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Arkansas legislators override veto, enact transgender youth treatment ban

Legislators rebuffed Gov. Asa Hutchinson, making the state the first to ban gender-confirming treatments for transgender minors.
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/ Source: The Associated Press

Arkansas legislators Tuesday made the state the first to ban gender-affirming care for transgender minors, overriding Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson's veto.

The law prohibits doctors from providing gender-affirming medical care, such as puberty blockers and hormone therapy, and prevents them from referring minors to other providers.

Major medical organizations, such as the American Medical Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics, opposed the bill, which transgender advocates say could have severe negative effects on trans youths in the state.

Chase Strangio, deputy director for transgender justice of the American Civil Liberties Union's LGBTQ & HIV Project, said in a statement that the Legislature "has ignored dozens of local doctors and national medical experts, as well as trans youth and their parents."

"This bill will drive families, doctors and businesses out of the state and send a terrible and heartbreaking message to the transgender young people who are watching in fear," Strangio said. "Gender-affirming care is life-saving care and banning that care will have devastating and in some cases deadly consequences. Trans youth in Arkansas: We will continue to fight for you."

Hutchinson said in a news conference Monday that he would veto the bill, calling it "a vast government overreach."

He said that the GOP-controlled House and Senate were likely to override his veto but that he was "hopeful that my action will cause conservative Republican legislators to think through the issue again and hopefully come up with a more restrained approach that allows a study of the science and ethics surrounding the issue before acting."

He said the measure went too far in interfering with parents and physicians and noted that it will cut off care for transgender youths already receiving treatment. He said he would have signed the bill had it focused only on gender-confirming surgery, which isn't performed on minors in the state.

The measure's sponsor referred to the procedures as experimentation and compared the restriction to other limits the state places on minors.

"They need to get to be 18 before they make those decisions," said Rep. Robin Lundstrum, a Republican.

The law will take effect in late July at the earliest. The ACLU said it planned to challenge the measure before then.

"This is a sad day for Arkansas, but this fight is not over — and we're in it for the long haul," Holly Dickson, executive director of the ACLU of Arkansas, said in a statement. "We are hearing from concerned families all over the state who are afraid about the impact of this bill and others like it."

The override, which needed only a simple majorities, passed easily in both chambers; the House voted 72-25 in favor, and the Senate voted 25-8.

Bills targeting transgender people have advanced easily in Arkansas and other states this year. Hutchinson recently signed legislation banning transgender girls from competing on middle school, high school and college sports teams consistent with their gender identities, a prohibition that Tennessee and Mississippi also enacted this year.

Hutchinson also recently signed legislation that allows doctors to refuse to treat people because of moral or religious objections.

The foundation established by the family of the founder of Walmart, which is based in Bentonville, Arkansas, raised concerns Tuesday about the recent measures targeting LGBTQ people.

"This trend is harmful and sends the wrong message to those willing to invest in or visit our state," Tom Walton of the Walton Family Foundation said in a statement before the override vote.

A lawmaker opposed to the measure compared it to the anti-integration bills the Legislature passed in 1958 in opposition to the desegregation of Little Rock Central High School.

"What I see, this bill, is the most powerful again bullying the most vulnerable people in our state," Democratic Sen. Clarke Tucker said before the vote.

Advocates are also worried about the effects of the law on trans young people's mental health.

The Trevor Project's 2020 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health found that more than half (52 percent) of transgender and nonbinary youths seriously considered suicide in the previous year, compared to 40 percent of all LGBTQ youth respondents.

Research shows that gender-affirming medical care can reduce depressive symptoms and suicidal ideation among trans youth, according to the Trevor Project.

"It is not extreme or sensational to say that this group of young people, who already experience disproportionate rates of violence and suicide attempts, would be put at significantly increased risk of self-harm because of legislation like HB 1570 pushing them farther to the margins of society," said Sam Brinton, vice president of advocacy and government affairs for the Trevor Project.

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