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Courts have blocked a number of the anti-LGBTQ laws from going into effect

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

This week Oklahoma became the latest state to enact a law that targets gender-affirming medical care for transgender youth. Courts have blocked other such laws, at least temporarily. It is all part of a turbulent, fast-moving clash over transgender rights, as NPR's Melissa Block reports.

MELISSA BLOCK, BYLINE: Courts in Alabama and Arkansas have put the brakes on laws that banned gender-affirming care for trans youth, care such as puberty blockers or hormone treatment. Meanwhile, in Texas, for now two courts have blocked the governor's directive to investigate parents for child abuse if they provide gender-affirming care for their kids. But even with those laws and policies put on ice with temporary injunctions, families are worried about what's to come, says Ann Miller with the LGBTQ advocacy group PFLAG. And some families are having to make tough decisions.

ANN MILLER: Should they move? Should they look at getting a job in a different state that's more affirming? This puts a terrible pressure on both the family and, honestly, our most vulnerable population, which is transgender youth.

BLOCK: This year Republican-led states have introduced and passed record numbers of anti-LGBTQ bills, most of them focused on transgender rights and especially targeting trans youth - medical care bans, sports bans, bathroom bills. Gillian Branstetter calls the trend a cynical race to the bottom. She's with the American Civil Liberties Union, which has challenged many of those laws in court. So far, she says, the results are encouraging.

GILLIAN BRANSTETTER: Judges have really read these bills for filth. They are openly discriminatory. They're openly in defiance of the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution.

BLOCK: Branstetter says recent court rulings blocking the laws give her comfort, and she hopes they send a message to transgender youth.

BRANSTETTER: They are not alone in this fight. These bills are frankly written by amateurs, and they will be undone by transgender professionals at the ACLU and a lot of our partner colleagues across the LGBT rights movement.

BLOCK: Partners such as the advocacy group Lambda Legal, where Sasha Buchert directs the Nonbinary and Transgender Rights Project. She says she's heartened by judges who've considered these cases and have sided with science rather than stigma.

SASHA BUCHERT: Yeah, it definitely reinforces my faith in the judiciary. You know, it's a huge relief.

BLOCK: But Buchert cautions that, given the large numbers of Trump-appointed judges now on the federal bench, she's bracing for other unfavorable decisions.

BUCHERT: Do I think that we're going to win every case that we bring? That's unlikely, but I think that we're going to continue to win the vast majority of them.

BLOCK: Supporters of laws that target transgender rights are undeterred.

JAY RICHARDS: The fact that there's a court case that goes one way or the other here or there - I don't think it tells us anything about where this is going to go over a five- or 10-year period.

BLOCK: Jay Richards directs the DeVos Center for Life, Religion and Family at the conservative Heritage Foundation. Gender-affirming care is, in his words, sex-denying. He rejects the idea that gender identity can exist apart from biological sex.

RICHARDS: That's a highly tendentious philosophical idea that I wouldn't even grant. My view is that biological sex is a relevant and real category. Males and females are real things, and we should have laws that respect that.

BLOCK: Those laws are spreading rapidly in Republican-led states. Legislatures in 18 states have enacted sports bans that restrict transgender female athletes from competing on teams that match their gender identity. Courts have blocked enforcement of several of those laws. Six states have enacted so-called don't say gay or trans laws censoring classroom discussion. As for trans medical care bans, later this month, the Arkansas law will go to trial before the federal judge who issued the temporary injunction against it last year. It's the first such case to go to trial and will be closely watched. Melissa Block, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

As special correspondent and guest host of NPR's news programs, Melissa Block brings her signature combination of warmth and incisive reporting. Her work over the decades has earned her journalism's highest honors, and has made her one of NPR's most familiar and beloved voices.