This story originally appeared in Common Dreams on April 21, 2022. It is shared here with permission under a Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0) license.
Four families, a pair of medical providers, and a minister in Alabama have asked a federal court to prevent a newly enacted state law that criminalizes parents who seek and doctors who provide or suggest gender-affirming healthcare for trans children from taking effect in just over two weeks.
The new legal challenge, Rev. Eknes-Tucker v. Ivey, was filed Tuesday in the US District Court for the Middle District of Alabama – Northern Division. Because the plaintiffs face potential felonies and denial of essential medical care for their transgender children under SB 184, they asked the court to stop the punitive measure, which includes up to 10 years in prison, from going into effect while their case against it moves forward.
The so-called “Vulnerable Child Compassion and Protection Act”—one of dozens of anti-trans bills introduced by GOP lawmakers nationwide—was passed by Alabama’s Republican-controlled Legislature on April 7 and signed into law by right-wing Gov. Kay Ivey the following day. Unless enjoined, the legislation takes effect on May 8.
The families pursuing an emergency court order to block the law come from across Alabama and are proceeding anonymously, using pseudonyms, due to the risk of criminal prosecution under SB 184. 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.
“I know people who don’t have a transgender child may not understand my experience,” Megan Poe, mother of 15-year-old Allison of Northern Alabama, said Wednesday in a statement. “I have done everything I can to learn about what my daughter is going through and being able to seek guidance from our pediatrician and medical specialists was a turning point for our family.”
“With that support and care Allison has become a confident and social teenager who is thriving in school,” said Poe. “Without it, I’m terrified she will again become withdrawn, depressed, or even worse. I only want what’s best for my daughter, like any parent. For the state to take away my ability to provide that essential care and support is unthinkable.”
Polling published in August 2020 by Morning Consult and the Trevor Project found that LGBTQ+ youth “are significantly more likely than straight/cis youth to exhibit symptoms of depression, anxiety, and/or both.”
Of the 600 LGBTQ+ people ages 13-24 who were surveyed, 55% reported symptoms of anxiety, 53% reported symptoms of depression, and 43% reported symptoms of both in the two weeks preceding the survey. Mental health challenges are even more common among trans and nonbinary youth, with 69%, 66%, and 61% of respondents reporting symptoms of anxiety, depression, or both, respectively.
South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem was recently denounced for her apparent ignorance of the harmful effects of anti-trans sentiment, which she has codified into law, as many Republican officials have done despite the fact that voters overwhelmingly oppose the GOP’s assault on the rights of transgender individuals and their loved ones.
James Zoe, father of 13-year-old Zachary of Birmingham, said that “our family is challenging this cruel law because it infringes on our ability as parents to ensure our child receives appropriate medical care, and targets transgender youth simply for being transgender.”
“We have the choice to leave our home state of Alabama, or stay and fight,” said Zoe. “We have chosen to fight for our child and for all transgender children in Alabama. In the end, we believe this unfair law will be overturned and we will be able to continue providing our child with the medical care he needs.”
Last month, a district judge in Travis County, Texas halted far-right Gov. Greg Abbott’s attempt to investigate families who obtain gender-affirming healthcare for their children—a move that LGBTQ+ rights advocates welcomed as they vowed to continue fighting against the GOP’s attack on transgender people.
The families are joined by a private practice pediatrician in rural Southeast Alabama and a clinical psychologist with the University of Alabama at Birmingham medical system—both of whom are also proceeding pseudonymously due to the risk of criminal prosecution—along with Rev. Paul Eknes-Tucker, senior pastor at Pilgrim United Church of Christ in Birmingham.
“As a minister, I counsel parents with transgender children about how best to love and support their children. Under SB 184, those conversations now come with a risk of criminal prosecution,” Eknes-Tucker said. “This dangerous law is an unthinkable infringement on parental rights and the freedom of pastors and other faith leaders to counsel their own parishioners.”
Dr. Rachel Koe, the doctor in rural Southeast Alabama, pointed out that “parents come to me seeking trusted medical advice but under SB 184 both I and the parents consulting me are subject to a prison sentence for even discussing the best recommendations for supporting their children’s health.”
“SB 184 criminalizes effective, established medical treatment that is recognized as the standard of care in the medical field, including by the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Medical Association,” she added.
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).
“Allowing SB 184 to go into effect will cause enormous stress and harm to families across Alabama,” said Asaf Orr, senior staff attorney at NCLR and director of its Transgender Youth Project. “A state should not criminalize parents and doctors for following medical guidelines and providing needed medical treatments.”