In a major blow to LGBTQ+ rights, a federal appeals court has allowed Tennessee to enforce its ban on gender-affirming care for trans youth. 

Back in March, the state’s conservative governor Bill Lee signed Senate Bill 1 into law.

Under the anti-trans legislation, trans youth would be barred from receiving lifesaving gender-affirming care like puberty blockers and hormone treatments.

While the law gave an exception to patients who started care before 1 July, it also required doctors to conclude their treatments by 21 March 2024. 

Shortly after it was signed into law, the ACLU immediately challenged the harmful legislation – resulting in US District Judge Eli Richardson issuing a preliminary injunction on 28 June. 

“The Court realizes that today’s decision will likely stoke the already controversial fire regarding the rights of transgender individuals in American society on the one hand, and the countervailing power of states to control certain activities within their borders and to use that power to protect minors,” he explained.

“If Tennessee wishes to regulate access to certain medical procedures, it must do so in a manner that does not infringe on the rights conferred by the United States Constitution, which is of course supreme to all other laws of the land. With regard to SB1, Tennessee has likely failed to do just this.” 

Unfortunately, Judge Richardson’s injunction was thrown out on 8 July after the Sixth US Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favour of the state’s emergency appeal by a 2-1 vote.

“Given the high stakes of these nascent policy deliberations – the long-term health of children facing gender dysphoria – sound government usually benefits from more rather than less debate,” Chief Judge Jeffrey Sutton wrote in his ruling.

“Both sides have the same fear, just in opposite directions – one saying procedures create health risk that cannot be undone, the other saying the absence of such procedures creates risks that cannot be undone. What makes it bearable to choose between the two sides is the realization that not every choice is for judges to make.” 

Due to the Sixth US Circuit Court of Appeals preliminary ruling, the state can now enforce the harmful ban – which was initially set to go into effect on 1 July. 

Towards the end of his opinion statement, Sutton revealed that the court would try and reach a final decision by 30 September after a full review of the appeal. 

“These initial views, we must acknowledge, are just that: initial. We may be wrong,” Sutton wrote. 

In response to the news, a spokesperson for the ACLU of Tennessee, the American Civil Liberties Union, Lambda Legal, and Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP released a statement expressing their disappointment over the decision. 

“This ruling is beyond disappointing and a heartbreaking development for thousands of transgender youth, their doctors, and their families. As we and our clients consider our next steps, we want all the transgender youth of Tennessee to know this fight is far from over and we will continue to challenge this law until it is permanently defeated and Tennessee is made a safer place to raise every family,” they said. 

Tennessee now joins 19 other states that have either banned or restricted gender-affirming care for trans youth.