When Trans Rights Are Under Attack, We Show Up

Three families have sued the state to block its cruel and unconstitutional health care ban for trans youth.

Like most parents, Robert and Devon Dolney have spent a lot of time at the doctor’s office over the years. From routine well-baby visits and annual exams to (thankfully fewer) urgent care situations, they know their way around the clinic. 

The Dolneys have had many questions and great conversations with their doctors regarding the best care for their family. 

But you know who’s never been a part of these conversations? Our North Dakota lawmakers. 

All that changed, however, when House Bill 1254, legislation that bans gender-affirming care for trans North Dakotans was signed into law. 

This means the private health care decisions – like the ones the Dolneys made with their physician for their son’s gender-affirming care – have now been turned over to the government. 

That’s not acceptable. Gender-affirming care, which is consistent with prevailing medical and scientific standards, is life-saving medical care. Research shows that providing appropriate care to trans kids improves mental health outcomes, including decreased rates of depression and anxiety, substance use, and suicide attempts. 

But trans rights advocates are fighting back with litigation. 

This lawsuit, filed by Gender Justice on behalf of the Dolneys, two other North Dakota families with transgender children, and pediatric endocrinologist Dr. Luis Casas, is one of many legal challenges in response to a record-setting year of legislative attacks on transgender people, particularly transgender youth, across the country.

The ACLU of North Dakota is honored to support the plaintiffs challenging this unconstitutional and illegal intrusion into the rights of adolescents, their parents, and the medical providers who care for them. Banning gender-affirming care violates the constitutional guarantees of equal protection and due process.

It’s disappointing that Gov. Doug Burgum and the politicians targeting trans youth ignored the voices of parents, medical providers, and transgender youth themselves, instead choosing to put their politics between doctors and their patients. The ACLU of North Dakota and our partners who testified against the bill warned lawmakers about the possibility of a lawsuit. Today is the day our community makes good on that promise. 

At least 22 states have enacted laws banning or restricting gender-affirming care for minors, and most of the bans are being challenged in court. In June, a federal judge in the 8th Circuit Court – the same jurisdiction North Dakota falls under – permanently blocked an Arkansas law that aimed to ban gender-affirming care for transgender youth. The judge said the law, which is similar to North Dakota’s, violates the rights of transgender youth under the Equal Protection Clause, their parents under the Due Process Clause, and the First Amendment rights of their medical providers. A federal judge also blocked Indiana’s ban.

These decisions send a clear message: Laws like this, when tested by evidence, are indefensible under any standard of constitutional review.

We all deserve the freedom to control our bodies and seek the health care we need, including gender-affirming care. Stripping that treatment away from trans North Dakotan youth only causes harm and does nothing to protect children. 

The ACLU of North Dakota will continue to do all that we can to advocate for the rights and well-being of trans North Dakotans in the face of government-sanctioned discrimination. 

North Dakota is OUR home, too.