Three LGBTQ rights groups are suing the state of Tennessee over a new law that prohibits medical professionals from administering gender-affirming health care to transgender minors.
In a lawsuit filed Thursday in federal court, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and its Tennessee affiliate, Lambda Legal and the law firm Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP allege Tennessee’s Senate Bill 1 will “cause severe and irreparable harm” to transgender young people and their families if it is allowed to take effect on July 1.
The measure, which bans gender-affirming health care for youths under 18, was signed into law by Republican Gov. Bill Lee in March. Lee on the same day approved the nation’s first law restricting drag shows, criminalizing certain performances that take place in public or where they may be viewed by a minor.
The ACLU and Lambda Legal following the passage of the bill said they planned to sue the state. On Thursday, the ACLU tweeted, “Tennessee, we’ll see you in court.”
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Samantha and Brian Williams and their 15-year-old transgender daughter, two other plaintiff families filing anonymously and Dr. Susan Lacy, a Memphis-based physician who treats transgender minors.
“I don’t even want to think about having to go back to the dark place I was in before I was able to come out and access the care that my doctors have prescribed for me,” Samantha and Brian Williams’s daughter, referred to as L.W. in court filings because she is a minor, said Thursday in a news release. “I want this law to be struck down so that I can continue to receive the care I need, in conversation with my parents and my doctors, and have the freedom to live my life and do the things I enjoy.”
The suit names Tennessee Attorney General Jonathan Skrmetti, along with the Tennessee Department of Health and other state defendants. A spokesperson for Skrmetti’s office told The Hill that they have yet to see the lawsuit, but “look forward” to reviewing it.
“Mounting evidence has persuaded a growing number of countries that irreversible medical interventions are not appropriate for kids showing symptoms of gender dysphoria,” Elizabeth Lane, Skrmetti’s press secretary, said in a statement to The Hill. “The Tennessee General Assembly passed a law to protect Tennessee children from the lifelong consequences of these interventions, and we will vigorously defend that law.”
More than a fifth of transgender youths currently live in a state where gender-affirming health care is banned, according to a recent report by the Movement Advancement Project, which tracks legislation impacting the nation’s LGBTQ community.
A total of 15 states since 2021 have enacted laws or policies that prohibit transgender young people from accessing gender-affirming health care, which is considered medically necessary by most major medical organizations. Three states — Alabama, Idaho and North Dakota — have passed laws that classify the administration of gender-affirming health care to a minor as a felony crime, punishable by hefty fines and multiple years in prison.
A federal judge last year also temporarily blocked the Alabama law from taking effect, pending the outcome of another ACLU lawsuit filed on behalf of two families with transgender children. The ACLU has filed similar suits challenging bans in Arkansas and Indiana.
In a statement on Thursday, Samantha Williams said her daughter, L.W., struggled with her mental health before the family was able to access care. L.W. began her social transition in 2020 and was prescribed puberty blockers by her doctors at Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital the following year, after she started seeing a mental health specialist who diagnosed her with gender dysphoria, according to Thursday’s lawsuit.
“We have a confident, happy daughter now, who is free to be herself and she is thriving. I am so afraid of what this law will mean for her,” Samantha Williams said Thursday. “We don’t want to leave Tennessee, but this legislation would force us to either routinely leave our state to get our daughter the medical care she desperately needs, or to uproot our entire lives and leave Tennessee altogether.”
“No family should have to make this kind of choice,” she added.
Just three of the nine states bordering Tennessee — including Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina — have yet to pass a law that heavily restricts or bans gender-affirming health care for transgender minors. Proposed laws to that effect are currently advancing in North Carolina and South Carolina, but similar measures failed to advance through the Virginia legislature before the end of this year’s legislative session.