ACLU lawsuit challenges Arkansas trans youth treatment ban

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LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — The American Civil Liberties Union asked a federal judge Tuesday to strike down a new Arkansas law that made the state the first to ban gender confirming treatments or surgery for transgender youth.

The ACLU filed a lawsuit challenging the new prohibition, which is set to take effect on July 28. It prohibits doctors from providing gender confirming hormone treatment, puberty blockers or surgery to anyone under 18 years old, or from referring them to other providers for the treatment.

The ACLU filed the lawsuit on behalf of four transgender youth and their families, as well as two doctors who provide gender confirming treatments. The lawsuit argues the prohibition will severely harm transgender youth in the state and violate their constitutional rights.

“If the health care ban goes into effect, it will have devastating consequences for transgender youth in Arkansas," the lawsuit said. “These young people will be unable to obtain medical care that their doctors and parents agree they need — and those already receiving care will have their treatment abruptly halted — which could have serious and potentially life-threatening consequences."

Republican lawmakers enacted the ban in April, overriding a veto by GOP Gov. Asa Hutchinson. The governor vetoed the ban following pleas from pediatricians, social workers and the parents of transgender youth who said the measure would harm a community already at risk for depression and suicide.

Hutchinson said the law went too far, especially since it wouldn't exempt youth already receiving the care. Gender confirming surgery is not performed on minors in Arkansas.

Hutchinson on Tuesday said he wasn't surprised by the lawsuit, but said he had not read the filing and didn't have a comment on the case.

Neighboring Tennessee is the only other state to enact a similar ban on gender treatments for youth, though that state's law is limited to providing gender-confirming hormone treatment to prepubescent minors.

Arkansas' prohibition has already caused pain and confusion for families in the state whose children are receiving treatments. At least six transgender adolescents in the state attempted suicide in the weeks after the ban was approved, according to the lawsuit.

The ban has also prompted some families to look at moving out of Arkansas to continue care for their children.

“As a parent, it's been incredibly distressing because my thoughts are constantly on, what am I going to do for my son if this... takes effect and he can no longer receive the gender affirming care that has made him the happy, confident, thriving kid that he's been?" said Joanna Brandt, who along with her 15-year-old son Dylan are listed as plaintiffs in the suit

Dylan, who started taking testosterone in August, said he hoped the lawsuit would send a message to the state about the impact the ban will have on him and other transgender youth.

“It's obviously taken a toll on me not knowing what's going to happen, seeing that people in my state don't necessarily want me here and keep trying to run us off," he said. “That's why we're fighting."

Supporters of the ban have said transgender youth should wait until they’re 18 to make such decisions. Some compared the prohibition to other ones minors face, such as for smoking or drinking.

But health professionals say that argument is leaving a false impression that these treatments are available on short notice and with little thought. Multiple medical groups, including the American Medical Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics, oppose the bans and experts say the treatments are safe if properly administered.

Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, a Republican, vowed to aggressively defend Arkansas' ban.

“I won’t sit idly by while radical groups such as the ACLU use our children as pawns for their own social agenda," she said in a statement.