Washington Sued Over New Law On Shelter For Trans Youth

By Rachel Riley | August 17, 2023, 10:47 PM EDT ·

Two anti-trans groups are suing the state of Washington in Seattle federal court over a new law that policymakers say is intended to ensure shelter for teens seeking gender-affirming care and reproductive health services, alleging that the measure tramples parents' "constitutional rights to direct the upbringing of their children."

Illinois nonprofit International Partners for Ethical Care Inc. and Virginia-based Advocates for Protecting Children, alongside eight unnamed parents, alleged in the lawsuit filed Thursday that the new policy, known as Senate Bill 5599, allows shelters to house children and help them get "life-altering" health care treatments treatment without notifying their parents. Specifically, the new law lifts the requirement that shelters contact a runaway child's parents within 72 hours of the youth's arrival if the minor is seeking gender-affirming treatment or reproductive health care services.

"This suit is thus brought as a pre-enforcement challenge against statewide officials, in their official capacities, over this new Washington statute that discriminatorily deprives certain parents — but not all parents — of their fundamental right under the U.S. Constitution to direct the care and upbringing of their children, as well as their rights to the free exercise of religion, due process, free speech, and equal protection," the groups said in the complaint.

Partners for Ethical Care bills itself as a nonprofit seeking to "stop the unethical treatment of children by schools, hospitals, and mental and medical healthcare providers under the duplicitous banner of gender identity affirmation." Similarly, Advocates Protecting Children describes itself as "dedicated to fighting the gender industry, and especially its predation on children in the form of unethical social and medical transition for the sake of political and financial profit," according to the complaint.

Their suit seeks a preliminary injunction barring the state from enforcing the new law and, ultimately, a judge's order declaring it unconstitutional and voiding it altogether.

Mike Faulk, a press secretary for Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, told Law360 that while the state's legal counsel is still reviewing the filing, the suit "appears to be based on the same basic falsehoods that anti-trans groups have been pushing since the law was proposed."

Under state law, shelters have had a 72-hour deadline to contact the children's parents or guardian, unless there's a "compelling reason" — statutory language that has historically referred to any indication that the child might be abused or neglected if the parent is notified. S.B. 5599, which took effect last July, "expands those compelling reasons to include youth seeking abortion or gender-affirming care services," Faulk said.

According to the final bill report produced by state legislative staff, in cases where the child is seeking such care, the shelter must instead notify the Department of Children, Youth and Families. The state agency must then offer to make referrals on the minor's behalf for "appropriate behavioral health services" and try and resolve the conflict and reunite the family.

The legislature's bill report defines gender-affirming care as "health services or products that support and affirm an individual's gender identity, including social, psychological, behavioral, and medical or surgical interventions."

The anti-trans groups contend the new law illegally "penalizes parents of transgender children who both use the pronouns that correspond to the children's biological sex and refuse to use those children's preferred pronouns or name."

"By penalizing parents' refusal to engage in 'gendering-affirming' speech and speaking contrary to it, S.B. 5599 equates such speech and refusal to speak with child abuse," the groups say.

Among the couples named as plaintiffs in the suit are two Roman Catholics who have a 14-year-old transgender child who identifies as a girl. Another couple says their teenage child hid a previous gender identity switch from them while at a public school that "encouraged the transition." After being pulled out of the school, the child de-transitioned and now identifies as a girl again, her parents say, but they fear she will run away from home when she returns to school again this fall.

Attorneys for the plaintiffs did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Thursday.

The organizations and parents are represented by Joel B. Ard of Ard Law Group PLLC, Gene Schaerr of Shaerr Jaffe LLP and Reed D. Rubinstein, Nicholas Barry, Ian Prior and James Rogers of America First Legal Foundation.

Counsel information for the state of Washington was not immediately available on Thursday.

The case is International Partners for Ethical Care Inc. et al. v. Jay Inslee et al., case number 3:23-cv-5736, in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington.

--Editing by Jay Jackson Jr.

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