Two Anti-Trans Laws Blocked by Federal Judges in Arkansas and West Virginia

Two federal judges made separate rulings on Wednesday blocking restrictions that Republican lawmakers had put in place regarding trans youth’s access to health care and their participation in sports.

In Arkansas, a law that would have banned gender-affirming care for transgender children in the state was halted by federal Judge James M. Moody Jr., who issued a preliminary injunction against it until a full ruling on its legality can be assessed. The law was set to be enforced later this month.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), representing four transgender children in the state that would have been negatively impacted by the statute, as well as two doctors that provide such care, filed a lawsuit against the law earlier this year. In response to the ruling from Moody, Republican state Attorney General Leslie Rutledge claimed the ACLU was using children from Arkansas “as pawns for their own social agenda.”

But in a statement praising Moody’s injunction, the ACLU of Arkansas pointed out that this type of care was critical for transgender children.

“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,” said Holly Dickson, executive director of the ACLU of Arkansas.

In its lawsuit, the ACLU had argued that the law would prevent transgender children from being able “to obtain medical care that their doctors and parents agree they need.” Denying this care, lawyers for the organization said, as well as interrupting gender-affirming treatment for children already receiving it, “could have serious and potentially life-threatening consequences.”

Moody agreed with those arguments in his ruling. “To pull this care midstream from these patients, or minors, would cause irreparable harm,” he wrote.

On the same day, a ruling in West Virginia also temporarily halted a ban that would have prevented transgender students from participating in sports on teams corresponding to their gender identities. Federal Judge Joseph R. Goodwin blocked a statute in that state passed earlier this year, placing a preliminary injunction on its enforcement while he considers more evidence from the case.

The block allows an 11-year-old transgender student who had sued the state over the law to take part in try-outs for her school’s sports.

“I am excited to know that I will be able to try out for the girls cross-country team and follow in the running shoes of my family,” Becky Pepper-Jackson, the student who filed the lawsuit over the law, said in a statement, as reported by Politico. “It hurt that the State of West Virginia would try to block me from pursuing my dreams. I just want to play.”

In his decision, Goodwin said there was “scant evidence that this law addresses any problem at all, let alone an important one.” The federal judge also said that the suit against the West Virginia statute has a “likelihood of success” in proving that it’s unconstitutional, citing Title IX protections that exist for children participating in school-based sports across the country.

The legal argument follows what the Department of Education asserted last month, when Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said that statutes which exclude transgender students from school activities were clear violations of federal law.

“Students cannot be discriminated against because of their sexual orientation or their gender identity,” Cardona said in June, adding that protections upheld by the Supreme Court for LGBTQ individuals in the workplace existed for schoolchildren as well.

Several more challenges to discriminatory laws are likely to make their way through the courts in the near future, due to the soaring numbers of anti-trans proposals introduced in GOP-led state legislatures across the country, some of which have already passed into law. Since the start of the year, at least 33 states have seen the introduction of more than 100 pieces of legislation designed to restrict the rights of transgender students.