NWA Family Fights for Trans Rights Statewide

Madison Barstow

During the last two weeks of October, an Arkansas law prohibiting gender-affirming healthcare for transgender youth finally had its day in court. 

The law, originally passed by the Arkansas legislature in March 2021, would effectively place a ban on gender-affirming healthcare for transgender minors by preventing doctors from providing referrals and allowing private insurers to refuse coverage of gender-affirming care to transgender persons at any age

It has yet to be enforced because the judge granted a preliminary injunction requested by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) so that the case could be decided in court first. The ACLU is battling the law in an effort to ensure that it never goes into effect. 

Among those fighting is the family of Fayetteville High School student Sabrina Jennen, whose father is federal assistant DA, Aaron Jennen. If this ban were to go into effect it would give the Jennen family only two options: seek treatment from somewhere else or be forced to move. 

What pains me most is how this law, and laws like it, make transgender Arkansans feel,” Aaron Jennen said. “The purpose of your government is to protect you and help you realize your full potential.”

If the ban were to go into effect, it would be a major step back in the LGBTQ+ rights and a social blow to our society. This could lead to a massive decline in personal health and well-being in addition to professional implications ranging from a loss of licensure and income to criminal prosecution.

The blocking of gender affirming healthcare is a blow to not only the LGBTQ+ community, but also a blow to mental health care, and medical studies,” Sabrina Jennen said. “Gender affirming healthcare is essential and a life saving treatment and without it I wouldn’t be here today.”  

The Jennens argue that the Arkansas government is essentially trying to criminalize gender expression.

“Laws like the one we are fighting… send a message to the trans community that they are not wanted here,” Aaron Jennen said. 

At Heritage, efforts are being made to make sure the trans community feels welcomed and loved. 

“HHS does well with safe spaces and support for a pretty big school,” said Jaden Malonson (10). “I’m able to feel comfortable in most of my classes because I have accepting teachers who stand up for me and who I am without treating me any differently than the other students.” 

Malonson specifically noted the way certain teachers create environments that make students feel accepted and valued.

“I’m in Madame Parker’s class, and there have been many times that she’s allowed me to use the Safe Space Closet when I’m having a rough day or need a breather,” he said.

The Safe Space Closet is attached to Mary Parker’s classroom and has cozy elements and low lighting that allow students to be in a low-stimulating environment. Along with the Safe Space Closet, she has curated her own rainbow library for the students to use at any time.

Heritage also has a club for the LGBTQ+ community called GSA (Gender Sexuality Alliance).This club is sponsored by Parker and gives LGBTQ+ students an opportunity to make themselves known, and make life at school more accessible.

Having a flexible space where students can feel comfortable and supported is incredibly important especially when so many are worried about this law if it were to take effect.

LGBTQ+ students at Heritage are grateful for the efforts to prevent the law because they will also benefit if the Jennens prevail. 

Still, Malonson, who struggles with body dysmorphia, remains anxious over the lawsuit and feels that there “isn’t much for youth teens like me” if the law goes into effect.  

A final decision on the hearing will be made in the spring.