Tennessee Enacts First-In-The-Nation Law To Stop Adults From Helping Minors Access Gender-Affirming Care

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee (R) on Tuesday signed a first-in-the-nation law to block adults from helping trans youth receive gender-affirming care without their parents’ consent.

Under the law, known as House Bill 2310, anyone who helps a child access gender-affirming care within Tennessee state lines can be sued for compensation by the minor or the minor’s parents. There are exceptions for the child’s own parents or legal guardians, for adults who have permission from the minor’s parents, and for transportation companies, like those that operate ride-sharing apps, buses or airlines, that a minor could take to get to a gender-affirming care clinic.

A previous version of the law included a criminal penalty, making anyone who “recruits, harbors, or transports an unemancipated minor within this state for the purpose of receiving a prohibited medical procedure” chargeable with a Class C felony.

Lee’s office did not immediately respond to HuffPost’s request for comment.

Tennessee had already banned gender-affirming care for minors — measures that can include puberty blockers, hormone replacement therapy and, in rare instances, gender-affirming surgery — last July, when Lee signed an earlier bill, Senate Bill 1, into effect.

“I want to be clear that this in no way bars parents or legal guardians from helping their child access to medical care that they need out-of-state,” Bryan Davidson, a policy director at the ACLU Tennessee, told HuffPost.

“I think that this is an attempt by the legislature to try to use misinformation and intimidation to try to get parents and families to self-censor themselves and to police their own behavior. That is the concerning part.”

If the problem of adults transporting minors across state lines were indeed a major issue, Davidson said, Tennessee already has a law on the books for that. “It’s called kidnapping,” he said.

The gender-affirming care ban, S.B. 1, was temporarily blocked for certain residents thanks to a legal challenge from the American Civil Liberties Union, but a federal appeals court ruled in the fall to allow the ban to stand.

Advocacy groups are now waiting to see if the Supreme Court will take up the ACLU’s challenge to S.B. 1, known as L.W. v. Skrmetti, and weigh in on the question of who is allowed to make medical decisions for minors seeking gender-affirming care. If this highest court does take up the challenge to Tennessee’s ban, it could have precedent-setting ramifications for other states’ restrictions on care.

Lee signed a separate bill on Tuesday that penalizes “abortion trafficking of a minor” and makes it a misdemeanor offense for a person to help a minor obtain an abortion or abortion-inducing drugs without consent from the minor’s parents. Several GOP-led states — most notably Idaho — have passed similar laws since the reversal of Roe v. Wade two years ago.

The two new laws go into effect July 1.

Tennessee’s state legislature, which has a Republican supermajority, has long been an early adopter of new kinds of anti-LGBTQ legislation. As governor, Lee has never issued a veto on an anti-LGBTQ bill, and the state has far outpaced the rest of the country in terms of anti-LGBTQ legislation.

During this year’s legislative session, Lee enacted at least eight new anti-LGBTQ+ laws. This includes laws that force school administrators to tell parents if their child asks to use a name or gender marker that differs from their birth certificate; allow people to refuse to perform same-sex marriages; permit foster families to discriminate against LGBTQ+ kids; and eliminate the state’s human rights commission.

Last year, Tennessee became the first state to enact a drag ban, and blocked performances from taking place anywhere in public where children could be present. A federal judge ruled that ban unconstitutional, but the state Attorney General Jonathan Skrmetti is trying to argue for the ban to be applied in private spaces, as well.

The state also garnered national attention last year after Skrmetti probed Vanderbilt University Medical Center for the records of trans patients — both minors and adults — after a Nashville-based right-wing media figure posted an inflammatory, misleading information on Twitter about the hospital’s treatments for transgender children. The Department of Health and Human Services has since opened an investigation into Vanderbilt’s release of patient medical records.

“Tennessee has become a sort of policy laboratory for attacks on LGBTQ+ folks at the state level,” said Davidson. “The anti-LGBTQ legislation is largely driven to appease the small fringe activist base in Tennessee.”

Davidson added that Tennessee is one of the most “egregiously gerrymandered states in the nation” and has one of the lowest rates of voter turnout, allowing more extreme rhetoric and policy to flourish.