Ban on gender-affirming care allowed to stand while lawyers prep for future

It could be weeks or even months before the case is next argued in court.
Published: Jul. 5, 2023 at 6:29 PM EDT
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ATLANTA, Ga. (Atlanta News First) - A federal judge allowed Georgia legislation barring transgender youth from receiving gender-affirming care to stand Wednesday, while lawyers on both sides take time to prepare their arguments for and against the law.

Judge Sarah E. Geraghty of the U.S. Northern District Court of Georgia said a lawsuit challenging SB140 was filed too late for her to grant a temporary restraining order or injunction, as plaintiffs had requested. She allowed the state – the defendant in the case – more time to hire outside counsel and prepare for future arguments, the date of which will be set by attorneys representing both sides. They have until Friday to reach a date for their next court appearance, and Judge Geraghty said she would set one if they could not reach common ground.

It could be weeks or even months before the case is next argued in court. In the meantime, families of transgender youth cannot seek or receive hormone therapy like testosterone or estrogen.

“Our clients are harmed,” said Beth Littrell, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union representing Georgia families with transgender kids. “They can’t make plans, they can’t get access to medical care, so we think the law needs to be enjoined immediately.”

SB140, passed by lawmakers in March just days before the 2023 legislative session ended, disallows doctors and medical professionals from providing testosterone or estrogen to minors in Georgia. But Judge Geraghty said the lawsuit filed by families wasn’t filed until 8 p.m. last Thursday, less than 48 hours before the new law was set to take effect.

Attorneys for the state defending SB140 said they needed more time to hire outside counsel, retain expert witnesses, and pour over the details of the lawsuit filed Thursday, noting that plaintiffs waited three months after the law was passed to file it.

They said a “reasonable scheduling” of the next court date would require “months, not weeks,” in the meantime leaving families of trans youth subject to the new law.

“Anti-transgender rhetoric has reached a dangerous level,” said Littrell. “There’s violence that’s being perpetrated on transgender people as a result of lawsuits like SB140.”

As for why it took plaintiffs so long to file the suit – just days before the July 1 effective date of the law – they said it was difficult to find families who wanted to attach their names to the case.

“It’s no easy task to ask someone to step up and become a plaintiff in a federal lawsuit,” said Littrell. “Clients of ours and others around the state had to make decisions, they had to make plans.”

“We would love to do it just like that,” said Ed Buckley, another attorney for families with trans youth, snapping his fingers, “but it does take time to do it and do it properly and appropriately and in compliance with the laws and the rules of the court.”

The names of the plaintiffs were kept anonymous, something that had to be approved by the court. The fact that anonymity was granted, attorneys say, shows the dire effects of SB140.

“That’s for a reason,” said Littrell. “That’s because laws like SB140 engender such hostility because they do pray on fears.”

Recent history bodes well for the family’s case. In 2022, a federal judge in Alabama blocked that state’s version of SB140, banning gender-affirming care for minors. Then, in June of 2023, federal judges in both Indiana and Arkansas struck down much or all of their state’s bills banning gender-affirming care.

“There’s certainly a recognition around the country that laws like SB140 are unconstitutional and cannot be justified by the state,” said Littrell. “Across the country, judges have either blocked these laws or struck them down and permanently enjoined them and we expect this court will do the same.”

Atlanta News First spoke to one of SB140′s authors on Wednesday, Senator Carden Summers, over the phone. He said the bill wasn’t an attack on parents’ rights, but rather a way to make sure minors didn’t make “irreversible decisions” about their bodies before adulthood.

He took no issue on the phone with care for transgender people once they reach adulthood/

He said the lawsuit is being brought by a small group of state parents who are being “more of a friend to their kids than parents” but that lawmakers will abide by whatever the court’s ultimate decision is.

He added he “hopes courts make the decision to protect children.”