by Marie B.Curry, managing attorney

Ohio families with gender-diverse kids are reeling in the face of a new law set to take effect in our state in April. Among its many limitations, Ohio House Bill 68 prohibits physicians and mental health professionals from providing life-affirming health care to gender diverse youth.

To be clear, gender-affirming care and gender-affirming surgery are not the same thing; gender-affirming surgery is currently not provided to people under age 18 in Ohio - and was not provided even before HB 68.

Gender-affirming care is supported by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the American Medical Association.  Gender-affirming care is care that is known by those closest to these children - parents and medical providers - to be critical to their physical and mental health and overall wellbeing.

In fact, many call it life-saving.

For young patients, gender-affirming care may look like specialized medical care like hormone therapy to help align appearance with gender identity. But maybe even more importantly, it means that patients and their families can feel safe in accessing holistic, patient-centered care with no need to hide their true selves.

It’s hard to know how many young Ohioans this new law will impact. Many are afraid to freely express their identities to even close friends and classmates. Some studies suggest around 5% of young people are gender diverse, which would equate to over 120,000 young Ohioans.

But it doesn’t really matter how many are impacted, does it?

Just like it doesn’t really matter whether it’s your child who is transgender…
Your child who is internalizing toxic self-hate….
Or your child who is on the verge of suicidal ideation…

Because in the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

The LGBTQ+ communities and its allies are responding to HB 68.

First, the ACLU of Ohio has filed a lawsuit challenging the provisions of HB 68 - and particularly the ban on gender-affirming care for minors. This lawsuit is in the early stages, and we will watch its progress.

According to Freda Levenson, Legal Director at the ACLU of Ohio, the goal of the litigation is to “defend transgender youth and their constitutional right to receive medically necessary healthcare. The use of gender-affirming hormone therapy to treat transgender minors is supported by every major medical association in our country. Transgender youth, together with their doctors and parents, should have access to evidence-based medical care just like anyone else. Families should be able to make these private, personal decisions based on the advice of their physicians, and free from interference by politicians. HB 68 is not only cruel; it violates the Ohio Constitution and must be challenged.”

The provisions of HB 68 will go into effect as a lawsuit unfolds, unless a judge issues a temporary injunction. A few factors come into play when an Ohio court determines whether an injunction is appropriate, including whether the act the plaintiff seeks to restrain will create “great or irreparable injury” or constitute a “violation of…rights respecting the subject of the action…”

Additionally, community leaders are coalescing. This includes gender-affirming healthcare providers and policy advocates who, like impacted families, are grappling with what this law will mean for their patients and the care they can provide.

Hope can also be found in the broad array of allies who have stepped forward to speak up for the rights and humanity of their fellow Ohioans. To all our community partners who work with children and families, take this as an opportunity to find even little things you can do to be a better ally. Take classes, read up, ask questions. Remind your clients that they still have the right to exist - the right to be.

Finally, Governor Mike DeWine shared some powerful words in his attempted veto of the bill in late 2023. Regardless of ultimate political intent and impact, we can hope these words were heard broadly - both by opponents to LGBTQ+ rights who need education and information, and by LGBTQ+ youth and families themselves who need to be seen and affirmed.

“Many parents have told me that their child would be dead today if they had not received the treatment they received from an Ohio children’s hospital. I have also been told, by those that are now grown adults, that but for this care, they would have taken their lives when they were teenagers.”

“Parents are making decisions about the most precious thing in their life, their child, and none of us should underestimate the gravity and the difficulty of those decisions.”

“Were I to sign Substitute House Bill 68 or were Substitute House Bill 68 to become law, Ohio would be saying that the State, that the government, knows what is best medically for a child rather than the two people who love that child the most, the parents.”

As a result of the successful override of Governor DeWine’s veto, on April 24, 2024 Ohio parents will lose the right to determine what is best medically for their children. Doctors will face discipline for providing best practice, evidence-based, and lifesaving essential health care. And transgender and gender nonconforming youth will be denied their right to be themselves.