Many other parts of the US frequently stereotype Arkansas as a backward-thinking, conservative, bible-belt state. But when it comes to safeguarding gender-questioning kids, it is actually one of the most politically Scandinavian in the nation.
Arkansas’ Save Adolescents from Experimentation (SAFE) Act, which will go into effect in July 2021, is on par with some of the most liberal countries in the world when it comes to this issue, in particular Sweden and Finland. It also recognizes the UK’s extensive and relevant research. There is a need in the US for such legislation in the face of lax standards of care, which allow puberty blockers, cross-sex hormones, and surgeries with little oversight, something these other gender-forward countries are steering away from.
- The UK’s December 2020 court decision ruled that children under the age of 16 are unable to consent to the experimental nature of puberty blockers and that 16 and 17-year-olds may not be able to either. (The law has since been amended to say that parents may be able to make such decisions on behalf of their minor children.)
- In conjunction with the aforementioned judicial decision, the UK’s National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) did a systematic review of both puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones and found the evidence “very low” (their words) in all categories that these experimental drugs actually do what they are intended to do.
- As of May 1, 2021, Sweden’s Karolinska Hospital (part the the Karolinska Institute, which grants the Nobel Prize) and a second Swedish medical institution have stopped all new prescriptions of puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones for gender dysphoric minors under age 18 and will only allow their use in clinical research studies.
- The Arkansas bill’s age cut-off is 18, like Sweden above and also like in Finland, whose new protocol recognizes that adolescence is a time of great identity exploration and development and that many children will outgrow their gender dysphoria.
- Finland also does not allow any surgical treatments at all for their gender-questioning youth under the age of 18.
The Arkansas bill is not perfect. For instance, it does not even mention let alone prioritize ethical psychotherapeutic treatment for gender-questioning youth, as Finland so compassionately does. A growing body of research is starting to show the benefits of such ethical psychotherapy, and a new book has recently been published in that same vein by Marcus Evans and Susan Evans, both of whom used to work at the UK’s Tavistock Gender Clinic, called Gender Dysphoria: A Therapeutic Model for Working with Children, Adolescents and Young Adults
It also would be preferable for doctors, hospitals, and medical associations to make these decisions, rather than enact such measures through legislation. But in the absence of such medical and psychological directives, where doctors and medical groups instead seem to be beholden to activist groups and radical researchers, Arkansas has stepped up to provide the boldest and most progressive leadership in America when it comes to safeguarding its gender-diverse youth.
Will the Arkansas bill go into effect as planned on July 1, 2021? It remains unclear, because as of May 25, 2021, the ACLU is suing the state to block it. Of note is the ACLU’s jaw-dropping position that “Puberty-delaying treatments have been used for decades to treat cisgender children experiencing precocious puberty, and are completely safe and totally reversible” (emphasis ours – since we had to read it twice to understand that yes, this is actually what the ACLU will be arguing). Given the quite definitive recent research out of the UK, Sweden, and Finland stating the exact opposite, that seems to be quite a bold and dangerous statement by the storied ACLU.
UPDATE AS OF JULY 21, 2021: A federal judge temporarily blocked enforcement of Arkansas’ ban on gender confirming treatments for transgender youth while a lawsuit challenging the prohibition proceeds.