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Judge's blistering ruling halts Florida's ban on gender-affirming care for minors

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

A federal judge in Florida today issued a blistering opinion temporarily blocking enforcement of that state's ban on gender-affirming medical care for transgender minors. NPR's Melissa Block has been reading the ruling from U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle. And Melissa, tell us more about what's in the opinion.

MELISSA BLOCK, BYLINE: Yeah. Ari, I can't overstate just how strongly worded this ruling from Judge Hinkle is. He called Florida's medical care ban for trans youth, quote, "an exercise in politics, not good medicine." And he said it amounts to purposeful discrimination. He wrote, nothing could have motivated this remarkable intrusion into parental prerogatives other than opposition to transgender status itself. As far as scientific arguments on the merits of gender-affirming care such as puberty blockers or cross-sex hormones, Hinkle said the great weight of medical authority supports these treatments and that denying such treatment, in his words, will cause needless suffering and will increase anxiety, depression and the risk of suicide.

But Hinkle, who, we should say, was appointed to the federal bench by former President Bill Clinton - he went further, stating flatly, the elephant in the room should be noted at the outset - gender identity is real. And he wrote that anyone who supports Florida's ban on trans medical care should - and I quote here - "put up or shut up." He asked those supporters in his ruling, do you acknowledge that there are individuals with actual gender identities opposite their natal sex or do you not? Dog whistles ought not to be tolerated.

A couple more points, Ari. He swatted down the state's argument that Florida was following international consensus when it banned gender-affirming care for trans youth. He wrote, the assertion is false. And no matter how many times the defendants say it, it will still be false. Finally, when he granted the preliminary injunction, Judge Hinkle concluded that, going forward, the plaintiffs - these are the families of three transgender children - will likely win on their claim that the medical care ban is unconstitutional.

SHAPIRO: Hmm. The ban has been hugely divisive. I have to imagine with an opinion worded this strongly, the reaction is going to be pretty strong as well.

BLOCK: Absolutely. And as you can imagine, LGBTQ advocates who challenged the ban are thrilled. I spoke with Shannon Minter. He's legal director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights. It's one of the groups that filed the challenge. And he told me this ruling is the strongest and most emphatic about calling out the open bias behind these laws. One of the Republican sponsors of the ban, state Representative Randy Fine, a Republican, tweeted this - it's clear that Democrat Judge Hinkle is a science-denying wokeist (ph) whose radical order will soon be overturned by jurists who actually believe in science.

We should mention, Ari, Florida's medical care ban was pushed strongly by Governor Ron DeSantis, first through the state's medical boards and then through the state legislature. It's one of a number of ways that DeSantis has targeted LGBTQ rights broadly in his time as governor, including through the so-called don't say gay law in education and a new law that makes it a crime for trans people to use a public bathroom that matches their gender identity.

SHAPIRO: Florida is just one state. How does this fit into the national picture?

BLOCK: Yeah, we're up to 18 states now with similar bans, Ari - all red states. So far, these bans have been at least partially blocked by federal judges in Alabama and Arkansas, and now in Florida.

SHAPIRO: Thanks. That's NPR's Melissa Block. Thank you, Melissa.

BLOCK: Sure. Thanks a lot. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

As special correspondent and guest host of NPR's news programs, Melissa Block brings her signature combination of warmth and incisive reporting. Her work over the decades has earned her journalism's highest honors, and has made her one of NPR's most familiar and beloved voices.