Supporters of LGBTQ rights protest in front of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington in 2019. Manuel Balce Ceneta/Associated Press

The Department of Justice filed a motion Wednesday to join a lawsuit three Tennessee families filed against their state last week alleging a new law banning care for transgender minors is unconstitutional.

In the lawsuit, the families said they saw their children go from depressed before receiving gender-affirming care to thriving afterward – only to now grapple with losing access to that treatment. They’re now considering moving out of Tennessee, according to the suit, filed April 20 in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee by advocacy groups Lambda Legal and the American Civil Liberties Union, as well as the Washington D.C.-based law firm Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld.

The parents of Ryan Roe, a transgender 15-year-old, said in the lawsuit that the ban on gender-affirming care “will have a serious negative effect on his mental health.”

“He is not sure if he will survive not being able to continue receiving the treatment that allows him to live in a way consistent with his gender,” the lawsuit adds.

Nashville School Shooting Lee

Gov. Bill Lee responds to questions during a news conference on April 11 in Nashville, Tenn. George Walker IV/Associated Press file

Now, the families and the Biden administration are asking the court to block the law from taking effect on July 1, alleging it would violate the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause, which prohibits discrimination based on sex and gender identity.

“No person should be denied access to necessary medical care just because of their transgender status,” Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke, with the DOJ’s civil rights division, said in a news release. “The right to consider your health and medically-approved treatment options with your family and doctors is a right that everyone should have, including transgender children, who are especially vulnerable to serious risks of depression, anxiety and suicide.”


Tennessee Republicans criticized the Justice Department’s involvement. Gov. Bill Lee tweeted Wednesday that the motion was “federal overreach at its worst.” Tennessee Attorney General Jonathan Skrmetti, a defendant in the lawsuit, said in a statement to The Washington Post that the Biden administration had joined the advocacy groups “in attacking a bipartisan law that protects children from irreversible harm.”

“I welcome the opportunity to litigate these issues and vigorously defend Tennessee’s law,” Skrmetti added.

Senate Bill 1, which was signed into law on March 2, bans several types of gender-affirming care for children, including puberty blockers, cross-sex hormones and surgery to treat minors diagnosed with gender dysphoria. Treatments such as puberty blockers would still be available for cisgender children. After July 1, minors undergoing treatment will have until March 31, 2024, to cycle off the medication.

Proponents of the bill argued that minors aren’t capable of making decisions about gender-affirming care – even though medical experts said those decisions are made by parents and healthcare providers.

“This law seeks to protect those vulnerable children from the predations of left-wing activists who are misleading an entire generation of children and parents to undergo irreversible and harmful medical procedures to treat mental health issues,” Tennessee Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson (R), who sponsored the bill, said in a statement. “I worked closely with Attorney General Skrmetti in crafting this law to withstand judicial review and am confident that it will be upheld.”

Major medical organizations, such as the American Medical Association, the Endocrine Society, the American Psychological Association and the World Health Organization recommend care for minors and oppose restrictions. In August, the American Academy of Pediatrics said the treatment is “medically necessary and appropriate” for some minors and criticized the “rampant disinformation” spread by those seeking restrictions.


Tennessee’s S.B. 1 is one of at least 36 anti-trans bills that have passed in state legislatures in 2023. According to a Post tracker, over 400 anti-trans bills have been introduced across the country – surpassing the number from the past four years combined.

So far this year, Tennessee has introduced 15 bills restricting transgender people’s rights – two of which have been signed into law, including S.B. 1, and another banning drag shows on public property or in locations where they can be viewed by minors. (A federal judge temporarily blocked the drag ban from going into effect.) The state legislature is considering another bill that would restrict gender-affirming care for low-income people, including adults.

“The attacks on transgender people right now are so widespread and so vicious,” Tara Borelli, senior counsel at Lambda Legal, told The Post. “It’s hard to understand them as anything other than attacks motivated just by the desire to discriminate because there is no valid reason to single out transgender Americans and treat them as less than any other person in the United States.”

Borelli said S.B. 1, in particular, is discriminatory. While the new law denies treatments like hormone therapy and puberty blockers for transgender children, it still allows them for cisgender minors. (Puberty blockers, also known as puberty-delaying treatment, are often used to treat early puberty, prostate and breast cancers, and endometriosis.) Tennessee legislators also rejected amendments to the bill that would have banned cosmetic surgeries for all minors – instead barring them for transgender youths only.

“That just shows how targeted that discrimination is because the medical consensus is that this care is medically necessary and often critical to treat transgender adolescents,” Borelli said. “But lawmakers made sure that cisgender people could receive the treatment even if they needed it only for cosmetic purposes.”

The possibility of losing access to this care has been devastating for the families in the lawsuit, Borelli said.


One of the plaintiffs, a 15-year-old transgender girl referred to as L.W., said in a statement that she wants to “have the freedom to live my life and do the things I enjoy.” After almost two years of taking medication, she fears her mental and physical health will suffer if she’s forced to stop.

“I don’t even want to think about having to go back to the dark place I was in before I was able to come out and access the care that my doctors have prescribed for me,” L.W. said.

Her mother said she must now decide between leaving the place she calls home and L.W.’s well-being.

“I am so afraid of what this law will mean for her,” said Samantha Williams, L.W.’s mother. “We don’t want to leave Tennessee, but this legislation would force us to either routinely leave our state to get our daughter the medical care she desperately needs or to uproot our entire lives and leave Tennessee altogether.”

“No family should have to make this kind of choice,” Williams added.

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