Transgender youth sue over Montana gender-affirming care ban

A group including two transgender children, their parents, and two health care professionals have sued the state of Montana, claiming that a proposed law would violate their constitutional right to get gender-affirming medical treatment. The ban on puberty blockers, hormone treatment, and surgical procedures applies only to transgender youth being treated for gender dysphoria, but the same care can be provided to cisgender adolescents for any other purpose. The prohibition “intentionally burdens a transgender person’s ability to seek necessary care to align their body with their gender identity,” the complaint alleges. It seeks an injunction from a state judge to prevent the law from taking effect on October 1. Republican Sen. John Fuller, who introduced the ban, said that adolescents should not be able to undertake permanent, life-altering treatments until they are adults, at which point they are mature enough to grasp the ramifications and provide their informed consent.

Late last month, Republican Governor Greg Gianforte signed the law that had been enacted by the Republican-controlled Montana Legislature. Families of transgender children have long argued that this kind of support is crucial, but Montana is one of at least 16 states with laws prohibiting it. The legislation also forbids the use of Medicaid or other government funds to cover the cost of such treatment. Any medical professional who knowingly provides such therapy once the new rule goes into effect risks having their license revoked for at least a year and being sued for up to 25 years in the future.

The lawsuit states that the new legislation is unconstitutional because it infringes the plaintiffs’ right to privacy, their freedom to seek health treatment, and their right to human dignity, as well as because it interferes with parental rights. Two states have had bans on gender-affirming treatment struck down by federal judges: Alabama and Arkansas. The Department of Justice has joined a federal lawsuit against a similar prohibition in Tennessee on behalf of transgender parents and their children.

Plaintiff Phoebe Cross, a 15-year-old transgender male, stated in a statement, “Just living as a trans teenager is difficult enough, the last thing me and my peers need is to have our rights taken away.” To have my humanity and own existence disregarded in such a brazen manner is very disturbing. “It is mentally and physically painful to feel like you are trapped in the wrong body,” said Jessica van Garderen, mother of a transgender daughter, 16. If you are of the incorrect sex, going through adolescence is like having your body betray you every day. Hormone therapy is the only medicine that has helped our daughter and given her new hope. It is cruel and a violation of our rights to deny us access to this lifesaving medical care, van Garderen added.

Emily Flower, a spokeswoman for Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen, said, “The new law provides commonsense protections for Montana children from harmful, life-altering medications and surgeries.” Children in Montana “cannot even enter into contracts or buy cigarettes or alcohol,” she said. A chain of events began with Democratic Rep. Zooey Zephyr’s opposition to the measure and culminated in her being barred from the House floor for the remainder of the 2023 session.

This lawsuit is the latest in a series of legal challenges to state laws that prohibit gender-affirming medical treatment for transgender youth. While proponents of these laws argue that they are necessary to protect young people from irreversible harm, opponents argue that they are discriminatory and violate the constitutional rights of transgender individuals. As the fight over these laws continues, it remains to be seen how they will be resolved and what impact they will have on the lives of transgender youth.