Arkansas passes bill to ban gender-affirming care for trans youth

Chase Strangio of the ACLU said it's the “single most extreme anti-trans law to ever pass through a state legislature.”

Asa Hutchinson speaks at a daily press conference in Little Rock, Ark., on March 23, 2020.Staton Breidenthal / The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette via AP file

The Arkansas Senate passed a bill Monday that would ban access to gender-affirming care for transgender minors, including reversible puberty blockers and hormones.

The bill now heads to Gov. Asa Hutchinson, a Republican. Unless he vetoes it, Arkansas will become the first state to ban gender-affirming care for trans youth.

Chase Strangio, deputy director for transgender justice at the American Civil Liberties Union LGBT & HIV Project, called the bill “the single most extreme anti-trans law to ever pass through a state legislature.”

The bill is one of two types of legislation being considered in more than two dozen states: measures that ban or restrict access to gender-affirming care for trans minors, and those that ban trans young people from competing in school sports teams of their gender identity.

Governors in three states — Arkansas, Mississippi and Tennessee — have signed trans athlete bans into law.

In addition to Arkansas, Alabama and Tennessee are also advancing restrictions on gender-affirming care. Alabama’s Senate approved a bill that would make it a felony to provide care such as puberty blockers or hormones for trans minors, and a Tennessee House Committee also just advanced a similar measure that includes misdemeanor criminal penalties.

Strangio and trans people in Arkansas, Tennessee and Alabama are afraid of what the next week and months will look like as more states hear and pass anti-trans bills.

“I really worry about the fact that we're just a few votes away from some of the most sweeping and damaging and potentially genocidal laws from ever being passed, and we barely have a mention of it in the bigger national conversation of what's going on in this particular moment in U.S. history,” Strangio said.

Arkansas’ bill is already having an impact on trans people there, said Rumba Yambú, director of Intransitive, a group that supports trans people in the state.

“It's one of the worst bills that they could have created,” said Yambú, who uses gender neutral pronouns.

Michele Hutchison, a pediatric doctor in Arkansas, testified in front of the state Senate last Monday, March 22, that just after the bill passed the House, there were “multiple kids in our emergency room because of an attempted suicide, just in the last week.”

Yambú said, “It's just expected that if this passes, it will cost lives, and they don't seem to care about that,” referring to the Arkansas legislators who support the bill. “It's already difficult enough to survive here, when they're not actively creating more laws to oppress us.”

Strangio said Alabama’s bill, which the state Senate passed this month, is the most extreme medical bill so far, because it would ban care for trans people up to 19 years old, and it includes felony penalties. It would also prevent public funds, such as Medicaid, from being used for transition-related care.

If either Arkansas or Alabama passes their bills, trans young people who are already receiving care will lose it, Strangio said. Zuriel Hooks, 18, a trans client of the Knights and Orchids Society, which supports trans people in Alabama, said she would be “devastated” if that happens.

“That’s something I would never want to happen,” she said. “I've come so far, I made a goal, and for that to be taken away from me is sad. This is something I want and need in my life to make me feel like me. I don’t want to see that taken away at all."

Alabama’s bill would also require school personnel to “out” students and tell their parents if they say their gender or sex is inconsistent with their assigned sex at birth.

It’s a way of “scaring anyone who's even questioning their gender from ever mentioning it,” said Nic, 32, who lives in Cedar Point, Alabama, and asked to go only by her first name because she’s not out as trans at work and fears repercussions.

“You're actually threatening these kids’ entire livelihoods by forcing them to be out to family who may not be supportive,” Nic said.

A House committee in Tennessee passed a similar measure last week. The bill would make it a misdemeanor for doctors to provide gender-affirming care to children who haven’t yet reached puberty, and it would also require trans youth who have reached puberty to have at least two physicians and one child psychiatrist sign off on their treatment.

Ray Holloman, a trans man who lives outside of Nashville, said the bill would have a detrimental affect on trans youth, “because it's already so difficult to find providers that can provide affirming care to youth.”

He added that gender-affirming care has been shown to save young people’s lives by reducing their risk for suicide and depression. “Ultimately, we have more trans youth living and thriving because of these things,” he said. “And now to see the state try to put all those restrictions back on to the providers and basically handcuffing them as to what they can and can't do in the state, it's going to harm the kids.”

Major medical organizations such as the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Medical Association, the Endocrine Society and the American Psychiatric Association, among others, support gender-affirming care for trans youth and have opposed measures to limit it.

At a news conference Monday, Dr. Lee Savio Beers, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, said, “The AAP recommends that youth who identify as transgender have access to comprehensive gender-affirming and developmentally appropriate health care provided in a safe and inclusive clinical space. The bill advancing through Arkansas Legislature not only ignores this recommendation but undermines it.”

Strangio said the consequences of all of the bills are the same: People are going to lose health care. “I don't think I ever imagined a world where we would start ripping health care away from people, essentially forcing them to detransition by government coercion,” Strangio said.

Strangio added that the ACLU will sue if the bills pass or if other states pass similar measures.

Though Arkansas’ bill is heading to the governor’s desk, Yambú said at the news conference that Intransitive will not stop fighting the bill and others that come after it.

“We've been here before this legislative session, and we will be here for you after,” they said. “To every trans kid, know that it is a fact, it is a fact that you were born blessed. To be trans is a blessing, and it's a blessing that scares people who are born without it.”

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