Arkansas Becomes First State to Ban Gender-Affirming Care for Trans Youth

The Arkansas State Capitol building in Little Rock.
Wikimedia Commons/Daniel Schwen

One day after Governor Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas vetoed legislation that would ban gender-affirming care for trans youth, the State Legislature overruled him and approved the bill, making Arkansas the first state in the nation to enact such a law.

The state’s lower house voted 71-24 and the State Senate voted 25-8 to override Hutchinson’s veto of the “Save Adolescents from Experimentation Act,” which bars doctors from providing gender transition-related medical care and gives a green light to health insurance companies to avoid covering individuals — regardless of their age — who seek to receive gender-affirming care, according to the ACLU.

The governor announced his veto at an April 5 press conference during which he criticized the legislation as an example of “government overreach.”

“You are starting to let lawmakers interfere with health care and set a standard for legislation overriding health care,” he said. “The state should not presume to jump into every ethical health decision.”

Hutchinson anticipated a potential override of his veto, though he expressed hope that GOP lawmakers would consider re-evaluating the issue — and he even described the legislation as “well-intentioned, but off course.” Instead, lawmakers vetoed the bill anyway, setting up major legal challenges.

“Today Arkansas legislators disregarded widespread, overwhelming, and bipartisan opposition to this bill and continued their discriminatory crusade against trans youth,” Holly Dickson, ACLU of Arkansas executive director, said in a written statement. “As Governor Hutchinson noted in his veto message, denying care to trans youth can lead to harmful and life-threatening consequences. This is a sad day for Arkansas, but this fight is not over — and we’re in it for the long haul.Attempting to block trans youth from the care they need simply because of who they are is not only wrong, it’s also illegal, and we will be filing a lawsuit to challenge this law in court. We are hearing from concerned families all over the state who are afraid about the impact of this bill and others like it. We are committed to doing all we can to support these families and ensure they know how to continue to fight for their rights and get the care and resources they need.”

The Human Rights Campaign’s Arkansas state manager, Eric Reece, also ripped the Legislature’s actions immediately after lawmakers blew off the governor’s veto.

“This discriminatory bill, peddled by national anti-equality extremists, is a cruel and shameful way for legislators to score political points by targeting transgender youth who are simply trying to navigate their adolescence,” Reece said in a written statement. “Transgender youth deserve to be included and accepted, especially as we see an uptick in fatal violence against transgender people across the country. We need to end this epidemic and ensure that all transgender Arkansans have access to the life-saving, gender affirming medical care they need.”

Human Rights Campaign president Alphonso David said his organization “will use every tool at our disposal” to push back against the law.

“This is the first law of its kind anywhere in the country, and it is immeasurably cruel to the transgender children who already suffer from higher risks of anxiety, depression, body dysphoria, and suicidal ideation and for whom those risks will only increase without medical care,” David said. “This broadly unpopular bill is anti-science and dismisses the medical expertise of a wide range of child welfare advocates. Arkansas legislators, against the will of Governor Hutchinson, are not only inviting irreparable harm to their state’s transgender youth, but also economic and reputational consequences to all Arkansans. The Human Rights Campaign condemns this action by the Arkansas legislature and will use every tool at our disposal to fight against this law and for the rights all transgender youth and their families.”

Melanie Willingham-Jaggers, the interim executive director of GLSEN, which advocates for LGBTQ students in K-12 schools, said the legislation compounds existing hardships for transgender youth.

“Transgender youth in Arkansas already face staggering rates of discrimination and harassment,” Willingham-Jaggers said in a written statement. “Instead of perpetuating harmful misconceptions about transgender children, Arkansas lawmakers, and all leaders, must do more to ensure the safety and well-being of transgender and non-binary youth who are facing high rates of victimization. This new attack on transgender and non-binary young people is a devastating blow to LGBTQ communities, but the fight is not over. We will continue to challenge these cruel attacks, and I’m confident that with the resilience and bravery of transgender and non-binary youth leading this fight, we will ultimately see a safer world where all young people can access healthcare and be free from barriers to reaching their full potential.”

It has been a tumultuous start to the month for the transgender community in Arkansas. Despite his veto, Hutchinson recently signed a bill sidelining transgender women and girls and some non-binary people from school and college sports — and at the April 5 press conference he continued to use transphobic rhetoric to support that bill’s passage.

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