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Arkansas lawmaker, at a hearing, asks transgender woman if she has a penis

Gasps could be heard from the gallery after the Republican state senator asked a trans health care professional about her genitalia.
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An Arkansas lawmaker shocked onlookers this week when he asked a transgender health care professional about her genitals at a hearing on a bill that would prohibit gender-affirming care for minors.

Gwendolyn Herzig, a pharmacist who is a trans woman, was testifying Monday in support of the treatment for minors during a state Senate Judiciary Committee hearing.

“You said that you’re a trans woman?” Republican state Sen. Matt McKee asked Herzig. “Do you have a penis?”

The audience erupted, with some audibly gasping and at least one person shouting, "Disgraceful."

"That's horrible," Herzig said, after taking a few moments to gather herself. "I don't know what my rights are, but that question was horribly inappropriate."

Herzig, who holds a doctorate of pharmacy, then added: "I'm a health care professional, a doctor. Please treat me as such. Next question, please."

Herzig said she went into Monday's hearing hoping that Republican lawmakers would be receptive to hearing her perspective as a trans woman and a health professional.

"Any other question I was expecting other than what I got," Herzig, 33, said in a phone interview with NBC News. "It was probably the most publicly humiliating thing I've ever gone through."

McKee did not immediately respond to NBC News' request for comment.

The exchange prompted outrage on social media from trans activists and the state's Democrats.

"Absolutely sickening," Alejandra Caraballo, a clinical instructor at Harvard Law School’s Cyberlaw Clinic, wrote on Twitter. "Arkansas State senator Matt McKee asked a trans person at a legislative hearing 'do you have a penis?' Does this State Senator have any basic human decency?"

The Democratic Party of Arkansas tweeted, "Republicans are not hiding their transphobia."

The legislation, S.B. 199, introduced in the Arkansas Senate this month, would prohibit physicians in the state from providing most types of gender-affirming care to minors, including prescribing puberty blockers or hormone replacement therapy, or from performing transition-related surgeries.

It would also allow anyone in the state who has received gender-affirming care as a minor to file a malpractice lawsuit against physicians for up to 30 years after they turn 18.

More than a dozen major medical organizations, including the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Psychological Association, support the treatments that would be barred if the bill becomes law.

In 2021, Arkansas became the first state to ban gender-affirming care for minors, but a federal judge temporarily blocked the law. The 2021 legislation largely mirrors the bill introduced this year.

Five other states have enacted similar forms of the legislation, including South Dakota, whose governor signed a measure into law on Monday.

Less than two months into 2023, lawmakers in at least 24 states, including Arkansas, have introduced legislation that would restrict transition-related care for minors, according to an NBC News analysis.

S.B. 199 advanced through Arkansas' Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday, and it is expected to pass through the state Senate in upcoming weeks.

After testifying, Herzig said she defiantly sat through the rest of the hearing before heading back to work at the pharmacy she owns, Park West Pharmacy in Little Rock, the state capital.

As video of her exchange with McKee spreads on social media, Herzig said, "Going viral, I guess, is OK."

"I really just hope it just shows people that there's people like me who want to stand up and that there are people who want to make sure there are access to resources," she added.