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Assessing Gender-Affirming Care Bans After Key Ruling

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Friday, June 23, 2023   

A legal decision has added a major wrinkle to the movement to adopt gender-affirming care bans for transgender youths. It's unclear how it might affect North Dakota's new law, but LGBTQ advocates have taken notice.

This week, a federal judge issued a permanent injunction against a law in Arkansas - the first state to ban such care - declaring it unconstitutional. Earlier this year, North Dakota joined other conservative-led states in adopting their own bans.

Samantha Chapman, advocacy manager at the ACLU of South Dakota, said the court's decision is significant because it sets a legal precedent in challenging these laws. She noted that the judge said Arkansas' defense relied on testimony grounded in ideology, not science.

"There is, I think, more than 300 factual findings included in that ruling," she said, "and a lot of them were about the lack of credibility on the specific subject matter by the state's expert witnesses."

Opponents of gender-affirming care have contended it's too risky for minors, arguing they might regret the decision. However, advocates for trans youths have said these decisions often involve a lot of planning with parents and doctors. Meanwhile, Arkansas officials have said they plan to file an appeal.

Faye Seidler, a suicide-prevention advocate who specializes in LGBTQ populations in North Dakota, said these conversations are complex and it's hard to label all the motivations behind North Dakota's ban, but suggested it too lacked an evidence-driven approach.

"A lot of the in-favor testimony to try to ban care - it didn't seem like it really had a central place it was coming from, at least from a medical or scientific standpoint," she said. "It was just kind of folks putting their feelings out there, about feeling like this was harmful care."

Seidler said opponents of these bans often cite established medical groups, such as the American Medical Association, that lay out research on the importance of this type of care. Meanwhile, she said laws restricting care can be scary not just for trans youth, but their parents, too.

"Regardless of how affirming or accepting or anything that parent is, they're going to know that if their kid is trans, that is going to be, maybe, a pretty tough life," she said. "And there's going to be a lot of things they have to contend with, a lot of things they're going to have to deal with."

She urged families to avoid feeling hopeless and said a good first step is ensuring access to therapy.


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