Asa Hutchinson, Arkansas's Republican Governor, Vetoes Anti-Transgender Bill.
The bill, which could also become law if state lawmakers overturn the governor's veto, will prohibit transgender children from receiving gender-affirming treatment or surgery.
Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson vetoed a bill Monday prohibiting transgender children from receiving gender-affirming treatment or surgery — a rare Republican rebuke amid a the conservative campaign to limit transgender people's health care and involvement in society.
Mr. Hutchinson's veto of the bill, known as H.B. 1570, may be overridden by the Arkansas State Legislature. Republicans control both chambers and passed the bill last month on mostly party-line votes: 70-22 in the House and 28-7 in the Senate.
“I was told this week that the nation is watching Arkansas because I have another bill on my desk that is a product of America's cultural war,” Mr. Hutchinson said in announcing his veto. “I am not averse to conflict when it is required and defendable, but the General Assembly's most recent action, though well intentioned, is off track.”
Chase Strangio, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union who has opposed anti-trans legislation in Arkansas and other states, said that while he and other activists needed to be cautious in their celebrations due to the prospect of an override, Mr. Hutchinson's veto was important both technically and symbolically.
“First and foremost, it is a significant rebuke to the broad array of legislation targeting trans youth around the country,” Mr. Strangio said. In reference to two states proposing similar legislation, he said, "I hope Alabama is watching." I'm hoping Tennessee is paying attention.”
Raquel Willis, a transgender activist and author, described the veto as "a wonderful signal to the trans community and all of our supporters that the energy we're putting into this battle is having an impact."
The bill's primary sponsors — Republican State Representative Robin Lundstrum and Republican State Senator Alan Clark — did not respond to a request for comment.
Young transgender people and their allies, as well as medical groups such as the Arkansas chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, united in response to H.B. 1570. Mr. Strangio and Ms. Willis stated that advocates wanted to maintain pressure on lawmakers while they discuss repealing Mr. Hutchinson's veto. If the bill is passed, it will also face legal challenges.
In several other states, such as South Dakota and North Carolina, business pressure and fear of economic fallout have prompted elected officials to delay or reverse policies targeting L.G.B.T. citizens in recent years.
The Arkansas bill's supporters argue it will shield children from irreversible medical treatments, and the bill's text asserts — contrary to medical professionals' consensus — that "the dangers of gender change procedures greatly outweigh any advantage at this point of clinical research on these procedures."
Medical science demonstrates the inverse.
The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry said in a 2019 statement opposing laws that limit minors' access to gender-affirming services, "Blocking timely care has been shown to raise youths' risk of suicidal ideation and other negative mental health outcomes."
More generally, the American Psychiatric Association stated in a 2018 official position paper that there was "substantial and longstanding medical and psychiatric literature" showing the "strong advantages" of medical and surgical treatments for transgender people.
Sam Brinton, vice president for advocacy and government affairs at the Trevor Project, an organization dedicated to preventing L.G.B.T.Q. suicide, said people who sought support from the organization during mental health issues often cited prejudice and public displays of anti-trans sentiment.
“When discrimination is given a bill number, it can be devastating,” Mx. Brinton said, citing research indicating that young trans and nonbinary people who reported seeing discrimination based on their gender identity were twice as likely to attempt suicide, while those who reported having at least one "gender-affirming room" — which may be a doctor's office — were 25 percent more likely to attempt suicide.
Mr. Hutchinson's veto was notable not just because he is a Republican, but also because he signed bills only last month allowing doctors to deny treatment based on religious or moral objections and excluding transgender women and girls from playing on high school or college women's sports teams. (Such proposals have gained popularity among conservative legislators, who introduced them in over a dozen states this year.)
He argued that H.B. 1570 was "overbroad, severe, and does not grandfather all adolescents currently receiving hormone therapy," and that "the state does not presume to intervene in any medical, individual, or ethical problem."
His speech was far from a rousing support of transgender rights: he claimed that he would have signed the bill had it banned only gender-affirming surgeries and encouraged lawmakers to pass a more "limited" version.
Nonetheless, Ms. Brinton of the Trevor Project described the veto and Mr. Hutchinson's subsequent comment as "a huge deal."
“The governor stated plainly that you should trust your parents, your child, and their medical professionals,” Mx. Brinton stated. “If we could achieve that degree of confidence in states across the world, we will see an increase in the number of L.G.B.T.Q. youth sleeping with joy and relaxation tonight, rather than fear and nightmares. That is precisely what is taking place in Arkansas tonight.”