Judge Halts Alabama Law Criminalizing Parents for Obtaining Essential Medical Care for their Transgender Children

by Aryn Fields

Parents and doctors express relief that transgender adolescents will be able to continue receiving necessary medical care while their challenge to SB 184 proceeds.

An Alabama federal district court judge has issued a ruling blocking enforcement of Alabama SB 184 while a legal challenge to the law proceeds. SB 184 criminalizes parents who seek to get essential medical care for their transgender children’s needs. It provides up to 10 years in prison as penalty for anyone, including doctors and parents, who assists in getting the care these young people need.

The suit, Rev. Eknes-Tucker v. Marshall, is brought by four Alabama parents from across the state on the grounds that it strips them of the right to make important decisions about their children’s healthcare. They are joined by a private practice pediatrician in rural Southeast Alabama, a clinical psychologist with the UAB medical system, and Reverend Paul Eknes-Tucker, Senior Pastor at Pilgrim United Church of Christ in Birmingham, all of whom could face criminal penalties under the law. The U.S. Department of Justice has also joined the suit as plaintiff-intervenor challenging the constitutionality of the law which would deny established medical treatments to youth who are transgender but not to others.

The ruling follows a two-day evidentiary hearing May 5 and 6 at which doctors and medical experts described the well-established safety and efficacy of medical care for transgender youth who experience gender dysphoria and the damage to children’s health when such care is denied. The Court received evidence confirming that over 22 major medical organizations recognize the established course of care for transgender youth. The court also heard from plaintiff parents, in briefing and in closed-court testimony, about the profoundly positive impact access to appropriate medical care has had on their children’s health and wellbeing and the devastating harm that would come from having to stop treatment.

The American Academy of Pediatrics, the Alabama Chapter of the Academy of Pediatrics, the American Medical Association and other state and national medical organizations submitted a friend-of-the-court brief describing the consensus in the medical community supporting standards of care for transgender youth and opposing laws like SB 184 that criminalize and ban proven, necessary care.

James Zoe, father of 13-year-old Zachary of Birmingham:

“This ruling means that we will be able to continue providing our child with the medical care he needs and nothing could be more important or more of a relief to our family. Alabama is our home and we hope this cruel law will not be allowed to force us from it. We are fighting for our child and will continuing fighting so that he and all transgender youth in Alabama remain able to receive appropriate medical care.”

The families challenging the law come from across the state and are proceeding anonymously due to the risk of criminal prosecution under SB 184 as well as for their privacy and safety. They are Brianna Boe and her 12-year-old transgender son, Michael Boe of Montgomery; James Zoe and his 13-year-old transgender son Zachary Zoe of Birmingham; Megan Poe and her 15-year-old transgender daughter Allison Poe of Northern Alabama; and Kathy Noe and her 17-year-old-transgender son Christopher Noe of Eastern Alabama.

The plaintiffs are represented by Lightfoot, Franklin & White LLC, King & Spalding LLP, GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders (GLAD), the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR), the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), and the Human Rights Campaign (HRC).

“This ruling means that parents of transgender children in Alabama will continue to be able to make the healthcare decisions that are best for their families. It is an extraordinary relief. Parents should not be punished for wanting to do what’s best for their kids,” said Jennifer Levi, GLAD Transgender Rights Project Director.

“This ruling lessens the enormous stress families across Alabama have been under since SB 184 passed last month. A state should not criminalize parents and doctors for following medical guidelines and providing needed medical treatments,” said NCLR Senior Staff Attorney and Transgender Youth Project Director Asaf Orr.

“We’re grateful the court heard the powerful pleas from the families and providers who would be so harmed by this law. Parents should never be put in the unimaginable position of choosing between denying their transgender children needed healthcare or facing prison,” said Sarah Warbelow, HRC Legal Director.

“Blocking enforcement of SB 184 supports the well-being of transgender youth in Alabama and the rights of parents who under the law would be prohibited from seeking the best possible care for their children,” said Scott McCoy, SPLC Interim Deputy Legal Director LGBTQ Rights & Special Litigation.

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