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Judge denies effort to block Missouri restrictions on gender-affirming care for trans youth

Rabbis Karen and Daniel Bogard and their 9-year-old son (center) embraces the family’s Golden Retrievers — Elvis and Violet — on Wednesday, March 22, 2023, at their home in St. Louis County. The Bogard’s son is one of the transgender Missourians who has been targeted by anti-trans policies, rhetoric, and legislation.
Brian Munoz
St. Louis Public Radio
Rabbis Karen and Daniel Bogard and their 9-year-old son embrace the family’s golden retrievers, Elvis and Violet, in March at their home in St. Louis County. The Bogards’ son is one of the transgender children in Missouri affected by anti-trans policies, rhetoric and legislation.

Updated at 5:30 p.m. Aug. 25 with reaction from PROMO

A St. Louis judge has denied an attempt to prevent a new law prohibiting gender-affirming care for transgender youth from going into effect.

Earlier this summer, a number of plaintiffs sued to block the law barring transgender minors from accessing things care such as puberty blockers and hormone therapy. They contended that the law violated state guarantees of equal protection.

But in a ruling released on Friday afternoon, St. Louis Circuit Judge Steven Ohmer denied a request for a preliminary injunction. That means the new law will go into effect on Monday while the case is heard.

Ohmer wrote that the plaintiffs’ “position in regard to constitutional violations is unpersuasive and not likely to succeed” and that “the science and medical evidence is conflicting and unclear.”

“The court further finds that petitioners have not clearly shown a sufficient probability of success on the merits to justify the grant of a preliminary injunction,” Ohmer wrote. “Petitioners have not clearly shown a sufficient threat of irreparable injury absent injunctive relief. The balance between the harm to petitioners and injury to others does not clearly weigh in favor of granting a preliminary injunction.”

The move is a win for Missouri Republicans, who made passage of the new law a major priority in the 2023 legislative session. The bill made it through the Senate after Democrats added language exempting transgender youth who are already using hormone therapy or puberty blockers. Sen. Mike Moon’s bill would also expire after four years.

“I’ve said from day one as Attorney General that I will fight to ensure that Missouri is the safest state in the nation for children. This is a huge step in that direction,” said Attorney General Andrew Bailey in a statement. “What a day."

Tom Bastain, a spokesman for the ACLU of Missouri, said in an email, “While we are disappointed in and disagree with the court’s ruling, we will not stop fighting to protect the rights of transgender people in Missouri.”

“The case is not over and will go to a full trial on the merits,” Bastain said.

But detractors of the new law, which is similar to what’s passed in other GOP-controlled states, have said it will deprive transgender youth of key health care options.

Aro Royston, board secretary at the LGBTQ public policy and advocacy group PROMO, said in a statement that the ruling "robbed us of immense joy and ability to thrive within this state as our authentic selves."

Royston also criticized Ohmer for saying the "science and medical evidence is conflicting and unclear." He said major medical organizations have endorsed puberty blockers and hormone therapy for transgender youth.

"We also know that youth who do not have access to this life-saving and medically necessarily healthcare are at risk for depression and suicide," said Royston, who is a transgender man. "I, personally, would not be here without gender-affirming healthcare. Quite possibly, I may not even be alive today without it."

Yamelsie Rodríguez, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri, said the law is “a shameful mark on our state.”

“On Monday, trans and gender-expansive young Missourians will have their rights stripped away — unless a higher court intervenes,” Rodriguez said. “They are terrified and furious that Missouri politicians are using ideology and junk science to deny them life-saving health care and erase their existence — and we are right alongside them. Politicians have no business probing around or dictating what care can be provided in our exam rooms.”

Rodriguez said her agency “will work with patients to get the care they need in Missouri, or, in Illinois, where gender-affirming care is protected under state law.”

“No matter what, our doors are open, and we’ll do all we can to provide Missourians with the care they want and need to live a dignified and authentic life,” Rodriguez said.

Moon’s bill bars the state’s Medicaid program from covering hormone therapy or gender transition surgery. It also prohibits people who are incarcerated from accessing hormone therapy or gender transition surgery.

Missouri’s elected officials react 

Reaction from Missouri political figures to the ruling fell along party lines.

Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe, one of three GOP candidates for governor, said the ruling “is a huge win for the safety of Missouri children.” And state Rep. Brad Hudson, a Cape Fair Republican who handled the bill in the House, tweeted: “Our side won!”

St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones said Friday’s “shameful ruling will prevent trans Missourians from living their authentic lives and drive families out of our state.”

“We will continue to fight back against the legislature’s hateful attacks and lift up the diversity that makes St. Louis an inclusive community for all, no matter your identity,” Jones said.

She pointed to an executive order she made in response to the new law that established practices for city departments to be more inclusive of gender identities.

Ohmer is scheduled to hear the full case on Sept. 22.

Jason is the politics correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.