ACLU Sues Over “Devastating” Anti-Trans Law in Arkansas

Several Arkansas families and doctors are suing Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge and members of the state’s medical board over a recently passed law that bans health care specialists from providing transition-related care to transgender children.

The law, which was passed in April after the state legislature voted to override a veto by Gov. Asa Hutchinson, is the first law in the nation to ban trans health care for youth in this way.

Two physicians who provide transition-related care to children, as well as four transgender youth and their parents, are being represented by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in their suit against Rutledge and the medical board members. Rutledge, in an email to NBC News, said she would “aggressively defend Arkansas’s law.”

Holly Dickson, executive director for the ACLU of Arkansas, said in a statement that the law “would be devastating to trans youth and their families” and would cause many families in the state to have to choose between living there or moving to a different area of the U.S. where better health options for their children were available.

“We’re suing to stop this cruel and unconstitutional law from taking effect and inflicting further harm on these children and their families,” Dickson added.

Amanda Dennis, a mother of a 9-year-old transgender girl who is negatively impacted by the law, explained why she and her family were part of the lawsuit.

“Our child has known exactly who she is since she was 2 years old. 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,” Dennis said. “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.”

“We have told all of our children that we will always protect them,” Dennis added, “but this law stands in the way of our child getting the medical care she will desperately need.”

The lawsuit alleges that transgender children “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.”

In the legal brief filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas, the ACLU noted weeks after the legislation was passed into law, at least six transgender adolescents in the state attempted suicide.

The new law “violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment because it discriminates on the basis of sex and transgender status by prohibiting certain medical treatments only for transgender patients and only when the care is ‘related to gender transition,'” the lawsuit goes on to say. “This discrimination cannot be justified under heightened scrutiny or any level of equal protection scrutiny.”

In addition to the Equal Protection clause, the ACLU further states that the law violates the due process clause of the 14th Amendment, limiting the rights of parents to seek health care options for their children, as well as the First Amendment speech rights of health care providers, who cannot refer parents to treatment options “in accordance with the accepted medical standards of care.”

Many health care organizations have rallied in support of trans adolescents’ and children’s right to access transition-related care, with many voicing strong opposition to a number of laws across the country that would enact similar restrictions that the Arkansas law seeks to do.

“Politics has no place here. These are individual conversations between clinicians, patients and families about what’s best,” said American Academy of Pediatrics CEO and Executive Vice President Mark Del Monte in a statement in March.

So far in 2021, hundreds of bills sponsored by Republican lawmakers in dozens of state legislatures across the country seek to severely curtail transgender children’s rights to receive adequate care, while other proposed bills aim to limit trans children’s ability to play in school sports. As of May 7, 17 such bills have been signed into law — more anti-LGBTQ legislation than was enacted in the previous three years combined.

And the bills keep coming. On Wednesday, Republican lawmakers in two more states held legislative hearings on multiple anti-trans proposals.. “Anti-trans bills still alive in Wisconsin and Louisiana with hearings TODAY,” noted transgender rights activist Chase Strangio on Twitter.