The Biden administration expressed its support on Thursday for efforts to overturn anti-trans laws after weeks of advocacy on the part of LGBTQ+ groups.
The Department of Justice (DOJ) filed statements of interest in support of lawsuits filed against Arkansas and West Virginia after they passed laws earlier this year limiting gender-affirming health care and sports participation to trans youth, respectively. The DOJ claimed in its briefs that these laws are unconstitutional as the “restrictions explicitly target transgender people,” according to the Associated Press.
“A state law that specifically denies a limited class of people the ability to receive medically necessary care from their healthcare providers solely on the basis of their sex assigned at birth violates the Equal Protection Clause,” the DOJ wrote in its brief opposing Arkansas’ law.
In April, Arkansas became the first state in the country to ever enact legislation restricting the kinds of health care that can be offered to transgender minors. House Bill 1570 bans doctors from offering hormones and puberty blockers to trans youth under the age of 18, and was pushed through over the objections of its Republican governor, Asa Hutchinson. After Hutchinson vetoed the bill, GOP state lawmakers overrode his decision within a day.
HB 1750 is set to take effect on July 28. Earlier this week, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), a national legal advocacy group challenging the law, requested an injunction blocking it while the courts weigh its constitutionality.
The Biden administration had a similar view of the West Virginia law, which bans transgender female students from competing on women’s sports teams in school. The DOJ claimed that the law, which was approved by Republican governor Jim Justice in May, is “based on misconceptions and overbroad assumptions” regarding trans youth.
“That policy does nothing to further the state’s purported goal of protecting athletic opportunities for girls,” its brief claimed.
In a statement, the ACLU lauded the Biden administration for putting its weight behind legal challenges to these laws. Chase Strangio, deputy director for trans justice with its LGBTQ & HIV Project, said the federal government’s statements “send a powerful message that discrimination against transgender youth is not just wrong, it is also plainly unconstitutional.”
“These filings from the Department of Justice confirm what we have been telling legislatures all year: Banning trans youth from sports and denying trans youth health care violates the Constitution and federal law,” Strangio said. “We hope that state legislatures finally get the message.”
The White House’s decision to formally weigh in on the lawsuits has been long anticipated after numerous instances in which the Biden administration stopped just short of pledging legal action against states that discriminate. Even earlier this week, the Department of Education (DOE) released the administration’s strongest statement yet affirming that it views discrimination against trans students as a violation of federal civil rights law, but it did not mention joining lawsuits to prevent such bias.
The Human Rights Campaign (HRC), which has filed a separate lawsuit against Florida’s anti-trans sports law, believes the White House’s briefs are “an important step” in protecting “transgender young people from egregious laws passed by state legislatures to discriminate against transgender youth.”
“With these actions, this Justice Department is making clear that these laws are harmful and illegal and cannot be tolerated,” said HRC President Alphonso David in a statement.
One potential hurdle to the Biden administration’s support for these cases is the sheer volume of anti-trans legislation enacted in 2021. Seven states have already signed laws this year preventing transgender student athletes from competing in alignment with their gender identity, and two implemented legislation limiting youth access to gender-affirming medical care.
More could soon join them. The Republican-controlled Wisconsin Assembly passed a trans sports ban this week, and lawmakers in Utah recently signaled that they intend to revive efforts to limit trans student athletic access in their state. Wisconsin’s bill is likely to be vetoed should it reach the desk of governor Tony Evers, who is a Democrat, but there could be attempts to override him. Meanwhile, Texas is set to revisit two anti-trans bills in an upcoming special session.
While advocacy groups have signaled an intent to sue each of these states, many have not yet been met with a legal complaint, such as Montana and Mississippi. Part of the issue, as advocates told them. earlier this year, is finding plaintiffs who are able and willing to join onto the case. In Mississippi, few trans athletes even attempt to go out for a sports team, as they face high levels of discrimination.
As they attempt to mount future challenges, LGBTQ+ organizations hope the Biden administration’s support for their cases is yet another sign these laws are “simply motivated by bias” and that they have “no basis in fact.”
“Time after time this legislative session, state lawmakers have passed discriminatory laws that strip transgender young people of fundamental rights, dignity, and the opportunity to thrive,” David said. “They have done so despite failing to cite any evidence that their legislation is solving an existing problem.”
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Published:Jun 17, 2021 at 12:00 PM