Arkansas is first state to ban gender-affirming treatments for trans youth

Lawmakers overrode the governor’s veto despite criticism that the measure would harm an already vulnerable community

Arkansas has become the first state to ban gender-affirming treatments and surgery for transgender youth, after lawmakers overrode the governor’s objections to enact the ban on Tuesday.

The state’s governor, Asa Hutchinson, had vetoed the bill on Monday following pleas from pediatricians, social workers and the parents of trans youth who said the measure would harm a community already at risk for depression and suicide. The ban was opposed by several medical and child welfare groups, including the American Academy of Pediatrics.

However the Republican-controlled house and senate voted to override Hutchinson’s veto.

The ban prohibits doctors from providing gender-affirming hormone treatment, puberty blockers or surgery to anyone under 18 years old, or from referring them to other providers for the treatment. The treatments are part of a gradual process that can vastly improve young people’s mental health, and can be life-saving, experts say.

Opponents of the measure have vowed to sue to block the ban before it takes effect this summer.

“This legislation perpetuates the very things we know are harmful to trans youth,” said Dr Robert Garofalo, the division head of adolescent and young adult medicine at Lurie Children’s hospital in Chicago, speaking on a press conference call held by the Human Rights Campaign. “They’re not just anti-trans. They’re anti-science. They’re anti-public health.”

The bill’s sponsor dismissed opposition from medical groups and compared the restriction to other limits the state places on minors, such as prohibiting them from drinking.

“They need to get to be 18 before they make those decisions,” said the Republican representative Robin Lundstrum.

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

“I do hope my veto will cause my Republican colleagues across the country to resist the temptation to put the state in the middle of every decision made by parents and healthcare professionals,“ Hutchinson said in a statement after the vote.

The law will take effect in late July at the earliest. The American Civil Liberties Union 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,” said Holly Dickson, the ACLU of Arkansas’ executive director, in a statement.

The ban was enacted during a year in which bills targeting trans people have advanced easily in Arkansas and other states. Hutchinson recently signed legislation banning trans women and girls from competing on teams consistent with their gender identity, a prohibition that also has been enacted in Tennessee and Mississippi this year.

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

And the legislature isn’t showing signs of letting up. Another bill advanced by a house committee earlier Tuesday would prevent schools from requiring teachers to refer to students by their preferred pronouns or titles.

The Human Rights Campaign, the largest US LGBTQ rights group, said more than 100 bills have been filed in statehouses around the country targeting the trans community. Similar treatment bans have been proposed in at least 20 states.

Clarke Tucker, a Democratic lawmaker who opposed the measure, compared it to the anti-integration bills Arkansas’ legislature passed in 1958 in opposition to the previous year’s 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.”

Guardian staff and agency

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