Florida’s ban on gender-affirming medical treatment for youth is unconstitutional, a group of parents and transgender children alleged in a federal lawsuit filed Thursday.
The ban 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, according to the lawsuit, which was filed against state Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo and the Florida Boards of Medicine and Osteopathic Medicine.
The restrictions also violate parents’ rights under the 14th Amendment to make medical decisions for their children, the 26-page lawsuit alleges.
The anonymous plaintiffs are four mothers with transgender children, ages 9 to 14, from St. Johns, Alachua, Duval and Orange counties.
The families want a federal judge to stop the state from enforcing its ban and plan to seek a preliminary injunction to halt the restrictions while the case continues, according to the lawsuit and a news release from the plaintiffs’ legal counsel. The families also want a judge to declare the ban a violation of the 14th Amendment and are asking for attorneys’ fees.
“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, called “Brenda Boe” in court papers, said in the news release.
The Florida Department of Health, which Ladapo leads, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment late Thursday. Scot Ackerman, chairperson of the Board of Medicine, and Tiffany Sizemore Di Pietro, the Board of Osteopathic Medicine chairperson, couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.
The lawsuit, filed in the Northern District of Florida, says the ban will “irreparably harm” the plaintiff families.
The Alachua County mother has a 14-year-old transgender son, called Bennett Boe in court papers.
Bennett has known he wasn’t a girl since the third grade, according to the lawsuit, and after starting puberty became distressed by the mismatch between his body and gender identity. He experienced depression and was hospitalized after a self-harm incident, the lawsuit says.
Doctors think it may be medically necessary for Bennett, who was diagnosed with gender dysphoria, to start hormone therapy after turning 16. But he and his mother fear the state ban will stop 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,” the mother, Brenda Boe, said in the news release. “That has been ripped away by this cruel and discriminatory rule.”
The Board of Medicine’s ban took effect last week. The osteopathic board’s restrictions will start next week. They bar doctors from prescribing puberty blockers, hormone therapy and surgeries to treat new patients younger than 18 for gender dysphoria, the discomfort one feels with the sex assigned at birth.
The ban on puberty blockers and hormones doesn’t currently 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 existing standards that have been endorsed by major medical organizations such as the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Endocrine Society.
The medical boards began the rule-making process last August after the state health department urged them to do so.
The Board of Osteopathic Medicine’s rule — which mirrors the Board of Medicine’s — will take effect on March 28, state records show. Medical doctors vastly outnumber osteopathic physicians in Florida.
Times staff writer Romy Ellenbogen contributed to this report.