Lawmakers in Arkansas passed legislation to ban gender-affirming treatments for transgender youth earlier this year, becoming the first state to make such a move. Now, the ACLU is fighting back.
They have filed a lawsuit against state officials representing two physicians, four trans youths and their parents. The Brandt family is among them.
“It was years of going back and forth trying to figure out who I was," said Dylan Brandt, a 15-year-old trans youth.
Self-discovery has been a journey for Dylan, but two years ago everything changed when he handed his mom a letter.
“And in the letter he signed it 'Your son Dylan,'" said Joanna Brandt, Dylan's mother.
That summer was a new beginning for this transgender teen. Nearly a year later was the start of hormone therapy. Dylan and his mother, Joanna, say that was the answer to much of his depression and anxiety.
“Most of that went away. The anxiety about going out to places, going to see people, gone. It changed everything. I’m so much happier, I’m so much more confident," Dylan said.
“It’s all of the things that give him the space to fully encompass externally how he feels on the inside," Joanna said.
Now, nearly ten months later, all of Dylan's progress could come to a halt. Arkansas, his home state, has passed a bill that would ban health care professionals from providing transition-related care to transgender minors.
Holly Dickson, the executive director of ACLU Arkansas, says this ban has already done damage.
“This is such a sweeping government intrusion into the private lives of these young people. They have been targeted because they are transgender young people, and it takes away their parents' autonomy to work with their physicians and make the best decisions for themselves," Dickson said. “We’ve had at least six trans youth attempt suicide just since the time they heard these bills were filed. It is absolutely horrible."
“That gender-affirming medical care that they are trying to take away from him is that thing that has allowed him to be exactly who he knows he is, exactly who I know who he is, in a way that he wasn’t able to before, and he would not be able to if this ban actually took effect," Joanna said.
Arkansas Republican Sen. Alan Clark, the sponsor of the bill, claims the bill is necessary for protection. He denied our interview request but made these comments on the Senate floor about gender-affirming treatment for youth:
“At best, experimental, and, at worst, a serious threat to a child’s welfare," Clark said.
Teenagers like Dylan couldn’t disagree more.
“It’s not just something that we wake up one day and say, 'Hey, I want to do this. Because that seems fun.' No, it’s not fun," Dylan said.
“People think that these kids come to their parents and say, 'Hey, I’m transgender, I want hormones,' and we go, 'sweet,' and we go out the next day and we get them for him, without seeking out the advice and the expertise of those in the field. That’s not what happened," Joanna said.
Clark claims that children are too young to make this decision before turning 18 years old.
“But this is certainly not the answer, it is not the answer today. This does not stop anyone at 18 from doing whatever they want to do. But it does protect children from making mistakes that they will have a very difficult time coming back from.”
But Joanna says age is not a factor when it comes to knowing who you are.
“I don’t need to be 18 before I know who I am, and these kids don’t either," Joanna said.
Arkansas' bill is pushing families out of the state they call home.
“At this point in my life, I have been seeing more families who are thinking about and who are leaving the state of Arkansas because of this bill and other anti-trans-legislation that was filed and passed this session," Dickson said
Former Republican state Rep. Dan Douglas has voted for some anti-trans bills in the past.
“I would have voted against this bill," Douglas said. “I don’t think the legislator and some of these very extreme bills and these very extreme votes really represent the accepting nature of the state of Arkansas.”
This, he says, is too black and white. It needs exceptions.
“Whenever legislation gets in the way of physician patient treatment and decisions, then we are interfering and we're going too far," Douglass said.
“The government doesn’t have any business getting in the middle of medical between parents, patients and medical professionals. It’s not their lane," Joanna said.
Arkansas is the first state to make this move, but according to the ACLU, similar bills have been or are being considered in 19 other states.
"Every major medical organization in the nation opposed this law," Dickson said.
As families like Dylan’s fight against this, they remind us: this isn’t just policy, this is their lives.
“We are real people with real feelings," Dylan said.
“He is every bit the boy that any other boy I know is," Joanna said.