/Orlando Sentinel via Getty Images</span>
People protest guidelines limiting gender-affirming care in Lake Buena Vista, Florida, on 4 November 2022.Photograph: Ricardo Ramirez Buxeda/Orlando Sentinel via Getty Images

A federal judge this week struck down much of a Florida law, approved by the state’s governor, Ron DeSantis, that prohibited gender-affirming care for transgender minors and restricted such treatment for adults, among other provisions.

The ruling from Judge Robert L Hinkle of the federal district court in Tallahassee was the latest in a number of recent legal setbacks for DeSantis, whose conservative rhetoric and legislation concerning LGBTQ+ issues, immigration and classroom instruction fueled, at least in part, his national profile and presidential run.

In May 2023, Republicans passed the law to ban the prescription of puberty-blocking and other hormone-related therapies to treat gender dysphoria in minors. The law also banned gender-affirming medical procedures or surgeries for minors and placed new restrictions on adults seeking such treatment, among other provisions.

Three families and civil rights groups filed a lawsuit shortly after, arguing that the law deprived parents of their ability to make medical decisions for their children, which would cause the minors a “cascade of mental and physical injuries”.

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Hinkle, who in June 2023 temporarily blocked enforcement of the ban, ruled that much of the law was unconstitutional and compared opposition to transgender rights to opposition to equality for minorities and women.

“Some transgender opponents invoke religion to support their position, just as some once invoked religion to support their racism or misogyny,” Hinkle wrote in his 105-page decision. “Transgender opponents are of course free to hold their beliefs. But they are not free to discriminate against transgender individuals just for being transgender.”

Rabbi Samantha Kahn, a Miami native and University of Florida graduate, said she sees “Florida as my home and my life” but, because of the law, had thought her family might need to leave the state.

She has a 10-year-old transgender daughter that she expects will need the sort of medical interventions which the law prohibited.

“We have for a long time thought that we had an expiration date on our time in Florida, which was very sad to us, and this is the first glimmer of hope that maybe we don’t,” said Kahn, a senior associate rabbi at Congregation B’nai Israel in Boca Raton, who is married and has a younger daughter.

DeSantis’s office released a statement calling the ruling as “erroneous” and vowing to appeal.

“Through their elected representatives, the people of Florida acted to protect children in this state, and the court was wrong to override their wishes,” read the statement from DeSantis, who also saw courts strike down laws he personally approved, including the Stop Woke Act, which concerned classroom instruction and workplace training, and one restricting voter registration. “As we’ve seen here in Florida, the United Kingdom and across Europe, there is no quality evidence to support the chemical and physical mutilation of children. These procedures do permanent, life-altering damage to children, and history will look back on this fad in horror.”

Simone Chriss, Southern Legal Counsel’s director of transgender rights initiative, described the ruling as a “much-needed win for Florida’s transgender community at a really dire time in this state”.

“It’s incredibly thoughtful and well-reasoned and comprehensive and gives me a lot of hope about our chances of keeping this order in place” upon appeal, said Chriss, an attorney on the case.

While DeSantis’s statement condemning Hinkle’s ruling used extreme language, some European countries have started to implement new restrictions on gender treatments for minors.

In April, Dr Hilary Cass, a pediatrician, released a report commissioned by England’s National Health Service that raised concerns about puberty blockers being prescribed to young people who only had to see psychologists.

As a result of Cass’s findings, the NHS banned the routine use of puberty blockers to treat adolescents who have gender dysphoria, with the exception of treatment in clinical research settings. Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Finland have issued similar restrictions.

But Hinkle did not agree with DeSantis’s assertions that Florida’s restrictions on transgender care were similar to European countries.

“No matter how many times the defendants say it, it will still be false. No country in Europe – or so far as shown by this record, anywhere in the world—entirely bans these treatments,” Hinkle wrote.

Jennifer Levi, a lawyer for the plaintiffs and senior director of transgender and queer rights at Glad, the LGBTQ+ advocacy organization, agrees with Hinkle’s response.

“It’s of course important to ensure that transgender people get appropriate healthcare and effective treatment and that people are informed about medications – as they would be across a range of different medical conditions,” Levi said. “But what this court noted is that none of those international developments have resulted in the kinds of bans, or even the kind of restrictions for adult care, that Florida adopted.”

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit did not challenge parts of the law that prohibited gender-affirming surgery for minors and imposed restrictions on surgery for adults, so the ruling does not address those provisions.

Natasha Poulopoulos, a pediatric psychologist in Miami who leads trainings on how to make healthcare settings more inclusive to LGBTQ people, said many patients told her that the ban made them feel they did not have a say “in what is best for my body or my mental health”.

“Unfortunately, now we do have to do a lot of working through the damage that happened when the gender-affirming care ban started because there was this enormous wave of really violent rhetoric around LGBTQ+ people,” Poulopoulos added.

Kahn, the rabbi, said her daughter had been a “very sad, very angry kid” with significant mental health issues until she revealed in therapy: “I have a boy’s body, but I’m really a girl inside.”

Since transitioning, she has become a “a happy, self-confident, well-behaved, well-adjusted young woman”, Kahn said.

While she has not yet needed puberty blockers, Kahn and her family were concerned that if the ban remained in place, they would eventually need to leave the state, a place she loved in spite of Republicans’ recent moves to restrict transgender and women’s rights.

“There’s something beautiful about living in a place where there is a diversity of opinions and thoughtful people coming from all directions,” Kahn said. “We are hoping that Florida doesn’t go backwards and that the ruling is upheld.”

She continued: “Maybe someday more people will accept, and stop having prejudice against, my daughter.”