Florida becomes eighth state to restrict care for transgender minors

Florida on Thursday joined seven other states in limiting transition-related medical care for minors — and parents of transgender youth in the state immediately announced plans to challenge the measure in court.

After months of intense hearings and debate, the Florida Board of Medicine passed a rule that prohibits minors from starting puberty blockers or hormone therapy. Minors who have already received treatment before the rule’s effective date can continue to do so, although the rule prohibits all minors from receiving gender confirmation surgery.

The Florida Board of Osteopathic Medicine will implement the same rule on March 28.

In joint public hearings on the two rules, members of the Board of Medicine said there was not enough research to justify the potential side effects of the treatments.

During the most recent public hearing on February 10, multiple people shared testimony that the rule contradicts most medical evidence, as well as guidelines from nearly all relevant medical associations in the US, including the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Psychological Association. But Dr. Hector Villa, a pediatric anesthesiologist and member of the Board of Medicine, disagreed, saying the board had “reviewed hundreds of studies.”

“We talked to doctors, we got testimony from both sides of this issue, and the overwhelming evidence does not support” the use of puberty blockers and hormone therapy, Villa said.

“This council is not against research; not against caring for transgender children,” he said. “What the board wants to do is protect our children from therapies that have been shown to cause irreversible harm.”

Under the newly adopted rule, anyone can file a complaint against a health practitioner, and if the practitioner is found to be in violation of the rule, they can face a reprimand, fine, or suspension or revocation of their professional license, among other consequences.

The rule is already set to face a legal challenge from a group of parents represented by four national advocacy groups: The Southern Legal Counsel, GLBTQ Legal Advocates and Advocates, the National Lesbian Rights Center and the Human Rights Campaign.

One of the plaintiffs, identified as Jane Doe in a news release, said the ban would prevent her 11-year-old trans daughter from accessing the treatment she will need when she reaches puberty.

“Our daughter is a happy, confident child, but denying her access to the medical care recommended by her doctors would completely disrupt her life,” Dow said, according to the release. “I am devastated at what this will mean for her physical and mental health.”

Another plaintiff, a Florida mother who joined the lawsuit on behalf of her 14-year-old son, said the rule deprives “parents like me of our right to ensure that our children receive appropriate, evidence-based medical care.”

“My son finally got to a place where he felt hopeful, where a testosterone prescription was on the horizon and he could see a future for himself in his own body, but that was cut short by this discriminatory rule,” she said in a statement . “I am so worried about the impact that not having access to medical treatment will have on my child. Every parent’s worst nightmare is to worry about the unthinkable.

The Florida Board of Medicine and the Florida Board of Osteopathic Medicine did not immediately return a request for comment on the legal challenge.

The rules are part of a broader effort in Gov. Ron DeSantis’ administration to limit gender-affirming care. In August, following a request from the state Department of Health in June, the Florida Health Agency barred Medicaid from covering puberty blockers, hormone therapy and surgery as treatments for gender dysphoria for patients of all ages. Civil rights groups challenged the measure, but a federal judge upheld it in October.

In the state Legislature, a Senate committee approved a bill Monday that would bar minors from starting puberty blockers or hormone therapy or getting surgery to treat gender dysphoria, and would bar state funds from covering transition-related care for patients from any age. The bill will be considered by another Senate committee and then must pass a full Senate and House vote before being sent to the governor.

The measure would also give courts jurisdiction in child custody cases “to protect the child from undergoing gender reassignment prescriptions or procedures.”

It would allow minors already receiving treatment to continue, but would require such treatment — including for adults — to be administered by a doctor, not a nurse or other licensed health care provider.

Eight states — Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, Mississippi and now Florida — restrict transition-related medical care to minors.

Florida lawmakers have filed 10 bills targeting LGBTQ people so far this year, according to the American Civil Liberties Union. Nationally, state lawmakers have filed more than 400 such bills, according to the ACLU and a separate research group that tracks the flow of legislation.

Jim Lopresti, founder of SunServe, a mental health agency in Fort Lauderdale that treats LGBTQ youth, said his practice has already seen proposed and passed legislation, along with the debate over the Board of Medicine’s rule, affect families.

“Where we find the most problems and concerns is the stress on families and youth who are now finding that because of the whole complex of anti-LGBT initiatives in Florida, they have so few safe places to go,” he said.

Supporters of restrictions on gender-affirming care often argue that minors may regret transitioning later, but Lopresti said that in the roughly two decades he’s worked with trans youth, he can only think of one person , who experienced regret as an adult, and it was because that person did not have adequate support throughout the process.

“When we hear about regrets, it’s usually from people in the trans community who regret not doing it sooner — that’s a much more common experience,” he said.

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