Dr. Shauna Lawlis, left, and Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt

Just a day after Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt signed SB 613 into law, banning gender affirming healthcare for transgender minors in the state, trans rights advocates have filed suit to challenge the new law.

SB 613 bans all forms of gender-affirming medical treatment for transgender youth and threatens providers who violate the law with a felony conviction and discipline from their professional licensing boards.

In a lawsuit filed today (Tuesday, May 2) by Lambda Legal, the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Oklahoma and the law firm Jenner & Block LLP, a group of families with transgender adolescents and Dr. Shauna Lawlis of OU Health “assert SB 613 unjustly and unfairly targets them and gender-affirming health care in violation of their rights under Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment,” according to a press release from Lambda Legal.

“Based on nothing but animus towards transgender people and a campaign of misinformation and disinformation, Oklahoma officials have decided to prohibit the provision of necessary, safe and effective evidence-based medical care for trans adolescents in Oklahoma,” said Omar Gonzalez-Pagan, counsel and health care strategist at Lambda Legal. “These actions risk the health, the well-being and the very lives of trans youth in the Sooner State. We will not stand idly by as discriminatory laws endanger our community.

“Trans youth in Oklahoma and elsewhere deserve no less,” Gonzalez-Pagan continued. “We are proud to represent, alongside our co-counsel, these five courageous families and a caring doctor who together are standing up for their rights.”

ACLU of Oklahoma Legal Director Megan Lambert added, “Every Oklahoman should have the freedom to access the care they need to survive and thrive. But once again, instead of deciding to boldly lead our state, Gov. Stitt and members of the legislature have decided to risk the lives of one of our most vulnerable populations, to score political points with their base.

“Oklahoma consistently ushers in the bottom of almost every list nationwide, from education and incarceration to healthcare and privacy,” Lambert said. “But lawmakers choose to spend their time pushing dangerous rhetoric on topics they know nothing about and attacking transgender children, instead of addressing the real issues Oklahomans face day to day. We all deserve the freedom to control our bodies and seek the healthcare we need, including gender-affirming care. The ACLU of Oklahoma and our partners have warned lawmakers that we will take swift action on any ban on gender-affirming care signed into law, and today is the day we make good on that promise.”

Harper Seldin, staff attorney for the ACLU’s LGBTQ & HIV Project, called the new law “a dangerous attack on the rights of families and their transgender youth,” saying that Stitt and those who passed the bill “have ignored the voices of parents, medical providers and transgender youth themselves, instead choosing to put their politics between doctors and their patients. We’re confident the state will find itself completely incapable of defending this law in court and welcome the opportunity to fight for the safety, dignity, and equality of trans Oklahomans.”

Calling SB 613 unconstitutional, Laurie Edelstein, a partner at Jenner & Block, said those challenging the law are “asking the court to block enforcement of SB 613 and protect the fundamental rights of transgender adolescents and their families to access appropriate medical treatment so that transgender adolescents have the same opportunity as their peers to thrive in their families, with their friends, in school, and in their communities.”

The press release noted that in September 2022, Oklahoma state legislators threatened to withhold COVID relief funding from Oklahoma University hospitals if they did not end their program supporting transgender youth. And this year in March, the Oklahoma legislature censured Rep. Mauree Turner, the state’s only openly nonbinary lawmaker.

“Such restrictions are opposed by leading medical experts and organizations, including the American Medical Association, the American Psychiatric Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics,” the press release notes. “According to the Williams Institute of UCLA, there are an estimated 2,600 transgender youth ages 13-17 in Oklahoma.

Read the complaint here.

Any person at risk of being affected by these restrictions on gender-affirming care should reach out to Lambda Legal  or The ACLU of Oklahoma.

— Tammye Nash