Federal Judge Deems Florida’s Trans Healthcare Ban for Minors Unconstitutional

Jose A. Iglesias/Miami Herald/Tribune News Service via Getty Images
Jose A. Iglesias/Miami Herald/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

A federal judge ruled Florida’s ban on gender-affirming care for transgender kids is unconstitutional—and in a Tuesday order noted some state politicians behind the controversial law “plainly acted from old-fashioned discriminatory animus.”

U.S. District Judge Robert L. Hinkle, in a 105-page decision, also called out Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, state Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo, and other lawmakers for playing politics with people’s medical treatment. He compared the discrimination against transgender people to racism and misogyny, quoting the late civil rights activist Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

“Transgender opponents are of course free to hold their beliefs. But they are not free to discriminate against transgender individuals just for being transgender,” Hinkle wrote. “In time, discrimination against transgender individuals will diminish, just as racism and misogyny have diminished. To paraphrase a civil-rights advocate from an earlier time, the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

The Florida law had prohibited puberty blockers and hormonal treatments for minors, even with parental permission, though children receiving treatment when the statute went into effect last May could continue to get care. (A ban on gender-affirming surgery for minors remains.)

The statute, SB 254 and related Boards of Medicine rules, also restricted care for transgender adults.

Hinkle’s order stems from a lawsuit filed anonymously by a group of children and their parents, including Susan Doe, a 12-year-old transgender girl in Jacksonville, and Gavin Goe, an 8-year-old transgender boy in Lee County, Florida.

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One adult plaintiff, 27-year-old Lucien Hamel, said he was unable to get testosterone because of the Florida statute’s restriction on who can prescribe it for gender dysphoria. Under the law, only a physician—not an advanced practice registered nurse or other medical professional—could provide care.

And because consent forms had to be signed with the doctor in person, transgender patients could not use telehealth to initiate treatment.

If a provider violated any of these provisions, they could face criminal prosecution and the termination of their medical license.

Hinkle underscored that the defendants—including Ladapo and the Florida Board of Medicine—had argued that the “many professional organizations that have endorsed treatment of gender dysphoria” were wrong.

“The defendants say, in effect, that the organizations were dominated by individuals who pursued good politics, not good medicine,” Hinkle wrote. “If ever a pot called a kettle black, it is here. The statute and the rules were an exercise in politics, not good medicine.”

Hamel and other plaintiffs lauded the decision on Tuesday.

“I’m so relieved the court saw there is no medical basis for this law—it was passed just to target transgender people like me and try to push us out of Florida,” Hamel said in a statement.

“This is my home. I’ve lived here my entire life,” he said. “This is my son’s home. I can’t just uproot my family and move across the country. The state has no place interfering in people’s private medical decisions, and I’m relieved that I can once again get the healthcare that I need here in Florida.”

Signs displayed in windows at Spectrum Health in Orlando, Florida.

Signs displayed in windows at Spectrum Health in Orlando, Florida.

Thomas Simonetti for The Washington Post via Getty Images

Susan Doe’s mother said: “This ruling means I won’t have to watch my daughter needlessly suffer because I can’t get her the care she needs.”

“Seeing Susan’s fear about this ban has been one of the hardest experiences we’ve endured as parents,” the mom continued. “All we’ve wanted is to take that fear away and help her continue to be the happy, confident child she is now.”

On Tuesday, DeSantis’ office released a statement vowing to appeal Hinkle’s order.

“Through their elected representatives, the people of Florida acted to protect children in this state, and the Court was wrong to override their wishes,” the governor’s spokesperson said, adding, “These procedures do permanent, life-altering damage to children, and history will look back on this fad in horror.”

In his ruling, Hinkle noted that DeSantis and “quite a few members of the Florida Legislature” view “transgenderism” and gender-affirming care as “morally wrong.”

“Enforcing this moral view is not, however, a legitimate state interest that can sustain this statute, even under rational-basis scrutiny,” Hinkle wrote. “The Supreme Court made this clear in a series of cases addressing gay and lesbian issues.”

He further quoted the discriminatory comments of DeSantis and his ilk.

“A House member, for example, loudly referred to transgender witnesses at a committee hearing on a related bill as ‘mutants’ and ‘demons,’” Hinkle wrote.

“Other House members, the Governor, and the Surgeon General have said there is no such thing as transgender identity—that transgender identity is just ideological or made up or wokeism,” Hinkle’s added, before quoting one legislator who declared, “I can say I’m a porcupine, but that doesn’t make it so.”

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Hinkle, an appointee of former Democratic President Clinton, said the “overwhelming weight of medical authority supports treatment of transgender patients with” puberty blockers, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Medical Association, and American Academy of Family Physicians.

He pointed out that state lawmakers spread falsehoods, equating gender-affirming care to “extraordinarily rare” mastectomies and castrations, to pass the legislation.

“Thus, for example, the Governor said gender-affirming care ‘means castrating a young boy, you’re sterilizing a young girl, and you’re doing mastectomies for these very young girls.’ He said ‘we cannot allow people to make money off mutilating’ our children,” Hinkle wrote.

According to Hinkle, another House member claimed: “[W]e’re talking about taking little children and they put them to sleep on a gurney. They cut off their breasts. They sever their genitalia. They throw them in the trash.”

“Probably about as far removed from reality as any statement by any legislator ever,” Hinkle wrote. “Nobody who voted for the bill expressed disagreement or called these speakers out.”

The defendants, Hinkle continued, “have not shown that a majority, if not motivated also by anti-transgender animus, would have made the same decision.”

Meanwhile, Hinkle concluded that “Gender identity is real.”

“Those whose gender identity does not match their natal sex often suffer gender dysphoria,” he wrote. “The widely accepted standard of care calls for appropriate evaluation and treatment.”

“Florida has adopted a statute and rules that ban gender-affirming care for minors even when medically appropriate. The ban is unconstitutional.”

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