Federal judge blocks ban on gender-affirming care for Kentucky’s trans kids

By: - June 28, 2023 5:19 pm

A protester raises a fist beside a large transgender pride flag at the Kentucky State Capitol in March. (Kentucky Lantern photo by Sarah Ladd)

A federal judge sided with the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky Wednesday, temporarily blocking a section of a recently-passed state law that seeks to ban gender-affirming health care for transgender minors. 

In his ruling, Judge David J. Hale said, “Based on the evidence submitted, the Court finds that the treatments barred by SB 150 are medically appropriate and necessary for some transgender children under the evidence-based standard of care accepted by all major medical organizations in the United States.”

“These drugs have a long history of safe use in minors for various conditions,” Hale continued. “It is undisputed that puberty-blockers and hormones are not given to prepubertal children with gender dysphoria.”

Hale was appointed by former President Barack Obama in 2014. In Tennessee, a federal judge appointed by Donald Trump ruled likewise in a similar case on the same day Hale ruled. Earlier, there were such rulings from an Obama-appointed judge in Arkansas and one in Florida named by Bill Clinton. Judge Eli Richardson of Tennessee wrote, “To the court’s knowledge, every court to consider preliminarily enjoining a ban on gender-affirming care for minors has found that such a ban is likely unconstitutional.”

The ACLU filed to block Senate Bill 150 in early May. Later that month, the ACLU asked for a preliminary injunction to block part of the bill while the larger legal challenge plays out. The new law was to take effect Thursday.

The ACLU specifically took issue with the portion of the bill that prohibits health care providers from prescribing puberty blockers or hormones, performing surgeries like phalloplasty and vaginoplasty or hysterectomies and vasectomies on minors. 

Transgender advocates have said such surgeries on minors already were not happening in Kentucky. 

Kentucky’s first openly trans elected official, Rebecca Blankenship, said on a recent KET appearance that “every LGBT organization in the commonwealth said that we were absolutely fine with banning those sorts of surgeries for minors.” 

“We might as well ban unicorn attacks, it makes no difference,” she said. 

‘Misguided’ ruling versus ‘breath of air’

Republican Attorney General Daniel Cameron called the ruling “misguided.” Cameron, who is running for governor, said in a statement that SB 150 is a “commonsense law that protects Kentucky children.” 

“There is nothing ‘affirming’ about this dangerous approach to mental health,” Cameron said. “My office will continue to do everything in our power to defend this law passed by our elected representatives.”

Cameron’s opponent, incumbent Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear, vetoed SB 150, but the Republican supermajority in the General Assembly easily overrode it.

Blankenship, the executive director of Ban Conversion Therapy Kentucky, said in a joint statement with Michael Frazier, a lobbyist and government affairs director with Ban, that “puberty blockers and hormone therapy save lives.”   

“A bill that would have wreaked havoc tomorrow was thwarted by the U.S. Constitution today,” Blankenship and Frazier said.  

They reiterated the point that “sex reassignment surgeries for minors are perfectly appropriate and uncontested by every pro-LGBT organization in the commonwealth.” 

Meanwhile, the Wednesday news, they said, “will be a breath of air for trans youth.” 

In a statement, National Center for Lesbian Rights Legal Director Shannon Minter called the decision a “a huge relief for the families targeted by this unnecessary and harmful law.

The law, Minter said, “prevents doctors from doing their jobs and parents from making medical decisions for their own children.”

A controversial bill

A crowd protesting anti-trans legislation staged a “die in” on the Kentucky Capitol grounds on March 29, 2023. (Kentucky Lantern photo by Sarah Ladd)

During the 2023 legislative session, many rallied against the bill, which was part of a larger wave of anti-LGBTQ bills across the United States.

Protestors first asked legislators not to advance the bill. (It was originally House Bill 470 but in a last-minute move, was absorbed into the larger SB 150). Then, once it passed and Beshear vetoed it, they again asked lawmakers – unsuccessfully – to let the veto stand. Legislators easily overrode Beshear. 

That last day, protesters shouted from the Senate gallery as the bill advanced in final passage. Some were removed from the gallery, and Kentucky State Police said 19 people were arrested.

This story has been updated with information about similar rulings in federal courts in other states.


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Sarah Ladd
Sarah Ladd

Sarah Ladd is a Louisville-based journalist from West Kentucky who's covered everything from crime to higher education. She spent nearly two years on the metro breaking news desk at The Courier Journal. In 2020, she started reporting on the COVID-19 pandemic and has covered health ever since. As the Kentucky Lantern's health reporter, she focuses on mental health, LGBTQ+ issues, children's welfare, COVID-19 and more.