Public Radio from UA Little Rock
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

State begins calling witnesses in lawsuit challenging Arkansas transgender law

Federal courthouse
Michael Hibblen
The federal courthouse in Little Rock as seen on April 26, 2019. A lawsuit is challenging a law passed by the legislature banning gender-affirming health care for transgender minors.

The first lawsuit to be heard in the U.S. challenging a state law banning gender-affirming health care for minors is being heard in Arkansas. The federal lawsuit was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of the families of four transgender children.

After three days of testimony from witnesses called by attorneys for the plaintiffs earlier in the week, the plaintiff rested on Wednesday. The trial was not in session on Thursday because attorneys for the state said they were not ready to begin presenting their case then.

The first two witnesses for the defense were called Friday. Licensed Professional Counselor Cathy Campbell and Dr. Stephanie Ho had been subpoenaed by the state. They testified without reporters or the public in the courtroom because they were to discuss confidential therapy notes and medical records of the four minors.

Dr. Janet Cathey of Planned Parenthood was then called to the stand in open court. She has been a OBGYN for decades and is the director of transgender health for the organization’s Great Plains branch. She testified that only a small number of her patients have been transgender children. Those under the age of 16 need their parents to sign waivers to access care, she said. Attorneys for the state pointed out that side effects of hormones listed on the waiver include infertility.

Previous testimony

The trial started on Monday and included three days of emotional testimony from family members and medical experts who spoke against the Save Our Children from Experimentation, or SAFE Act. It was passed by the Arkansas General Assembly in March 2021 and would prohibit doctors from providing gender-affirming healthcare to people under the age of 18.

U.S. District Judge James Moody Jr., who is hearing the case, issued an injunction last year stopping the law from going into effect until the trial could be held.

Between Monday and Wednesday, the plaintiffs’ case included testimony from several physicians, four parents and a transgender teenager. The experts said the treatments available in Arkansas follow protocols based on nationally-recognized standards of care. They said underage patients experiencing gender dysphoria work their way through medical interventions, typically beginning with mental health treatment and social transitioning. Over time, patients are given puberty blockers and hormones. No doctor in Arkansas is performing genital surgeries on minors, attorneys and witnesses said.

Dr. Jack Turban testified on Tuesday that terms like “transgender” and “detransition,” which are commonly used in culture, don’t have specific medical definitions. Instead, he used the terms “gender dysphoria” and “regret rates.” Turban said regret rates for underage patients accessing gender-affirming care are incredibly low.

Dr. Michelle Hutchinson, the former director of the gender clinic at Arkansas Children's Hospital, testified for the plaintiffs. In over 300 patients, she said none had regretted taking hormones or puberty blockers.

The clinic’s current director, Dr. Kathryn Stambough, said young people are harmed when they are deprived of gender-affirming medicine.

During cross-examination Tuesday, attorneys for the state noted that hormone treatments can cause infertility and criticized details in the experts’ research and treatment plans.

The parents of four transgender children also testified about sadness they saw in their children before being allowed to transition.

Another witness, Aaron Jennen, became emotional on the stand when talking about his child Sabrina's transition. He said the process of getting gender-confirming medicine was similar to medical decisions he had made for his other children. Jennen said Sabrina became confident and happy after finally being allowed to live as a female. He said with his job and family roots in Arkansas, it would be hard for the family to move outside the state for care, but that “her not receiving treatment is not an option.”

“How does that make her feel about who she is,” Jennen said of the law. “What does that mean about what the state thinks of her?”

The plaintiffs rested their case on Wednesday with testimony from Dylan Brandt, a 17-year-old transgender teenager. Brandt said he never felt right before transitioning and that hormones have changed his life for the better. When asked how he would describe his transition in one word, he said “hopeful.”

The defense did not cross examine the character witnesses.

Because of scheduling conflicts involving the judge, proceedings in the trial will be put on hold for five weeks with attorneys for the state to continue calling witnesses on November 28.

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