Arkansas & ACLU in court next week over transgender law

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Arkansas’ top lawyer and advocates for transgender youth are facing off in court next week.

Last year, the Natural State was the first in the United States to pass a law banning gender-affirming treatments for people under 18. An injunction has stopped the law from being enforced, but that could soon change depending on a district judge’s decision.

Even on opposite sides of an argument, both the Attorney General’s Office and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) believe they are protecting children growing up in Arkansas. Ones like Valerie Polston who grew up in Searcy, and who our station spoke with Thursday.

With the weather in the 70s it is easy to feel comfortable in your own skin, but revisiting her home state, Valerie Polston remembers when her skin was not as comfortable as it is now.

She said, “When I had access to hormone replacement therapy, I was given an opportunity to find a sense of self that aligned with how I viewed myself my entire life.”

Polston said gender-affirming treatment is something she wishes she would have learned more about at a younger age, but a majority of Arkansas legislators passed a law in 2021 banning anyone under 18 from surgeries or treatments to transition their genders.

They call it the Save Adolescents from Experimentation Act. District 87 State Representative Robin Lundstrum (R) was the lead sponsor of the act and says there is more at risk medically and mentally for a child.

“It’s irreversible damage,” Lundstrum warns. “Much like in Arkansas you can’t have alcohol, or smoke cigarettes, or have a tattoo, rent property, drive a car because under 18 you don’t have the ability of making a lot of really solid decisions.”

The ACLU is challenging the law on the basis of it being cruel, discriminatory, and unconstitutional.

Leslie Cooper, Staff Attorney for the ACLU, said, “When the law was first introduced there was a spike in hospitalizations for suicide attempts on the part of transgender youth in Arkansas just out of the fear of care being stripped away from them.”

“There are more and more supporters for trans youth every day, and we will never give up on ensuring a fair, just Arkansas and America,” Holly Dickson, Executive Director for ACLU of Arkansas added.

Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge released this statement Thursday ahead of the trial. She said,

“As Attorney General, I am wholeheartedly defending the SAFE Act; it is my hope that parents and children will be empowered by this information and avoid these permanent, life-altering procedures or medications for children. One point that has been lost in the conversation surrounding the SAFE Act is that the State of Arkansas is not prohibiting children who identify as transgender from receiving the mental healthcare that they may need. Children who identify as transgender are still able to receive counseling services or medications for psychiatric diagnoses, just as any other child would. The State is protecting children from undergoing experimental surgeries and treatments for the purpose of gender transition. The SAFE Act protects children from life-altering, permanent decisions that they may desire to make as an underage child but could regret as an adult; no law in Arkansas prevents someone from making these decisions as an adult.”

But Polston says people should be able live those formative years the way they see themselves and not wait on years of medical care until childhood has slipped by.

“There’s isn’t something astronomically different about trans people. They are just a set of people that have a medical need that need to get their treatment,” Polston concluded.

Both sides pointed to their own medical research for and against medical procedures and treatment in young people. Much of this will likely be discussed during the two-week trial starting Monday in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas.