Postindustrial Logo

"Trans people are divine,” reads a sign at a Nashville event hosted by clergy on Feb. 6, 2023. // John Partipilo / Tennessee Lookout

Federal court temporarily halts Tennessee ban on transgender care for minors

A preliminary injunction grants a partial victory to plaintiffs, maintaining a ban on surgical care but acknowledging the new law likely violates provisions of the US Constitution


By Holly McCall, Tennessee Lookout

In a partial victory for transgender Tennesseans, a federal judge issued a preliminary injunction on portions of new law prohibiting trans minors from obtaining gender affirming care, ruling the law likely violates the First and 14th Amendments of the US Constitution.

Judge Eli Richardson granted the injunction to the plaintiffs — parents of two transgender youth — agreeing with arguments that Senate Bill 1 may interfere with the right of a minor’s parents to direct the medical care of their children as protected by the 14th Amendment.

But Richardson also ruled the portion of the new law banning surgical treatment stands for the time being on the grounds that neither of the minor plaintiffs argued a prohibition on surgical treatment would affect their treatment for gender dysphoria.

The new law, which is set to take effect on July 1, prohibits any minor in Tennessee from receiving certain medical procedures if the purpose of receiving those procedures is to enable that minor to live with a gender identity that is inconsistent with that minor’s sex at birth, defining  “medical procedure” as including “surgically removing, modifying, altering, or entering into tissues, cavities, or organs of a human being.”

In a memorandum, Richardson wrote that the law likely constitutes sex-based discrimination against transgender persons as it applies a standard to them not applied to others and that Tennessee lawmakers lacked real-world experience to accurately judge whether gender-affirming care is harmful: “It is feasible that one might assume that because these procedures are intended to have the treated minor’s body do something that it otherwise would not do (rather than allow the body to function in a purportedly “natural” manner), the procedure must be ‘bad’ or ‘harmful’ to the minor.”

Such assumptions, Richardson added, do not provide sufficient evidence to uphold the law, although the case will proceed to a full trial for resolution.

Richardson’s ruling follows a June 20 decision in Arkansas, in which a federal judge similarly ruled that state’s law violated both the First and 14th Amendments, and one in Kentucky, also on Thursday.

Sen. Jack Johnson, R-Franklin, sponsor of SB1, posted on Twitter, “I have complete faith that the legislation we passed is constitutional. I appreciate Attorney General (Jonathan) Skrmetti’s commitment to vigorously appeal this decision — all the way to the Supreme Court if necessary.”

Transgender rights advocates celebrated the ruling.

“Today’s ruling acknowledges the dangerous implications of this law and protects the freedom to access vital, life-saving healthcare for trans youth and their families while our challenge proceeds,” said Lucas Cameron-Vaughn, ACLU of Tennessee staff attorney. “This law is an intrusion upon the rights and lives of Tennessee families and threatens the futures of trans youth across the state. We are determined to continue fighting this unconstitutional law until it is struck down for good.”

“Finally, these families can regroup after a year of crisis,” said Molly Quinn, executive director of OUTMemphis, an LGBTQ advocacy organization.  “The trans people I know are tired of being used to mobilize a Christian nationalist agenda, and tired of feeling forced out of Tennessee, at the cost of the basic healthcare they need to live free and happy lives. This fight isn’t over, and our message to trans Tennesseans is: don’t give up. You have people fighting for you, and we won’t stop until Tennessee is a safe and affirming state for us all.”

Holly McCall has been a fixture in Tennessee media and politics for decades. She covered city hall for papers in Columbus, Ohio and Joplin, Missouri before returning to Tennessee with the Nashville Business Journal.

Now more than ever, tough and fair journalism is important. The Tennessee Lookout is your watchdog, telling the stories of politics and policy that affect the people of the Volunteer State.

Related Stories

New around here? Get our newsletter!

Welcome to Postindustrial, a multimedia outlet covering the Rust Belt, Appalachia, and Postindustrial Communities around the world.


This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.