One week after the General Assembly of Arkansas proposed a bill that would outlaw gender-affirming health care for minors, Governor Asa Hutchinson vetoed it. The decision, coming from a conservative Republican governor who has offended the LGBTQ+ community in the past, was viewed as one of their strides achieved in the past few years.
Historically a red state, Arkansas has ever been a friendly place for LGBTQ+ people. Hutchinson only made it less so when he approved other anti-trans bills which involve sports and other health care. For example, just last month he signed off on a bill that targets trans health care in a different way by permitting doctors and other medical workers to voluntarily deny LGBTQ+ people treatment based on morals or religion (as long as their needs are not an emergency).
Doesn’t this violate the H.I.P.A.A oath? What morals keep doctors from treating their patients? People are patients first, regardless of gender identity.
So with all these battles in mind, when Hutchinson vetoed the anti-gender affirmation bill, Arkansas’ LGBTQ+ community almost saw victory in their grasp.
This triumph only lasted one day.
The bill makes it a felony to provide gender affirmation procedures to transgender minors. This was too extreme for Hutchinson, who told NPR on April 6, “This puts a very vulnerable population in a more difficult position. It sends the wrong signal to them.”
BREAKING: Arkansas legislators have overridden Governor Hutchinson's veto of House Bill 1570, disregarding the widespread, overwhelming, and bipartisan opposition to this bill and continuing their discriminatory crusade against trans youth. #arpx #arnews
— ACLU of Arkansas (@ArkansasACLU) April 6, 2021
Gender affirmation is more than just physicality; it’s mental health. The vulnerability that Hutchinson cited among the transgender community, particularly among minors, involves high rates of suicide and depression. Gender is an essential part of identity, and gender affirmation can allow transgender youth to express this. Members of the transgender community who struggle with identity can control how they view their world, as well as how others view them, with the certain surgical or hormonal procedures involved in gender-affirming health care.
Access to these procedures was already difficult to come by for much of the transgender youth in this country. Harassment, discrimination, outright denial, or the sheer lack of experienced professionals are some of the major obstacles that prevent trans people from obtaining their identities. In Arkansas, if some had the opportunity to take home reversible puberty blockers, it’s gone now. Chase Strangio, deputy director for transgender justice at the American Civil Liberties Union LGBT and HIV Project, told NBC News that the bill is “the single most extreme anti-trans law to ever pass through a state legislature.”
Despite Governor Hutchinson recognizing the bill as lacking compassion toward Arkansas youth, he was never an ally. In an interview with “State of the Union” on CNN, he defended the recent bills that address another aspect of anti-trans life: sports.
“I did sign the protection for girls in sports which says biological males cannot compete on a girls team,” the governor told CNN. “To me, that’s a fundamental way of making sure girls’ sports can prosper.”
Much can be said about the latest bill’s steps to deny access to affirming gender. Right down to its very name, the law is problematic. HB-1570 is also known as Save Adolescents from Experimentation (SAFE). How can gender-affirming health care, which decreases suicide rates among minors, be classified as “experimentation”?
The LGBTQ+ community is still fighting for their issues to be taken seriously. Beneath the layers of society, the bill, its terminology, and its harsh punishments, resides a lack of acceptance. It stretches beyond the borders of Arkansas. Recently, anti-transgender legislation (in regards to access to sports and health care) has been under consideration in 28 states, which exemplifies the way this is a problem society faces at large. Under the umbrella of sports-related issues alone, over 60 anti-transgender bills have been considered across the country. LGBTQ+ activists fear that anti-trans bills will harm athletes and limit their access to health care.
The ACLU had condemned the bill as ostracizing transgender youth. “This has been a significant part of my work at the ACLU for the past six years and I’ve never seen anything like this,” Chase Strangio told CNN in another interview. “There have never been this many bills targeting trans youth voted out of the committee and then making it to the floor.”
Say it with us: Trans youth belong in Arkansas.
— ACLU (@ACLU) April 7, 2021
When political leaders abandon a vulnerable community, it is left within their hands alone to assert their rights, worth, and presence. As the LGBTQ+ community comes under attack once again with the recent legislation being pushed across the nation, it is important to remember this now more than ever and to consider how to align yourself as an ally for this community.
Amidst the shame and ostracism transgender people in Arkansas endure because of this bill, groups like Northwest Arkansas Equality and the American Civil Liberties Union Arkansas showcase their resilience. Both groups advocate for LGBTQ+ rights within the community, provide health, wellness, and social resources, and create a space for people to feel safe and accepted. With Arkansas the first state to ban gender affirmation, the message of these organizations is more important than ever.
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