A federal judge on Wednesday temporarily blocked Arkansas’ ban on gender-affirming treatment for transgender youth as a lawsuit over the first claims in state law.
The decision came in response to a legal challenge from the American Civil Liberties Union, which asked for a preliminary injunction to block the law enacted by Republican state lawmakers in April. Judge Jay Moody of the U.S. District Court in Little Rock also rejected the state’s request to dismiss the ACLU’s lawsuit seeking to overturn the law.
The ban on gender reassignment surgery and gender-confirming treatments, such as hormone treatment and puberty-inhibiting medication, is set to come into effect on July 28.
“This ruling sends a clear message to states across the country that gender-affirming care is life-saving care, and we won’t let politicians in Arkansas — or anywhere else — take it away,” Holly Dickson, the ACLU executive director of Arkansas, said in a statement.
According to the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, the bill was one of more than 120 introduced in state legislatures across the country this year, amid growing conservative efforts to restrict transgender rights. This includes 36 health care bans in 22 states. The Arkansas state legislature was the first body to pass a ban into law.
The Arkansas legislature overturned Governor Asa Hutchinson’s veto over the bill in April. The governor, a Republican, had supported other laws that curtail transgender rights, such as allowing doctors to refuse medical care based on their religious beliefs. But he has argued that the legislation not only violates conservative principles, but could also hurt Republicans politically.
After the judge made the decision on Wednesday, Dylan Brandt, a 15-year-old prosecutor in the case, said gender-affirming medical treatments were “life-saving” and allowed him and other young people to feel comfortable in their own bodies.
“We understand it can be confusing to understand,” Mr. lit told reporters out of court, “but we ask that you be open to listening to trans youth.”
Mr Brandt is one of four transgender youth named as plaintiffs in the lawsuit. Two doctors also joined the suit.
Supporters of the Arkansas bill, called HB 1570, say it will protect young people from irreversible medical treatment. The authors of the bill say that “the risks of gender transition procedures far outweigh the benefits at this stage of clinical research on these procedures.”
Medical professionals reject that claim.
“Blocking access to timely care has been shown to increase young people’s risk of suicidal thoughts and other negative mental health outcomes,” the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry said in 2019.
More broadly, the American Psychiatric Association said in a 2018 statement that there was “considerable and lengthy medical and psychiatric literature” demonstrating the “clear benefits of medical and surgical interventions” for transgender people.
The state has 30 days to appeal the judge’s temporary injunction, Chase Strangio, an ACLU attorney, said Wednesday. But for now, the ACLU is celebrating victory, however temporary.
“This was something that was looming and so terrifying for so many young people,” said Mr Strangio, the lead attorney in the lawsuit.
Mr Strangio said that since state lawmakers introduced the bill, he has heard more reports of parents of transgender children calling clinics because they were concerned that their children would die by suicide.
Serena Sonoma, a spokesperson for GLAAD, said in an email that what made this bill important was that many families of transgender children decided to leave the state “to provide better living conditions for life-saving care for their children.” Mr Strangio added that as the July 28 deadline approached, more transgender people were leaving the state.
“Young people were so afraid of what it would mean if they lost their health care, so for now they can breathe a sigh of relief,” said Mr Strangio.
Wednesday’s decision came just one day after another federal judge temporarily blocked Arkansas from enforcing a strict new law that would ban almost all abortions in the state.
HB 1570 is the second anti-transgender bill passed this year that has been blocked by an ACLU lawsuit. Earlier this month, a federal court in Tennessee blocked a law requiring businesses and other entities to post a warning sign if transgender people were allowed to use the public restroom appropriate to their gender.
In Louisiana, in another blow to Republican-led efforts to curb transgender rights, lawmakers on Wednesday failed to override Democratic Governor John Bel Edwards’ veto of a bill barring transgender athletes from school sports teams.
Mr Strangio swore in a statement to fight in Arkansas. “We’re going to challenge this law to the extent and for as long as necessary,” he said, “to ensure that no young person in Arkansas has to worry about losing their medical care.”