The ACLU of Arkansas has joined families with transgender children and doctors in filing the promised lawsuit today against Arkansas’s new law to prohibit gender-affirming care for transgender children.
The case was filed in federal court in Little Rock. The law had no emergency clause and doesn’t take effect until the end of July. The suit seeks an injunction against it taking effect.
The plaintiffs include four transgender children and their parents and two doctors who say the law prevents them from providing medically necessary care or even referring children to others. The law also prevents the use of state money (such as Medicaid) or private insurance coverage for this health care to people under 18. Defendants are Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, who’ll relish the spot as a backer of anti-transgender legislation, and the director and members of the state Medical Board. This is the legislation vetoed by Governor Hutchinson as overbroad (though he supported other anti-transgender legislation). His veto was speedily overriden.
The ACLU said this will be the first of many lawsuits against legislation discriminating against transgender people. Arkansas is a leader in prohibiting health care. It has also passed two laws meant to ban transgender women from participating in athletics.
In a news release, ACLU of Arkansas executive director Holly Dickson said:
“This law would be devastating to transgender youth and their families, forcing many to uproot their lives and leave the state to access the gender-affirming care they need. Gender-affirming care is life-saving care for our clients, and they’re terrified of what will happen if this law is allowed to take effect. No child should be cut off from the medical care they need or denied their fundamental right to be themselves – but this law would do both. We’re suing to stop this cruel and unconstitutional law
from taking effect and inflicting further harm on these children and their families.”
The plaintiff families include Dylan Brandt and his mother, Joanna Brandt; Brooke Dennis and her parents, Amanda and Shayne Dennis; Sabrina Jennen and her parents, Lacey and Aaron Jennen, and Parker Saxton and his father, Donnie Saxton. Dr. Michelle Hutchison and Dr. Kathryn Stambough are also challenging the law, which has been decried by all the major medical organizations as contrary to science and good medical practice. It has been pushed in Arkansas and elsewhere by organizations claiming Christian motivation.
Amanda and Shayne Dennis’s daughter, Brooke, who is 9 years old, is fearful about what will happen to her if she cannot get gender-affirming medical care when puberty begins.
“Our child has known exactly who she is since she was 2 years old,” said Amanda Dennis, Brooke’s mom. “She was a happy child and felt comfortable expressing herself but when she began to feel pressure at school to pretend she is a boy, she began to really struggle. It was painful to watch our child in distress. Last year, when she told us she is a girl and would like to be called ‘Brooke’ and referred to using she and her pronouns, we supported her immediately and the cloud of sadness lifted and her smile came back.” She added, “We have told all of our children that we will always protect them, but this law stands in the way of our child getting the medical care she will desperately need.”
The Dennis family may move out of the state if the health care ban takes effect. Uprooting their family from their community, schools and jobs would not only be a hardship for Amanda, Shayne and their children, but also their extended family, as they are caring for aging parents.
“This is who I am, and it’s frustrating to know that a place I’ve lived all my life is treating me like they don’t want me here,” said Dylan Brandt a 15-year-old who lives with his mother Joanna Brandt. “Having access to care means I’m able to be myself, and be healthier and more confident – physically and mentally. The thought of having that wrenched away and going back to how I was before is devastating.”
Some of the plaintiffs have been speaking up for some time. For example:
The ACLU said Arkansas is the only state among dozens that have considered similar legislation to pass a ban on health care. It appears even Texas will be unable to pass similar legislation.
Chase Strangio, deputy director for transgender justice for the ACLU, said it and partners will be filing several lawsuits in the next few months “to make it clear that there is a robust movement of trans people and allies fighting for trans justice. Trans young people should not have to fight so hard to live.