LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Several families on Wednesday challenged Kentucky's ban on gender-affirming care for transgender youths, claiming the prohibition interferes with parental rights to seek established medical treatment for their children.
They are asking that a judge block a portion of a sweeping measure passed this year by the state's GOP-dominated legislature.
The federal lawsuit was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky and the National Center for Lesbian Rights. Seven Kentucky families with transgender children are listed as plaintiffs.
“Under the Constitution, trans youth in Kentucky have the right to medically necessary care," Corey Shapiro, legal director for the ACLU of Kentucky, said in a statement. "We are filing litigation today to protect against this imminent threat to their well-being and make certain they can thrive by continuing to receive medical care.”
Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron's office said it was reviewing the lawsuit and “determining next steps” in defending the law.
The lawsuit continues a flurry of legal action across the country against laws aimed at transgender people.
Nationally, Republican lawmakers have proposed hundreds of such laws, with at least 14 states restricting or banning gender-affirming care for minors.
The ACLU's new lawsuit challenges sections of Senate Bill 150, which bans puberty blockers and hormone therapy for transgender youths.
It didn't take aim at other sections dealing with school bathroom policies, guidance for teachers regarding student pronouns, and rules on teaching about gender identity and sexual orientation.
The lawsuit claims the ban would violate the constitutional rights of Kentucky adolescents and their parents. The prohibition interferes with parents' ability to obtain established treatments for their transgender adolescent children, it said.
“If the ban goes into effect, it will have devastating consequences for the transgender plaintiffs, their families and other transgender adolescents and their families in Kentucky,” the lawsuit said. “The ban will deprive the transgender plaintiffs and other transgender adolescents of medical care that their doctors and parents agree is medically necessary.”
The portion of the law being challenged is set to go into effect at the end of June.
In a news conference in Louisville Thursday, Corey Shapiro, legal director for the ACLU of Kentucky, said the ban prevents children from being able to treat gender dysphoria -- a condition where kids feel distress when their gender identity and sex assigned at birth don't match.
It's a condition Annika, a 16-year-old transgender girl from duPont Manual High School, knows too well.
"I can tell you it's the worst thing I've ever experienced," she said. "There's no real way to describe it other than just rotten, horrible."
The measure's supporters have said SB 150 protects trans children from undertaking gender-affirming treatments they might regret as adults. Research shows such regret is rare, however.
“We cannot allow people to continue down the path of fantasy, to where they’re going to end up 10, 20, 30 years down the road and find themselves miserable from decisions that they made when they were young,” Republican state Rep. Shane Baker said at a rally before lawmakers overrode Beshear's veto.
Meanwhile, The Family Foundation's David Walls tells WHAS11 that the lawsuit only underscores their mission.
"We fundamentally believe that children should be protected from being physically harmed in the name of denying their biological sex," said Walls, who's the executive director of the organization.
Transgender medical treatments have long been available in the United States and are endorsed by major medical associations.
University of Louisville constitutional law professor Sam Marcosson believes the ACLU of Kentucky makes a good case, with strong evidence.
"Obviously there are always going to be unknowns about who gets the case, in terms of who the judge is and what arguments the state makes in response, but I think they have a very good chance to prevail, yes," Marcosson said.
The ACLU says in the weeks to come, it'll file a motion for an injunction to block the ban while the case is litigated.
At a rally in late March against the Kentucky measure, Hazel Hardesty, a trans teenager, said the potential discontinuation of gender-affirming health care would mean “my male puberty would continue,” which would “cause a lot of mental distress.”
“People don’t even understand how it feels,” the 16-year-old said in an interview. “Going through the wrong puberty, every day your body is a little bit farther from what feels like you. And eventually you don’t even recognize yourself in the mirror.”