Georgia judge needs more time in lawsuit over blocking the state’s ban on gender-affirming care

Aug 11, 2023, 3:25 PM | Updated: 5:36 pm

ATLANTA (AP) — A federal judge deciding whether to block a Georgia law that bans hormone replacement therapies for transgender people under 18 said Friday there were “significant interests” on both sides and she would need more time to rule.

During nearly two full days of hearings in Atlanta, Judge Sarah Geraghty heard conflicting testimony from witnesses about the safety and benefits of hormone therapy to treat adolescents with gender dysphoria — the distress felt when someone’s gender expression does not match their gender identity.

“I need to process the evidence we’ve heard in the past two days and take some additional time to make sure I get this right,” she said.

She did not indicate when she would rule.

The law, which was passed this year by the Republican majority in the General Assembly, took effect in July. It allows doctors to prescribe puberty-blocking medications, and it allows minors who are already receiving hormone therapy to continue treatment.

But the law bans any new patients under 18 from starting hormone therapy. It also bans most gender-affirming surgeries for transgender people under 18.

Doctors typically guide kids toward therapy or voice coaching long before medical intervention.

At that point, puberty blockers and other hormone treatments are far more common than surgery. They have been available in the United States for more than a decade and are standard treatments backed by major doctors’ organizations including the American Medical Association.

The parents of four transgender girls have filed a lawsuit challenging the Georgia law’s constitutionality and have also asked Judge Geraghty to block its enforcement while the litigation is pending. The lawsuit names state health officials as defendants.

Georgia is one of at least 20 states that have recently adopted laws restricting or banning gender-affirming care for transgender minors, with most of them being challenged in court.

On Friday, Geraghty heard more testimony as well as closing arguments from attorneys.

Ren Massey, a psychologist in Georgia who treats transgender adolescents, said children struggling with their gender identity undergo a comprehensive assessment before discussing treatment plans. That assessment looks at the possibility of other mental health issues and the length of time they’ve expressed questions about their gender identity, among other factors.

A team consisting of the patients, their parents and health care providers typically discuss the benefits and risks of a treatment, and monitor their progress closely. Hormone therapy, if it is prescribed, comes years later, he said.

Massey called Georgia’s law “unethical,” because “it’s withholding treatment that we know is beneficial,” he testified.

During cross-examination, an attorney for the state showed that passages of a report that Massey submitted to the court were identical or nearly identical to those in a report written by another expert. Massey did not dispute the similarities between the reports, which both expressed opposition to restrictions on treatment for transgender adolescents.

Though he said he has never treated an adolescent with gender dysphoria, Michael Laidlaw, an endocrinologist in California, testified for the defense that hormone doses given to some transgender patients under 18 are “exceedingly high.”

“Hormones are very powerful medications,” Laidlaw said.

On cross-examination, he was confronted with a legal brief he co-authored for the U.S. Supreme Court that called gender dysphoria among youth a “false belief” and accused young people diagnosed with it of engaging in a “charade.”

The judge later asked Ben Bradshaw, an attorney for the plaintiffs, how she should weigh the risks of hormone treatments in her decision.

Bradshaw said the treatment is safe and appropriate when prescribed properly, and its benefits far outweigh any risks.

“These treatments allow adolescents to thrive and to flourish,” he said. “And withholding them casts them back into serious distress.”

Jeffrey Harris, an attorney for the state, said the evidence doesn’t show that the treatment has “profound benefits.”

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Georgia judge needs more time in lawsuit over blocking the state’s ban on gender-affirming care