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Biden’s Justice Department tells court to end Arkansas’s trans health care ban

March 18 2021 protest of Arkansas's trans youth health care ban
March 18 2021 protest of Arkansas's trans youth health care banPhoto: ACLU

The Biden administration filed a second legal brief yesterday asking a court to declare an anti-trans law unconstitutional, this time to overturn Arkansas’s ban on gender-affirming health care for trans youth.

“A state law that specifically denies a limited class of people the ability to receive medically necessary care from their healthcare providers solely on the basis of their sex assigned at birth violates the Equal Protection Clause,” says a brief from the Department of Justice (DOJ) filed to support an ACLU lawsuit. “These restrictions explicitly target transgender people.”

Related: Biden administration tells court that states can’t ban trans girls from sports

Arkansas’s legislature passed H.B. 1570 this past March over the Republican governor’s veto in what was called the most anti-transgender state law passed this year. The law bans doctors and other health care professionals from providing gender-affirming health care for transgender minors.

The law, which will go into effect in July unless a court stops it, even bans puberty blockers, which have to be taken before the lasting effects of puberty happen in order to be effective and have been shown to reduce lifelong suicide risk.

“Having access to care means I’m able to be myself, and be healthier and more confident — physically and mentally,” said 15-year-old Dylan Brandt in a statement. He’s one of the 18 plaintiffs in the lawsuit to overturn the Arkansas law. “The thought of having that wrenched away and going back to how I was before is devastating.”

Advocates of transgender youth just got some help from the Biden administration. The DOJ filed a brief asking the court to overturn the Arkansas law, which could help to persuade the judge.

“This is an important signal to lawmakers that are considering enacting these anti-trans bills into law,” Shiwali Patel of the National Women’s Law Center told Reuters.

The DOJ’s brief says that the Arkansas law “specifically denies a limited class of people the ability to receive medically necessary care from their health care providers solely because of their sex assigned at birth” in violation of the Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause. The DOJ says that cisgender youth can receive the same treatments after the law goes into effect, showing that the law isn’t about specific medical procedures but about discrimination against trans youth.

“The law would permit a doctor to prescribe testosterone to a minor whose sex assigned at birth was male for male hypogonadism, where the body produces insufficient testosterone, because that prescription aligns with gender-based stereotypes about what is considered ‘masculine,'” the brief says, noting that a doctor prescribing the same medication to a trans boy could face sanctions under Arkansas’s law.

“By deciding who receives medically prescribed care based on the State’s definition of ‘biological sex,’ Arkansas’s lawmakers are supplanting the medical judgment and expertise of the minors’ treating healthcare providers with stereotypical beliefs about appropriate gender expression.”

Yesterday, the DOJ filed a brief in a different case that’s challenging West Virginia’s ban on transgender girls in school sports. In both briefs, the DOJ argued that transgender people are a historically oppressed minority and that the court should be suspicious of laws that single them out for unfair treatment.

The two briefs show that the Biden administration is willing to get involved in legal battles to advance its position that anti-LGBTQ discrimination is already illegal under federal law.

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