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Supreme Court lets Idaho enforce youth transgender care ban

by KAYE THORNBRUGH
Staff Writer | April 16, 2024 1:00 AM

COEUR d’ALENE — The Supreme Court ruled Monday that Idaho may enforce a ban on gender-affirming care for transgender youth while lawsuits over the matter proceed.

The 2023 law, which had been temporarily blocked from going into effect, makes it a felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison for Idaho doctors to provide gender-affirming care to people under the age of 18.

Gender-affirming care consists of an array of medical, mental health and other services for transgender and nonbinary people. It can include puberty-blocking medication, hormone therapy and surgical treatment, as well as non-medical affirmation such as growing or cutting one’s hair, wearing different clothing and going by a different name.

Local LGBTQ+ advocates expressed dismay at the Supreme Court decision.

“While today’s court ruling does not address the constitutionality of this law, it is nonetheless a devastating setback for transgender youth and their families across Idaho,” Dr. Sarah Lynch, executive director of North Idaho Pride Alliance, said Monday. “This decision allows the state to cease healthcare that thousands of families currently rely on, while also continuing to sow misinformation, confusion and disruption through medical uncertainty. The North Idaho Pride Alliance remains steadfast in our mission to create a safe and inclusive North Idaho where LGBTQIA+ people belong, can connect and are empowered to thrive. As such, we will continue connecting LGBTQIA+ people in our community with affirming resources.”

PFLAG Coeur d’Alene/Kootenai indicated the ruling will negatively affect LGBTQ+ Idahoans.

“We are deeply grieved by today’s ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court and our heartfelt love and support goes out to the thousands of families and medical care professionals affected by this decision,” said Jeff Wickham, president of PFLAG Coeur d’Alene/Kootenai. “Research unequivocally shows that medical care for transgender youth is safe, affirming and can be life-saving. PFLAG Coeur d’Alene/Kootenai County will remain a beacon of hope and light by supporting, educating and advocating for LGBTQ+ people of Idaho and their families. We are unwavering in our mission to create a caring, just and affirming world for LGBTQ+ people and those who love them.”

After Idaho Gov. Brad Little signed the Vulnerable Child Protection Act into law last April, the families of two transgender Idaho teens filed a lawsuit challenging it.

“Trans people like myself deserve the same chance at safety and liberty as everyone else, but this law specifically targets us and our health care for no good reason,” said one of the plaintiffs, referred to as Jane Doe, in a news release last year. “I’m 16 — I should be hanging out with my friends and planning my future instead of fighting my state for the health care I need.”

A federal judge in Idaho temporarily blocked the law in December 2023, writing in part that “transgender children should receive equal treatment under the law” and “parents should have the right to make the most fundamental decisions about how to care for their children.”

Now, the law goes into effect amid ongoing litigation, except in the case of the two anonymous plaintiffs, both transgender girls who used puberty blockers and take estrogen in order to treat gender dysphoria. Medical professionals define gender dysphoria as severe psychological distress experienced by people whose gender identity differs from their sex assigned at birth.

Rep. Jordan Redman, R-Coeur d’Alene, said he believes the matter is one that each state should decide individually.

“Time will tell through the courts, but I believe this is a state’s issue and I appreciate the Supreme Court giving sovereignty to the states,” he said Monday.

The Idaho Attorney General’s Office said the Supreme Court’s decision “allows Idaho to protect children” as the case proceeds.

“I’ve witnessed firsthand the devastating consequences of drugs and procedures used on children with gender dysphoria. And it’s a preventable tragedy,” Idaho Attorney General Raul Labrador said in a news release Monday. “The state has a duty to protect and support all children, and that’s why I’m proud to defend Idaho’s law that ensures children are not subjected to these life-altering drugs and procedures. Those suffering from gender dysphoria deserve love, support and medical care rooted in biological reality. Denying the basic truth that boys and girls are biologically different hurts our kids. No one has the right to harm children, and I’m grateful that we, as the state, have the power — and duty — to protect them.”

Gender-affirming care for youth is supported by every major medical organization, including the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Psychiatric Association.

The action comes as the justices also may soon consider whether to take up bans in Kentucky and Tennessee that an appeals court allowed to be enforced in the midst of legal fights.

At least 23 states have enacted laws restricting or banning gender-affirming medical care for transgender minors, and most of those states face lawsuits. A federal judge struck down Arkansas’ ban as unconstitutional. Montana’s ban also is temporarily on hold.

The states that have enacted laws restricting or banning gender-affirming medical care for transgender minors are Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah and West Virginia.

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The Associated Press contributed to this report.