The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit Tuesday against anti-trans legislation passed this year in Arkansas that makes it more difficult for transgender youth to receive medical care.

Arkansas’ House Bill 157 prohibits health care workers from providing gender-affirming care or referrals for youths diagnosed with gender dysphoria, or the psychological stress a person experiences when their body doesn’t align with their gender. Arkansas lawmakers overrode Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s veto of the ban last month. The legislation also blocks state funding and insurance coverage for gender-affirming care for transgender youth — something the ACLU says is a violation to the U.S. Constitution in a statement Tuesday.

The ACLU, along with four transgender youths, their families and two doctors are challenging the law, which they say will have major implications for transgender youth in Arkansas who have received or anticipated gender-affirming care for years. 

“This law would be devastating to trans youth and their families, forcing many to uproot their lives and leave the state to access the gender-affirming care they need,” said Holly Dickson, the executive director of the ACLU of Arkansas, in the press release Tuesday. “Gender-affirming care is life-saving care for our clients, and they’re terrified of what will happen if this law is allowed to take effect.”

The statement added, “We’re suing to stop this cruel and unconstitutional law from taking effect and inflicting further harm on these children and their families.” 

Since the Arkansas bill passed last month, Susan Maasch, the director at the Trans Youth Equality Foundation, has feared for the youth who have already begun receiving gender-affirming care who may now have a distrust in the adults and leaders who have helped them. Gender dysphoria is medical, Maasch said, something she feels is deeply misunderstood by lawmakers. 

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The law poses “a medical harm,” Maasch said, to children who had sought providers under the assumption that they would be “treated fairly and without discrimination in accessing medical care.”  “It’s psychologically and emotionally dangerous,” she said.

Amanda Dennis described how her family has been planning for her daughter Brooke to receive care that would be affected by this law. 

“Our child has known exactly who she is since she was 2 years old,” Dennis said in a statement alongside the ACLU’s. “It was painful to watch our child in distress. Last year, when she told us she is a girl and would like to be called ‘Brooke’ and referred to using ‘she’ and ‘her’ pronouns, we supported her immediately and the cloud of sadness lifted and her smile came back.”

A ban, she said, “stands in the way of our child getting the medical care she will desperately need.”  

Arkansas is the only state so far to have passed legislation regarding health care for transgender youth, but anti-LGBTQ+ bills, specifically those targeting trans youth, have popped up across the nation. A record number of anti-LGBTQ+ bills have passed this year, according to the Human Rights Campaign. In 2020, 15 states introduced legislation that would ban health care access for transgender youth. In 2021 so far, 35 states deliberated anti-trans legislation. 

“These attacks against trans youth in Arkansas and in states around the country will not go unchallenged — not while they are debated in legislatures, not after they pass, not when they are discussed in public conversation,” said Chase Strangio, deputy director for transgender justice with the ACLU’s LGBTQ & HIV Project. 

A recent study showed 42 percent of LGBTQ+ youth report suicidal thoughts during the pandemic, according to the Trevor Project, which runs a suicide hotline for LGBTQ+ youth.

“States should be expanding access to trans-affirming spaces and services, not banning doctor-recommended medical care that can be life-saving,” said Sam Brinton, vice president of advocacy and government affairs for The Trevor Project. “To transgender and nonbinary youth in Arkansas and all across the country who are hurting from recent political attacks, please know that will we never stop fighting these misguided policies and that you are not alone.” 

 Transgender youth say these bills can make trans youth feel unwanted, increasing their risk for feeling anxious and depressed. 

“This is who I am, and it’s frustrating to know that a place I’ve lived all my life is treating me like they don’t want me here,” said Dylan Brandt, a 15-year-old who lives with his mother, Joanna Brandt, whose story was also shared in the press release Tuesday. “Having access to care means I’m able to be myself, and be healthier and more confident — physically and mentally. The thought of having that wrenched away and going back to how I was before is devastating.”  

As anti-trans bills advance through statehouses across the nation, the ACLU says this is one of many legal actions they will take to address the attack against transgender people, specifically trangender youth. 

“Trans young people should not have to fight so hard to live,” Strangio said. “To all the transgender people who are fighting each day, please know that you are not alone and that we will continue to build movements for justice that center your needs, your experiences, and your beauty.”