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Lawsuit filed in Missoula over bill that would ban gender-affirming care for transgender youth

Two Montana families, two medical providers, and the ACLU of Montana have filed suit against Senate Bill 99.
Alex Rate ACLU of Montana
Posted at 2:16 PM, May 09, 2023

MISSOULA - A lawsuit has been filed in Missoula District Court against the bill that would ban gender-affirming care for transgender youth.

Senate Bill 99, which Gov. Greg Gianforte signed last month, is the same bill that led to the events that caused Missoula Representative Zooey Zephyr to be barred from the House floor.

It's now the center of a lawsuit filed by two Montana families, two medical providers, and the ACLU of Montana.

SB 99 — which bans healthcare for transgender youth such as puberty blockers and hormone treatment — is scheduled to go into effect on Oct. 1, 2023.

The plaintiffs in Tuesday’s lawsuit say the law violates their rights under the Montana Constitution, including the right to equal protection and the right of parents to direct the upbringing of their children.

"And this really is big government seeking to intrude between individuals and their health care providers. And telling those individuals and families what they can and cannot do when it comes to medically necessary care. So, our complaint challenging S-B 99 alleges that the bill essentially violates the right to equal protection under the laws, violates the right to privacy and critically violates our right to parent. Because these are families that are making important life-saving decisions in consultation with their healthcare providers. And there is no place for government in that doctor/patient relationship." - ACLU of Montana Legal Director Alex Rate

Phoebe Cross, a 15-year-old transgender boy and one of the plaintiffs wrote the following in a release sent out announcing the lawsuit:

"I will never understand why my representatives are working to strip me of my rights and the rights of other transgender kids. Just living as a trans teenager is difficult enough, the last thing me and my peers need is to have our rights taken away. There were many things I hoped my elected officials would achieve, this regression in human rights is not one of those things. The blatant disrespect for my humanity and existence is deeply unsettling."

The ACLU of Montana agrees with what Cross stated.

"People are devastated. People are terrified here in Montana because it wasn’t just S-B 99 that was debated by the legislature but a slew of hateful bills that were intended to target the transgender community,” Rate told MTN News. “And so now, people are faced with incredibly difficult decisions about moving out of state, about how to afford care that maybe was originally covered by federal programs like Medicaid. “These are life-changing decisions and the legislature seemed to ignore the overwhelming outpouring of opposition to these hateful bills targeting the transgender community."

The lawsuit is asking the court to find the bill unconstitutional and prevent the defendants — Gov. Gianforte, Attorney General Austin Knudsen, and several state health agencies — from enforcing the act. The plaintiffs argue the bill is unconstitutional for several reasons, including equal protection, right to privacy, right to dignity, and freedom of speech and expression.

Court documents also break down the experiences of two families with transgender children and two medical providers, including one here in Missoula. You can view the filing here.

Watch an extended interview with ACLU of Montana Legal Director Alex Rate below:

EXTENDED INTERVIEW: ACLU of Montana Legal Director Alex Rate

SB 99 is the same bill Representative Zooey Zephyr made her original comments about during debate on the House floor on April 18, 2023. She told lawmakers they'd have "blood on their hands" if they passed the amendments offered by Governor Gianforte.

House Speaker Matt Regier said the comments were against decorum and restricted Zephyr from speaking. That led to protests in the House gallery that following Monday, which House leaders said Zephyr encouraged.

Republican lawmakers then voted to bar Zephyr from the House floor for the remainder of the session, which ended on May 2.