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ACLU: Marshall’s support of Arkansas law barring transgender youth care misguided

The ACLU of Alabama says instead of focusing on Alabama prisons, AG Marshall is attacking transgender youth in Arkansas.

Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall speaks during a press conference on COVID-19 with Gov. Kay Ivey in April 2020. GOVERNOR's OFFICE/HAL YEAGER

The ACLU of Alabama on Thursday called out Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall for interjecting Alabama into a lawsuit challenging an Arkansas law against medical treatment for transgendered minors. 

The ACLU of Arkansas filed a lawsuit in May seeking to block the state’s “Save Adolescents from Experimentation Act” law, which was passed in April and bars transgender youth from gender-affirming treatments. 

Arkansas’s law is similar to a bill filed during Alabama’s last legislative session by Republican Sen. Shay Shelnutt, which would have criminalized physicians who provide gender-affirming care to transgender youth, and required school counselors to report instances of “gender dysphoria.”

Shelnutt’s bill passed the House but ran out of time in the Senate before the session ended. Shellnut has pre-filed the bill for the 2022 legislative session. 

The American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Alabama and the New York City-based law firm Lambda Legal all warned Alabama lawmakers in April that if Shellnut’s bill passed the groups would swiftly sue to block it, calling the bill unconstitutional and deadly for transgender youth seeking care, who often become suicidal without support. 

“We are filing this brief because, like Arkansas, we are concerned about the surge in recent years of children suffering from gender dysphoria and other forms of gender-related psychological distress,” Marshall said in a statement. “Like Arkansas–and like those challenging the SAFE Act—we are concerned because these vulnerable children are suffering greatly and need help. The vital questions are, how do we help them, and how do we avoid serious irreversible damage.”

Marshall led a group of 17 states, all with Republican attorneys general,  in a filing  in support of Arkansas in that lawsuit. The filing alleges that medical research doesn’t support the use of puberty-blockers for transgender youth, a claim physicians who treat them disrupted during debates over Alabama’s bill last session. 

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“That may be an odd thing for a group of States to say in response to a group of medical professionals, but it’s true,” Marshall wrote in the filing. 

Physicians who treat transgender youth, their parents and transgender youth themselves spoke out against Shellnut’s bill during the last legislative session, explaining that the bill, if passed, would place those youth at greater risk of suicide. 

Physicians said despite claims by Republican backers of the bill, transgender youth in Alabama never receive gender reassignment surgery because its prohibited by federal law. Doctors also said medical research shows puberty-blocking drugs used by some transgender teens are reversible, despite claims by the bill’s supporters that they are not.  

“While the people of Alabama need our government to focus on things like what’s happening in our state prisons, Attorney General Marshall is attacking trans youth in another state,” said JaTaune Bosby, executive director of ACLU of Alabama, in a message to APR

“In Arkansas, Alabama and everywhere, trans youth know who they are and politicians shouldn’t get between a young person, their parents and their doctors. Gender-affirming care is lifesaving care, and courts have agreed that denying someone care simply because they are transgender is against the law,” Bosby said. 

Marshall’s involvement in the Arkansas case puts Alabama squarely against the U.S. Department of Justice, which filed statements of interest in the Arkansas cases and another in Virginia over a law that bars transgender youth from playing sports in the gender in which they identify with. 

The DOJ in the Arkansas case states that the law denies people access to medical care on the basis of their sex, and it violates the Equal Protection Clause, according to Metro Weekly

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“[The ban on trans health care] cannot survive heightened scrutiny because the State’s articulated objectives are merely pretextual justifications lacking any scientific or factual basis,” the DOJ writes in the filing. “The law, which prohibits widely-accepted treatment protocols, would deny transgender minors medically necessary care solely based on their sex assigned at birth and their transgender status. If the State truly intended to protect ‘vulnerable’ minors, it would not insert itself into the physician-patient relationship for purposes of depriving these minors’ necessary and appropriate treatment.”

Alabama lawmaker in the last session approved a ban on transgender athletes from competing in the sports of the gender with which they identify. 

A growing list of NCAA and WNBA players and coaches are joining in opposition to such transgender sports laws. 

Gov. Kay Ivey, who is running for reelection, signed the bill into law in April, and in June ran a political ad that stated “Kay Ivey, against trans athletes.” 

“Now, here in Alabama, boys play with boys’ sports and girls play girls’ sports,” Ivey says in the ad. 

As’s Joseph Goodman noted in a column on Ivey’s ad, that’s not accurate. 

“Just last fall I coached a U-13 soccer team that was made up of girls and boys and no one said a single thing about it. So, it’s not about that,” Goodman wrote.

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Eddie Burkhalter is a reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter. You can email him at [email protected] or reach him via Twitter.

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