LITTLE ROCK, Ark – Testimony continued Wednesday in a lawsuit challenging the State’s decision to ban transgender healthcare for youth in Arkansas.
The federal bench trial addresses Act 626 passed in March of 2021. Four transgender youths and their doctors say the new law violates constitutional due process and free speech protections.
Supporters of the act say it is needed to protect children from life-altering procedures when they are too young to make such decisions.
First to the stand on Wednesday morning was Dr. Roger Hiatt, a physiatrist out of West Memphis that previously practiced at Centers for Youth and Families in Arkansas.
In his current practice at Perimeter Behavioral Hospital, Hiatt testified to have worked with at least 200 children diagnosed with Gender Dysphoria, though he mentioned that is not the reason they were referred to the facility.
“We work with the kids and watch and wait to see what’s going to happen with their gender identity. It is not the reason they came to the hospital,” Hiatt said.
Several objections came from the Plaintiffs during direct examination, claiming the doctor’s answers about gender-affirming care went outside the scope of his expertise.
Hiatt said that the patients he typically sees might have “suicidal, homicidal or safety issues.” They do not come to him seeking help with Gender Dysphoria.
Hiatt finished his testimony explaining his personal experience, choosing to share a story about a patient who came to abandon their transgender identity while being cared for at the hospital.
“This patient I just described is not unique, I’ve had at least half a dozen do that,” Hiatt said.
Next to the stand was 40-year-old Laura Beth Smaltz. At the beginning of questioning, Smaltz mentioned that she had previously gone by Laura Beth Perry and Jacob Nathan Perry.
Smaltz testified she identified as male from 2007 to 2016.
“I pictured myself as a male for most of my childhood,” Smaltz said. “I just remember feeling that way. I didn’t have a good relationship with my mom, and I was jealous of my brother’s relationship with my mom.”
Smaltz says she was unsure of her feelings until she discovered a transgender support group. Smaltz was about 25.
“When I heard about the people who were living as transgender, my whole life made sense,” Smaltz said.
Smaltz said she was required to do three one-hour sessions with a therapist before being placed on testosterone and additional session to get an approval letter for surgery.
She began testosterone and ultimately underwent top surgery and a hysterectomy, to which she described also helped with her polycystic ovary syndrome.
“[The hormones and surgery] made me feel great at first, it helped resolved some of the pain I was in,” Smaltz said.
As time pressed on, Smaltz testified that she came to regret the decisions she had made.
“It wasn’t really solving anything, it wasn’t making me a man. Even if I had the surgeries, this still isn’t real, this still isn’t going to make me a man,” Smaltz said. “I remembered the day I realized that I would never been able to father a child and I had never thought that through.”
Smaltz went on to explain what helped her feel comfortable in the end, saying that her religion helped her heal.
“What I really needed was healing,” said Smaltz. “I not only found myself ok with being female but really embracing it.”
Smaltz began the de-transition process, claiming to this day she still has regrets.
“I wish I had never transitioned in the first place; I would do anything to have my own children,” Smaltz said.
During cross examination, the Plaintiff’s questions focused on the decision to de-transition, asking Smaltz if religion was the reason she came to reidentify as female.
Next on the stand was Clifton Burleigh, who told a similar story.
Burleigh testified he had identified as a woman from the time he was 27 to about 39.
Burleigh testified that he believed God had made a mistake at birth and that Burleigh was supposed to be female. He said he went through at least 7 gender affirming surgeries in his lifetime, the first being bottom surgery.
“If I transition to make my body match my mind, I would find my happiness and my peace,” Burleigh said.
Burleigh testified he went to therapy for 5 years before making the decision to go through with the first surgery. He also claimed he kept his mental health struggles a secret from his therapist for fear they may postpone treatment.
After several surgeries, Burleigh claimed to regret his decision to transition.
“None of my problems were resolved,” Burleigh said. “[I got] a whole lot more problems after transitioning.”
Burleigh decided to begin the detransition process with testosterone and eventually a second bottom surgery.
“That was the worst surgery of them all,” Burleigh said.
During cross examination, Plaintiff attorneys questioned Burleigh’s awareness of possible risks with surgery. He claimed he was told about them by a doctor.
“I was so dead set on having surgery, I didn’t care,” Burleigh said.
Similar to Smaltz, Burleigh became a Christian, saying that it happened around 2005.
Plaintiff attorneys had similar questions for Burleigh stating, “Your decision to detransition was when you broke out and called out to God?”
Testimony is expected to wrap up Thursday, with the final decision left up to Judge James Moody Jr.