In just a few years, the rights and lives of transgender people have been radically reshaped by a series of political attacks on our freedom, our dignity, and the health care that many of us need to live. As part of a coordinated national effort to undermine transgender people’s legal protections and push us out of public life, a wave of bills aimed at gender-affirming transgender health care effectively barred it for nearly a third of transgender youth in the United States . countries. These laws uproot entire families and communities, worry doctors and medical experts, and endanger the very young people the laws claim to protect.
Although the ACLU and our national affiliates succeeded in the courts, when judges actually looked at the facts, those early victories were increasingly overturned, allowing these devastating bans to go into effect. That includes the U.S. Courts of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, where a three-judge panel overturned a lower court ruling that blocked Tennessee’s ban. As a result of the Sixth Circuit’s ruling, health care bans went into effect in Tennessee and Kentucky.
With each of these challenges, we are committed to exhausting every option we have in order to protect our community’s ability to access this care for as long as possible. That’s why today we asked the United States Supreme Court to review the lower court’s decision and block these dangerous laws from further threatening transgender youth, destabilizing their families, and unnecessarily tying the hands of their medical providers.
In this case, we have the honor of representing Lemon Williams, a 15-year-old transgender girl, and her mother, Samantha Williams. Like the nearly 100,000 families with transgender children ages 13 to 17 who now live in a state that has banned their health care, Lemon and her parents face the risk of being denied the care they and their doctor know , that it is suitable for their daughter, or to leave only a home Limon knew. Tennessee’s ban — like nearly identical laws passed in 20 other state legislatures over the past three years — targets Lemon directly because she is transgender.
At the heart of our dispute before the court are two main constitutional claims. First, Tennessee law prohibits treatment only when that treatment is provided to transgender youth like Lemon who have gender dysphoria. This targeted restriction discriminates on the basis of both gender and the fact that a person is transgender and violates the Equal Protection Clause.
Second, Tennessee law interferes with the ability of parents like Samantha to make medical decisions for their minor children, even though their children and doctors agree that treatment is necessary. The law replaces the judgment of the state with that of loving parents who follow the guidance of their children and the advice of doctors. The Supreme Court has long recognized that parents have certain fundamental rights regarding the care and custody of their minor children. Although parents’ rights are not absolute — and transgender youth all have their own rights — Tennessee law mandates a one-size-fits-all approach to treatment that takes precedence over the informed judgment of parents, teens and doctors. Tennessee law forces parents like Samantha to “co-parent” with the state legislature. It is especially damaging when this legislature makes it clear that they have no interest in learning the truth about this medical care and young people like Lemon.
Asking the Supreme Court to review a lower court decision is always something we take seriously. We have witnessed this judicial disregard and violation of people’s bodily autonomy time and time again, most recently with his devastating decision in Dobbs, which was overturned Roe v. Wade. We take this step with the full knowledge that no matter what happens, we will have to fight for each other and use every tool in our toolbox to protect all of our rights to bodily autonomy. With such critical life-or-death health care, we must continue to fight against Tennessee’s law and exhaust every option available to us. No matter what happens, we will continue to fight thoughtfully and creatively to ensure that everyone has access to the health care they need.
The last few months have been the most devastating personally and professionally of my life. My heart—and the heart of every transgender advocate fighting this battle—is heavy with the weight of dehumanization and unnecessary harm that trans people like us are experiencing across the country. But I also know that every out trans person has embraced the unknown in the name of living without the shame or vice of other people’s expectations. By virtue of being living, breathing trans people, each of us has chosen hope over despair. Regardless of any judgment, we will always exist in joyful defiance of efforts to limit who we are and who we can be.