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Tennessee's ban on gender-affirming care for minors takes effect, after court ruling


Transgender youth in Tennessee can no longer access gender-affirming care.


A U.S. appeals court allowed a ban to take effect on surgical and nonsurgical care that helps people transition toward their self-identified gender. The ruling, which came over the weekend, overturned a lower court decision to suspend the bill, which was signed into law in March.

MARTÍNEZ: Joining us now is Marianna Bacallao of member station WPLN. So first off, what's the significance of this ruling?

MARIANNA BACALLAO, BYLINE: This ruling could bring this issue closer to the Supreme Court. It's the first time a federal court has allowed a ban on gender-affirming care to take effect. Other states, like Alabama, Arkansas, Indiana, Kentucky and Florida, have passed similar laws banning trans kids from accessing care like hormone therapy and puberty blockers. Like Tennessee, federal judges in these states temporarily blocked the bans while families and advocacy groups challenged them in court. But Tennessee's attorney general appealed to the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, which sided with him. The ban went into effect immediately.

MARTÍNEZ: And how did that court explain its opinion?

BACALLAO: It was a 2-to-1 decision. The court's opinion, written by Chief Judge Jeffrey Sutton, cites the Dobbs decision, which ended the federal right to abortion. The court's majority argues that both issues should be left up to the states. The opinion said the court saw no proof that gender-affirming care is, quote, "deeply rooted in our history and traditions." The court also concluded that the law likely does not discriminate on the basis of sex because of another Dobbs precedent, which posits that it's not discrimination if the medical procedure only applies to one sex. There was one dissenting opinion. Judge Helene White wrote that the law likely does discriminate based on sex. She points out that the law does make some exceptions. It allows hormone therapy for cisgender and intersex kids, just not for transgender kids.

MARTÍNEZ: Now tell us about the plaintiffs.

BACALLAO: I spoke with L.W. She's a 15-year-old transgender girl and the named plaintiff in this lawsuit. We're just using her initials because she's afraid of being targeted. She started taking estrogen in the fall after being on puberty blockers. She says it really helped her mental health.

L W: I was definitely very depressed before I went on estrogen, especially before puberty blockers, because I really just, like, wasn't myself. And it was just difficult to care about everything around me.

BACALLAO: Her parents, Brian and Samantha Williams, say they've also seen a huge change in her. They say she wasn't really engaging with her peers or family before.

SAMANTHA WILLIAMS: Or even with us, like, she wouldn't make eye contact often.

BRIAN WILLIAMS: She wouldn't hug you.

WILLIAMS: She wouldn't hug you. You know, we had no idea why that was until after. And then now she's very affectionate with us.

BACALLAO: A lot of parents of trans kids that I've spoken with echoed that sentiment.

MARTÍNEZ: So what's in the short term for this law and also this family?

BACALLAO: This ruling is temporary. The courts have until the end of September to decide whether the law will stay in effect while the lawsuit continues. But still, the Williams family is devastated. In the meantime, they're having to look to other states to get care. Here's L's mom again.

WILLIAMS: The two states where we were looking to go for care if the injunction wasn't granted now have bills of their own, which means we'd have to go even further.

BACALLAO: The family is working to find ways for L to continue taking estrogen. Without this care, she says she's not able to enjoy life.

MARTÍNEZ: That's Marianna Bacallao of member station WPLN. Thank you very much.

BACALLAO: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF COASTLINEZ'S "WAVES") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
Marianna Bacallao