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Two transgender minors sue UM curators for discrimination based on sex

A photo of protesters outside of Jesse Hall. The columns are in the background.
Evan Holden
The Mizzou Young Democratic Socialists of America held a "Keep Hate Out of Health Care" protest in September to speak out against the university's decision.

A lawsuit was filed Thursday against the UM System Board of Curators on behalf of two Boone County transgender minors whose gender-affirming care was stopped by MU Health Care in August.

The lawsuit, which was filed in a U.S. District Court in Kansas City, alleges that the two minors were discriminated against based on their sex and disability status by MU Health Care's August decision to cease gender-affirming care for existing minor patients. The complaint seeks to bar MU Health Care from refusing medical care to existing minor patients based on their transgender status. It also seeks an unspecified amount of compensatory damages for the plaintiffs.

The lawsuit asserts that MU violated a provision of the Affordable Care Act related to nondiscrimination. The provision extends to any health care programs that receive federal financial assistance. As a public university that receives federal funds, MU is subject to the act, according to the lawsuit.

The plaintiffs argue that refusing prescriptions related to gender dysphoria while other minors continue to receive the same medications for other conditions is unlawful discrimination based on sex and disability.

TGH Litigation filed the lawsuit. The firm is based in Columbia and specializes in employment discrimination and civil rights cases. J. Andrew Hirth is one of the attorneys representing the plaintiffs.

"I think when the General Assembly decided to use transgender kids as a political football, a lot of people were concerned and upset by it," Hirth said. "When the state's land grant university, the center of learning and research for the state of Missouri, decided to abandon its current patients that were expressly exempted from the restrictions in the statute, I think it felt like a real betrayal."

The two plaintiffs, named in the complaint as J.C. and K.J., are Boone County residents and identified as transgender boys younger than 18. J.C. and K.J. received gender-affirming care at MU Health Care for more than a year and were medically diagnosed with gender dysphoria, a diagnosis that the complaint argues is a protected disability under the provision, as it "substantially limits one or more major life activities, including but not limited to the operation of the endocrine system."

J.C. received regular prescriptions for hormone replacement therapy, or HRT, up until the MU Health Care policy change in August. K.J. received injections of GnRH agonists as a treatment for dysphoria and a puberty delayer.

Both boys will exhaust their current medications by February and will, as a result, experience development consistent with their sex assigned at birth, like menstruation and breast development.

In addition to detailing the plaintiffs' medical history, the lawsuit includes more personal details on the identity journeys of both boys.

"In early December 2020, something clicked," the lawsuit reads. "For the first time, J.C. was able to articulate that he was a boy."

This portion of the complaint also describes the medical considerations of both plaintiffs' MU Health Care doctors in prescribing care. The doctors are only identified with initials, named as Dr. M. and Dr. G. The lawsuit asserts that both doctors believe the boys should continue receiving treatment and that they would have continued to refill their medications if permitted to do so in September.

While J.C. and K.J. will not be granted their previously prescribed medications, these forms of treatment are continuously prescribed to other minor patients, the lawsuit says.

For example, MU Health Care policy currently allows doctors to prescribe testosterone HRT "to prevent breast development in cisgender boys but not to prevent breast development in transgender boys," according to the lawsuit. Similarly, medications to delay puberty or halt menstruation may be prescribed to minors assigned female at birth, but not those identifying as male.

The plaintiffs allege that this difference in treatment constitutes discrimination on the basis of gender identity.

UM System President Mun Choi commented on the lawsuit Thursday from a news conference at the Board of Curators meeting in St. Louis.

"From the beginning, our position was (that) we're going to follow the law of the land," Choi said. "That approach is not going to change."

When asked whether MU had considered the possibility of lawsuits like this prior to its August policy change, MU Spokesperson Christian Basi said that MU is "always making sure it complies with the law and is in the best interests of the university."

Anna Colletto is a junior at the University of Missouri reporting on Health and Higher Education in Fall 2023.
The Columbia Missourian is a community news organization managed by professional editors and staffed by Missouri School of Journalism students who do the reporting, design, copy editing, information graphics, photography and multimedia.
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