NORTHWEST ARKANSAS, Ark. (KNWA/FOX24) — Transgender youth in Arkansas can still get gender-affirming care after the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals upholds a ban on a controversial law.
On Thursday, the three-judge panel affirmed a judge’s ruling temporarily blocking the state from enforcing the law, which bans minors who are transgender from getting gender-affirming care, whether that be hormonal treatment or surgery.
“I didn’t feel right, I didn’t look right,” said Dylan Brandt. He’s a 16-year-old junior at Greenwood High School, and he’s transgender.
“A little over three years ago is when I came out to my mom, but I came out to myself a few months before that,” he said.
His mom, Joanna, knew she had to be a source of support for her child, so she started doing research and learning more about having a transgender child. After taking the time to come to terms with his identity and socially transitioning, he and his family started doing research and talking to therapists and doctors, a process they say took about a year.
They all decided hormone therapy was Dylan’s best option.
“That for him was the right treatment,” said Joanna. “For him, that ended up being life-saving treatment like it is for a lot of kids.”
He’s been on hormones for two years now. He admits he wasn’t the happiest child growing up, but now he said he is doing well and he is confident in his body.
“This is part of the process,” said State Rep. Robin Lundstrum in reaction to Thursday’s court ruling upholding the ban. “This is a marathon, not a sprint.”
“These kids are making decisions at 12 and 13 with the cross-sex hormones and the puberty blockers that are going to have an impact on them,” she said. “These kids don’t know what they want to be. They are having gender dysphoric issues which means they are struggling.”
She has concerns about the long-term effects hormone therapy will have on kids and the permanence of surgery. There are no doctors who perform gender-affirming surgery on minors in the state of Arkansas.
“There are a lot of parents that have been put in a horrible situation,” she said. “They love their kids, and they’re afraid for their kids and they feel like this is the only decision for their kids, and it’s not.”
She’s not the only Arkansas lawmaker against it. Senator Tom Cotton tweeted on Thursday saying, “By blocking this law again, the court has kept the fate of Arkansas’s children in the hands of liberal activists who support ‘sex-changes’ for kids.”
Kacee Hawthorne is a member of the transgender community. They first came out at the age of 17 and were able to find the courage to begin the transition journey by finding strength in others also going on that journey.
They said decisions about gender-affirming care aren’t made lightly.
“It’s not something where trans healthcare is just right there and you walk in and you’re done after two hours of consultation,” they said. “It’s a whole process of the journey is talking to other people talking to healthcare providers figuring out what is the correct path, and because of that my journey was delayed over a 10 year period.”
Michael Bennett-Spears with The Equality Crew said it’s crucial for trans youth to start hormone therapy before the onset of puberty, which can lead to the development of body parts that are not in line with their identity.
The Mayo Clinic said puberty-blocking hormones only pause the start of puberty, and if the blockers are stopped, “puberty will resume and the normal progression of the physical and emotional changes of puberty will continue.”
Bennett-Spears also said having access to this care is life-saving.
“We have a markedly higher rate of suicidal tendencies in LGBTQ+ youth,” he said. “There are so many trans youth out there who the difference between them surviving to adulthood as a healthy adult or not, is whether or not they can get that care that makes them comfortable in their own bodies.”
Governor Asa Hutchinson vetoed the law when it came to his desk last year, but the GOP-led legislature overruled him. He gave the following statement about Thursday’s ruling:
“I vetoed this bill because I had concern it was too broad and would not be upheld in court. Act 626 is the most extreme law in the country. It is important that we approach laws like this carefully. I am absolutely against sex change operations for minors. I encourage the legislature in January to put together legislation with a more narrow focus to protect our children. No other state has passed such a law that interferes with a parent making health care decisions for minor children based upon a doctor’s recommendations when the recommendations are based upon generally accepted medical guidance. The Court pointed out that the law did not have a grandfather clause and the immediate prohibitions contained in the law would stop treatment already underway. This risk to halting minors’ ongoing health treatment was a significant factor in my veto and it seems the Court agrees with this concern.”Gov. Asa Hutchinson, (R) Arkansas
A trial is set for October before the same 8th Circuit Court judge which will decide if the law comes back into play.