AR Briefly

Trial challenging gender-affirming health care ban for transgender minors resumes Friday

By: - October 21, 2022 7:00 am

Laws restricting access to gender-affirming care in Arkansas, Alabama, Arizona and Texas are on hold after judges blocked enforcement. (Getty Images)

The legal challenge to Arkansas’ ban on gender-affirming health care for transgender minors continues today in federal court, with lawyers from Attorney General Leslie Rutledge’s office set to present a case to enact the 2021 law.

Act 626, known as the Save Adolescents From Experimentation (SAFE) Act, prohibits physicians from providing “gender transition” treatments such as hormones, puberty blockers and surgeries.

Between Monday and Wednesday, transgender 17-year-old Dylan Brandt, his mother, three other parents of young transgender Arkansans and several medical professionals testified for the plaintiffs, who are represented by the American Civil Liberties Union.

The defense is expected to bring forth medical professionals today to support the ideas that transgender minors might later regret transitioning and that gender-affirming medical treatments are not safe for minors.

The plaintiffs challenged Act 626 shortly after it became law in May 2021. U.S. District Judge James Moody, who is presiding over the trial, placed an injunction on the law in July 2021. A three-judge panel of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the injunction in August of this year.

The Gender Spectrum Clinic at Arkansas Children’s Hospital began in 2018 in order to provide health care to young Arkansans who do not identify with their gender assigned at birth. The clinic does not recommend or provide surgeries, said Dr. Kathryn Stambough and Dr. Michele Hutchison, the clinic’s current and former directors, respectively.

Stambough and Hutchison testified Wednesday that legally forcing transgender youth to wait until they are 18 to medically transition would be harmful to their mental health, since many struggle with depression, anxiety and suicidal ideation.

Four other doctors who have treated transgender minors testified as expert witnesses Monday and Tuesday.

They disputed the defense’s claim that minors might seek to transition as a result of peer pressure or “social contagion,” and they said their patients have not expressed regret about transitioning.

The doctors also said it’s best practice to fully inform minors and their parents or guardians about the effects of gender-affirming medical care so they can give informed consent before the minors receive treatment, according to national and international health care guidelines.

The parents of the minor plaintiffs said their doctors have been transparent with them, and they also said medically and socially transitioning has been good for their children’s mental health. Having to leave the state to get gender-affirming care would be a financial and emotional burden for all four families, they said.

Dylan Brandt was the only transgender plaintiff to testify, and he said receiving testosterone since August 2020 has been life-changing.

“My outside finally matches the way I feel on the inside,” he said.

Similar laws restricting access to gender-affirming care in three other states — Alabama, Arizona and Texas — also are on hold after judges blocked enforcement.

A Kaiser Family Foundation analysis of the legal landscape published in June noted that in addition to the four states that have adopted similar bans on gender-affirming care for youth, 15 others were considering 25 pieces of legislation with similar aims.

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Tess Vrbin
Tess Vrbin

Tess Vrbin came to the Advocate from the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, where she reported on low-income housing and tenants' rights, and won awards for her coverage of 2021 flooding and tornado damage in rural Arkansas. She previously covered local government for The Commercial Dispatch in Mississippi and state government for the Columbia Daily Tribune in Missouri. A Midwesterner by birth, she graduated from the University of Missouri's journalism school in 2019.