US judge strikes down Florida ban on gender-affirming healthcare

A person holds up a flag during rally to protest the Trump administration's reported transgender proposal to narrow the definition of gender to male or female at birth in New York

By Jonathan Allen

(Reuters) - A federal judge ruled on Tuesday that parts of Florida's ban of puberty blockers and hormone therapy for transgender children and restrictions on gender-affirming healthcare for adults are unconstitutional and ordered that it not be enforced.

Republican Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed the restrictions into law in 2023, banning people under the age of 18 from receiving puberty blockers or hormone therapy to treat gender dysphoria, though the law allowed children who had begun receiving gender-affirming care before May 17, 2023, to continue to do so with new restrictions.

The law, part of a slew of restrictive legislation in recent years advanced by Republicans to regulate the lives of transgender people, also imposed new restrictions on adults receiving gender-affirming healthcare.

U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle in Tallahassee ruled that all those elements violated the U.S. Constitution's guarantee of equal protection under the law, noting that some Florida legislators "plainly acted from old-fashioned discriminatory animus."

"Gender identity is real," he wrote in his order, ruling that it was unconstitutional to discriminate against transgender people. "In time, discrimination against transgender individuals will diminish, just as racism and misogyny have diminished."

A spokesperson for DeSantis, who signed the ban into law shortly before announcing his failed bid to become the Republican nominee for the U.S. presidential election, said the state would appeal the ruling and referred to gender-affirming healthcare as an aspect of "radical, new age 'gender ideology.'"

"These procedures do permanent, life-altering damage to children, and history will look back on this fad in horror," the spokesperson, Julia Friedland, said in a statement.

The judge noted that doctors who treat transgender patients, multiple medical associations and the U.S. Department of Health have widely accepted that the therapies banned by Florida are "well-established standards of care for treatment of gender dysphoria."

Several parents of transgender children, who were plaintiffs in the lawsuit, gave testimony to the court that gender-affirming healthcare was allowing their children to flourish and be happy. A transgender man, another plaintiff, testified that Florida's new restrictions had interrupted his taking of testosterone when his prescription lapsed, causing distress, anxiety and depression.

Because the law allowed healthcare providers to continue providing puberty blockers or hormone therapy to children and adults who are not transgender, Hinkle ruled that the law unconstitutionally discriminated on the basis of sex.

Doctors who violated the law faced up to five years in prison.

The judge noted that Florida lawmakers and Governor DeSantis, in passing the law, spoke openly about their moral disapproval of transgender people. This hindered the state's lawyers from successfully arguing that the law was a good-faith effort to regulate healthcare and not motivated by unconstitutional discriminatory animus.

"The statute and the rules were an exercise in politics, not good medicine," the judge wrote. "The great weight of medical authority supports these treatments."

(Reporting by Jonathan Allen in New York; Editing by Bill Berkrot)