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Plaintiffs rest in lawsuit challenging Arkansas ban on gender-affirming treatments

Josie Lenora
Attorneys for the plaintiffs and the state leave the federal courthouse in Little Rock on Wednesday after hearing testimony from two parents, two doctors and a transgender teenager.

After an emotional day of testimony, the ACLU wrapped up its case Wednesday in a federal lawsuit challenging a law passed by the legislature last year banning gender-affirming treatments for people under the age of 18.

The lawsuit seeks to prevent the Save Adolescents From Experimentation Act, or SAFE Act, from going into effect. The case is being heard by U.S. District Judge James Moody Jr. who issued an injunction last year stopping the law from taking effect. The trial is the first of its kind in the nation.

The current and former medical directors of gender services at Arkansas Children's Hospital testified along with one of their 17-year-old patients and two parents.

Dr. Michelle Hutchinson, a former pediatric endocrinologist at the hospital, founded the clinic and designed the treatment guidelines. On the witness stand, she said the treatment guidelines are based on standards used at other hospitals and those set by the Endocrine Society.

Hutchinson testified there is a series of steps for children who want gender-affirming treatments.

“We can't treat you unless you go to therapy," she said.

Patients go through a slow series of different medical treatments after being informed of the risks and benefits, she said.

Kids who receive the care experience improved mental health outcomes, Hutchinson said, adding that she was proud to watch her patients do better and feel more confident. Out of more than 300 patients at the clinic, Hutchinson testified she had not seen a single one regret taking hormones or puberty blockers. A few patients had, however, stopped at the therapy stage after deciding they were not transgender.

After the bill was passed, Hutchinson said she witnessed more anxiety and suicidal ideation among transgender patients.

“I am genuinely scared we are going to lose some kids,” Hutchinson said.

Dr. Kathryn Stambough is a plaintiff in the case and the current director of the gender clinic. She has treated both Brooke Dennis, Dylan Brandt and Parker Saxton, three of the transgender children whose parents are also plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

She described the protocols put in place for underage patients interested in the treatments. Stambough said many patients do not do well when they are deprived of gender-affirming medicine and that it was amazing to watch patients on hormone therapies “come to life.”

On cross-examination, a lawyer for the state said puberty blockers can affect bone density development. Dr. Stambough said these side effects are only temporary.

Attorneys for the plaintiffs called three-character witnesses on Wednesday. Amanda Brooke Dennis, the mother of 10-year-old Brooke Dennis, said around 2nd grade, her child started to identify as female. She testified the child was happier when living as a female.

“She got her smile back and her sadness went away,” Dennis said.

She got emotional talking about her daughter coming of age in a place where transgender medical treatments may no longer be available. Dennis said she loves Arkansas and has deep roots in the state. She also works in business operations at Sam's Club and has a large number of family members in Arkansas. These things would make moving difficult, she said, though moving is a “circular decision we think about all the time.”

Joanna Brandt started crying on the stand after describing her 17-year-old son Dylan as “exceptional, kind, reliable.” Dylan came out to her in a letter when he was 13, she said. They went to a gender clinic together and followed the steps and protocols to get hormones and testosterone. Brandt said the changes she has seen since the treatment are “remarkable”

The day ended with testimony from Dylan Brandt, who said he “never felt right before he transitioned.” Brandt said hormones have changed his life for the better. When asked how he would describe his transition in one word he chose “hopeful.”

Josie Lenora is the Politics/Government Reporter for UA Little Rock Public Radio.
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