Florida’s ban on gender-affirming care for youth has been blocked. We need to celebrate that victory

OPINION: No civil rights movement can exist, much less thrive, without hope

With the U.S. Supreme Court firmly in the hands of conservative justices, it often feels like the legal hammer is always about to drop on trans people and our rights. In the face of the hundreds of proposed anti-LGBTQ2S+ bills working their way through red state legislatures, it’s easy to jump to assume that queer rights in the U.S. are living on borrowed time.

Nowhere is the feeling of queer hopelessness more palpable than in Ron DeSantis’s Florida. No other governor has made more targeted moves to marginalize queer and trans people. But earlier this week, a federal judge put a block on the presidential candidate’s transphobic ambitions by granting a preliminary injunction against the state’s recently passed ban on gender-affirming care for youth.

Robert Hinkle, a Clinton-appointed federal district judge, made two important determinations in his written ruling granting the injunction. He declared that gender identity is real, pointing out that even the state’s preferred doctor witnesses, who spoke during a seven-day trial preceding the passing of the bill, all admitted that gender identity exists as a concept. He also found that the law, which in recent weeks began affecting access to care for even adult Floridians, is likely to be found unconstitutional because it specifically targets a distinct minority without a viable state interest. While the ruling only applies to the specific plaintiffs, it makes the whole law essentially unenforceable.

Legal efforts to fight back against the anti-trans movement in the U.S. have been surprisingly effective over the last several years. Arkansas, the first state to pass a ban on gender-affirming care for minors, saw its law blocked in federal court in 2021 pending the result of a trial, with a decision expected any moment. West Virginia’s ban on trans girls in girls sports was also blocked, with the Supreme Court deciding in April not to intervene early in the case. These are just two of many recent victories that trans people have won in federal court.

The Florida case is significant because of the high political profile of its ambitious governor, who has used his personal crusade against “wokeness” to burnish his national image. Legal journalist Chris Geidner wrote on his Substack newsletter, Law Dork, that the Florida ruling is perhaps the most significant legal win for trans rights in the last five years.

But looming over all of this is the Supreme Court. Will these wins continue once trans-related cases begin reaching the high court? It’s tough to say. There aren’t currently any trans-related cases currently before the court, and it often takes years for cases to work their way through the court system.

 

Gavin Grimm first sued his school to access the boys bathroom in 2014, and it wasn’t until 2021 that SCOTUS declined to hear the case. The Aimee Stephens case, which was part of the famous Bostock v. Clayton County ruling banning workplace discrimination against LGBTQ2S+ people in the US, was first filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in 2013. The eventual SCOTUS ruling didn’t end up coming down until 2020.

“The wheels of justice, the saying goes, turn slowly. Right now, that is working in trans people’s favour.”

This current court is notoriously stingy in the volume of cases it decides to hear, and rulings take seemingly forever to be released to the public.

The wheels of justice, the saying goes, turn slowly. Right now, that is working in trans people’s favour. These cases aren’t going to be heard by the high court any time soon, and that’s a good thing. Currently, there are six conservatives and three liberals, meaning trans people likely face an uphill battle in any cases brought before the court, though it should be noted that Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Neil Gorsuch voted for trans rights previously in Bostock. Nonetheless, the snail’s pace of justice gives more time for any potential changes to the court’s political makeup and possibly create a more forgiving court for trans rights.

It’s also a reminder that wins for trans rights are still possible, even when all seems hopeless. We shouldn’t write off our ability to prevent harm to our community by fighting these awful bits of legislation in the court system.

More than that, though, rulings like the one in Florida this week serve as an important counterbalance to the deluge of hate and horrible news faced by trans people every day. As a group, trans people tend to catastrophize every bit of bad legislative news we hear, with content creators often eager to capitalize on our need to “stay informed.” But the way forward lies not with despair, but with hope.

No civil rights movement can exist, much less thrive, without hope. I understand the instinct to lean into wry and dark humour when facing dark times, and there’s always a place for that, but we need signs that things may eventually get better.

These wins may not be permanent, and we’re not guaranteed to win every case, but the court system allows our beleaguered trans friends in Florida to breathe a little easier this morning. Let’s not take that for granted.

Katelyn Burns is a freelance journalist and columnist for Xtra and MSNBC. She was the first openly trans Capitol Hill reporter in U.S. history.

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