Families of transgender teen girls sue over Idaho’s ban on gender care for youth

Lawsuit seeks to block enforcement of House Bill 71, which passed Idaho Legislature in the 2023 session

By: - June 1, 2023 3:06 pm
Transgender flags

House Bill 71 made it a felony, starting in January, for doctors to provide gender-affirming care to transgender minors. (Getty Images)

The families of two transgender teens have sued Idaho officials in federal court to keep them from enforcing the state’s ban on gender care for youth — a law set to take effect in January.

The Republican-led Idaho Legislature passed the law, known as House Bill 71, during this year’s legislative session. Idaho Gov. Brad Little signed it into law in April, saying he wanted it to protect children but noting that he had reservations about the state interfering with parental rights and medical decisions.

The law makes it a felony to give patients under age 18 puberty blockers or hormone treatments for gender dysphoria. It also makes it illegal to perform gender-affirming surgeries; however, those are not performed in Idaho. Breaking the law would carry a penalty of up to 10 years in prison.

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If the law takes effect, it will keep the 15- and 16-year-old teen plaintiffs from being able to continue the gender-affirming treatments they currently receive, the lawsuit says.

The suit names Idaho Attorney General Raúl Labrador, Ada County Prosecutor Jan Bennetts and members of the Idaho Code Commission within the Idaho Secretary of State’s Office. It does not allege they are enforcing the ban already; it seeks to keep them from being able to enforce it.

A spokesperson for the Secretary of State’s Office did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Bennetts’ and Labrador’s offices responded by email to say they do not comment on pending or ongoing litigation.

The families — using surnames Poe and Doe to protect the minor patients’ identities — say the ban is unconstitutional.

“Being able to live my life as my true self has been a long journey, and my medical care has been an important part of that journey. My family, my doctors, and I have worked together to make decisions about my medical care, and it’s shocking to have politicians take those decisions away from us,” Jane Doe, a 16-year-old transgender girl, said in a news release from the American Civil Liberties Union announcing the case.

The families said the law violates the right to equal protection, or equal treatment under the law. The medical care it applies to — hormone therapy, for example — can be used to treat a variety of patients and health conditions. But the law criminalizes the use of that medical care only when it comes to patients who are transgender youth, the lawsuit notes.

The ban “also infringes on a fundamental right — parents’ right to make decisions about their children’s medical care.”

New transgender health care law doesn’t serve governmental interest, lawsuit argues

Those restrictions don’t serve a greater governmental interest, the lawsuit says.

Instead, the law was motivated by “negative attitudes toward and disapproval of transgender people,” the lawsuit says. “This was reflected in statements made by legislators who supported the law, and the fact that the (ban) is just part of a broader campaign by the Idaho Legislature targeting transgender people of all ages.”

The lawsuit says that state legislators and the governor ignored testimony from Idaho transgender youth and adults, parents and families of transgender Idahoans, and health care providers whose patients include transgender youth.

That testimony included statements about “the unavoidable, grave harm to the health and wellbeing of transgender youth (who are deprived of care) including debilitating anxiety, severe depression, self-harm and suicide,” the lawsuit says.

“The Legislature’s decision to supplant the medical judgment of Idaho physicians (and every major medical association in the nation) with its own, to subject Idaho physicians to draconian penalties for providing patients with well-accepted medical care, and to intrude on family medical decisions, is extraordinary,” it says.

Transgender Idahoans filing suit began gender-affirming care while teens

The lawsuit describes both transgender teens as Idahoans who began a gradual, multi-step gender-affirming process in their teens.

“Growing up, Jane always felt more like a girl than a boy,” the lawsuit says. “Socially, she was a lot more comfortable playing with and associating with the girls. When teams were divided into girls and boys at recess, she felt like she belonged with the girls’ team, and the girls would usually allow her to join.”

Jane would always choose to portray a girl character when playing make-believe and, from a young age, said she wanted to be a mother, the lawsuit says.

Puberty set in about five years ago, and Jane “hated the way her body was changing,” the lawsuit says. Her mental health worsened, and she “sometimes wished she did not even exist,” it says.

Jane came out as transgender in 2020 and began seeing specialists to provide medical and mental health care for gender dysphoria. She began puberty blockers and then hormone therapy in 2021, according to the lawsuit.

The family is now considering whether to move to another state so that Jane can continue receiving care, it says.

“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,” Jane Doe said in the release. “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.”

The families are represented by attorneys in Idaho and from national and global law firms: ACLU of Idaho and Wrest Collective in Boise, and the American Civil Liberties Union, Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP and Groombridge, Wu, Baughman & Stone LLP.

This is the eighth lawsuit filed in the U.S. by the ACLU in response to laws that restrict or ban health care for transgender youth. The ACLU and its affiliates have filed lawsuits in Arkansas, Indiana, Kentucky, Montana, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Tennessee.

“This health care is supported by every major medical organization in the U.S. and is critical for the futures of transgender youth across the state,” Li Nowlin-Sohl, senior staff attorney at the ACLU’s LGBTQ & HIV Project, said in the release about the Idaho lawsuit. “We will not rest until this unconstitutional law is struck down.”

One of the proponents of the legislation responded swiftly with a written statement, saying the lawsuit is baseless.

“We’re deeply disappointed that the ACLU would waste taxpayer money and resources with this frivolous legal challenge,” said Blaine Conzatti, president of the Idaho Family Policy Center, which supported the legislation.

Conzatti said the ACLU’s claim that the law is unconstitutional is false and that it “makes a mockery of constitutional law and subverts the original intent of those constitutional guarantees.”

“The Vulnerable Child Protection Act (as HB 71 was titled) is constitutionally, scientifically, and morally sound law, and we remain confident that it will be vindicated in the courts,” he said.

Editor’s note: This story has been corrected to reflect responses to request for comment from Bennetts and Labrador.


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Audrey Dutton
Audrey Dutton

Audrey Dutton was a senior investigative reporter with the Idaho Capital Sun after 10 years at the Idaho Statesman. Her favorite topics to cover included health care, business, consumer protection issues and white collar crime. Before coming home to Idaho, Dutton worked as a journalist in Minnesota, New York, Maryland and Washington, D.C. Dutton's work has earned dozens of state, regional and national awards for investigative reporting, health care and business reporting, data visualization and more.