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State calls witnesses who “detransitioned” as transgender trial winds down

Federal courthouse
Michael Hibblen
Testimony on Wednesday included two Christians who once identified as transgender but now support the law banning gender-affirming care for minors.

Testimony in a lawsuit challenging an Arkansas law banning transgender health care for minors in Arkansas is expected to wrap up Thursday.

On Wednesday, the state continued calling witnesses who support the ban. The first person called to the state was Dr. Roger Lew Hiatt, a child and adolescent psychiatrist who has worked as a physician for over 25 years. From 2015 to 2019, he worked as the medical director at Provo Canyon School in Springville, Utah. Currently, he works at Perimeter, a residential school in West Memphis. He was not testifying as an expert, but as a fact witness who claims to have seen about six youth patients change their minds after becoming transgender.

Hiatt said he “respects all the patients,” and when some tell him they are transgender, he “watchfully waits.”

Hiatt said, in his experience, a transgender identity often comes in tandem with a mental illness diagnosis or a history of abuse. He suggested the most successful approach for such patients “is to identify the care issues preventing the child from functioning in the community.”

On cross-examination, Breean Walas, an attorney for the ACLU, asked Hiatt if his religious beliefs informed his medical opinions. After an objection, U.S. District Judge James Moody Jr. did not allow the doctor to extrapolate about his religious beliefs. He did, however, let Hiatt acknowledge that in a letter he wrote to Gov. Asa Hutchinson about Act 626, he quoted Genesis 1:27. The Bible passage reads: “God created mankind in his image; in the image of God he created them; male and female.”

Hiatt said, “everyone's beliefs influence their views.”

He expressed support for continuing to use gender-affirming medicine on patients who have already been given it.

Next came testimony from Laura Beth Smalts, a 40-year-old woman who works in ministry in Oklahoma. Smalts is the author of a book called “Transgender to Transformed.” Smalts identified as a male from 2007-2014, but has since detransitioned.

As a child, Smalts said she fantasized about being a man. In her late 20s, she started transitioning to live as a man. Smalts attended support groups for transgender people, which she said, “left me more depressed.”

Smalts testified she went through several major surgeries during her transition, suffering from horrible complications such as constant urinary tract infections, back pain and gastrointestinal issues.

Smalts reiterated several times that she regretted getting a hysterectomy during her transition. She became emotional on the stand when talking about how “devastating” it was to know she would never have her own biological children.

On cross-examination, Smalt acknowledged she had about 15 different medical diagnoses, such as polycystic ovarian syndrome and a kidney disorder. She acknowledged she had no way of knowing if the symptoms she was suffering were caused by her surgeries or one of her many health illnesses.

Furthermore, she said her doctor had told her to get a hysterectomy for polycystic ovarian syndrome and not for her gender transition. Her doctor told her she would need a hysterectomy eventually because of her polycystic ovarian syndrome. She acknowledged this was noted on her health insurance when it covered the cost of the procedure.

Smalts said on cross-examination that she heard the voice of God calling her with the female name she was given at birth. That experience caused her to no longer identify as transgender.

“God grew me out of that lifestyle,” she said. “I needed healing.”

She detransitioned at age 33 and had several medical procedures to reverse the surgeries. She acknowledged that returning to her female identity caused her to struggle with the symptoms of dysphoria.

The final witness of the day was Clifton "Billy" Burleigh, a 56-year-old retired aerospace engineer from Louisiana.

Burleigh said he started feeling like a woman at the age of 5. He testified that he started to “come apart” while in college and sought therapy around age 21. He described different struggles he experienced throughout his life, including learning difficulties and sexual abuse.

In his adulthood, Burleigh decided to transition to live as a woman. He went through a series of medical steps, including several surgeries.

On cross-examination, Burleigh said he could not link any adverse medical effects to his surgeries. He said he had forgotten to mention that he suffered from gallstones in his affidavits, but could not link that to his surgeries.

Burleigh said he was invited to testify by the conservative Family Research Council and that he does not think God approves of anyone's gender transition.

The ACLU filed the lawsuit on behalf of the families of four transgender young people who are challenging the constitutionality of Act 626, which was passed by the Arkansas Legislature last year prohibiting gender-affirming care for those under the age of 18.

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