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Arizona, Oklahoma Governors Sign Anti-Trans Bills Into Law

Doug Ducey

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey Wednesday signed into law two bills restricting the rights of transgender youth, while Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt signed one.

One, Arizona Senate Bill 1138, bans gender-affirming surgery for trans minors, and the other, Arizona Senate Bill 1165, bars trans girls and women from participating in female sports in grades K-12 or colleges and universities, in either public schools or private ones whose students or teams compete against public schools. Both bills were approved by the Arizona House last week and had previously been OK’d by the Senate. Meanwhile, Stitt signed an anti-trans sports bill into law, following its final approval by legislators last week.

“Today I signed S.B. 1138 and S.B. 1165, legislation to protect participation and fairness for female athletes, and to ensure that individuals undergoing irreversible gender reassignment surgery are of adult age,” Ducey, a Republican, said in a letter explaining his support for the measures. “This legislation is common-sense and narrowly-targeted to address these two specific issues ⁠— while ensuring that transgender individuals continue to receive the same dignity, respect and kindness as every individual in our society.”

The health care bill, as passed, does not prohibit hormone treatment or puberty blockers for young people, although an earlier version of the legislation did. Doctors do not generally recommend genital surgery for people under 18, but young people sometimes undergo breast surgery, which is banned by the legislation along with genital surgery. The legislation interferes with private medical decisions, opponents said.

The decision to undergo gender-affirming surgery is “never made lightly,” Rep. Melody Hernandez, a Democrat, said during debate on the bill last week, according to the Associated Press. “This is not an on-the-whim decision. This is an intimate part of who they are. This is something that should be respected.”

The trans athletes legislation affects trans girls and women only, not trans males. Like similar laws in several other states, it was proposed under the guise of protecting cisgender female athletes, even though there is no widespread dominance of women's sports by trans women, and both scientists and activists dispute that trans females have an inherent and unfair advantage in sports.

However, in a move that restricts the rights of cisgender women as well as trans men and nonbinary people, Ducey signed a bill into law Wednesday that prohibits abortions after 15 weeks, except in medical emergencies, and provides for felony charges against doctors who perform them. Mississippi has adopted a similar law; a challenge to it was heard recently in the Supreme Court, which is expected to issue a decision on its constitutionality in the spring.

The sports legislation in Oklahoma is similar to that enacted in Arizona, affecting trans females in both public schools and private schools that compete against them, and extending to state colleges and universities.

The American Civil Liberties Union, its Arizona affiliate, and the National Center for Lesbian Rights have vowed to sue over the Arizona trans health care law. “For months, hundreds of doctors, parents, advocates, and trans youth have shown up in opposition to the countless anti-trans bills heard in committees," ACLU of Arizona Executive Director Jennifer Allen Aroz said in a prepared statement. Despite the overwhelming pleas to end these discriminatory bills, legislators were intent on using trans youth as political ploys and have now passed a bill that prohibits trans youth from receiving the life-saving medical care they require. 

“Today is a sad day in Arizona. Presented with the opportunity to do the right thing and veto SB 1138, Gov. Ducey has instead chosen to give into falsehoods and extremism. Together with the ACLU and NCLR, we will continue to fight for trans youth and will file a lawsuit to challenge this law in court.”

The Trevor Project, which assists LGBTQ+ youth in crisis, was also quick to condemn the anti-trans legislation. “While the problems transgender and nonbinary youth cause communities are hypothetical, the harms these laws will cause them are very real,” Sam Ames, director of advocacy and government affairs, said in a press release. “We’re talking about a group of marginalized young people who have consistently been found to be at greater risk for bullying, depression, and attempting suicide — and 85 percent say recent debates around anti-trans laws have even further negatively impacted their mental health. Today alone, on the eve of Transgender Day of Visibility, three anti-trans bills were signed into law across the country. This onslaught is not an accident; it is overwhelming by design and in direct response to progress in the fight for trans rights. But the Trevor Project will continue supporting our young people while we continue the fight against these policies. We are here for you, and we are not going anywhere.”

Lambda Legal Staff Attorney Kell Olson issued the following statement: “Governor Ducey framed this decision as ‘common sense.’ It’s anything but. These bills will make life harder for transgender kids across Arizona who should have the opportunity to grow up feeling loved and respected for who they are. The governor offered platitudes about treating transgender people with ‘dignity, respect, and kindness,’ while signing legislation that ignores the very real concerns of the transgender youth who came to the legislature to share their stories and the horrific impact these new laws will have on their lives and mental health. That’s not treating people with ‘dignity, respect, or kindness.’ It’s just plain wrong.”

“The governor could have used his office to create an honest dialogue about these issues. Instead, he’s following the lead of fringe politicians across the country who are rushing to pass new laws to make life more difficult for transgender people in order to score political points. Arizona can do better.”

Oklahoma and Arizona join Iowa, South Dakota, and Utah in enacting anti-trans sports laws this year; in Utah, legislators overrode Gov. Spencer Cox’s veto. The governor of Indiana also vetoed such legislation. In the previous two years, Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Idaho, Mississippi, Montana, Tennessee, Texas, and West Virginia have adopted similarly exclusionary laws. Governors in Kansas, Louisiana, and North Dakota vetoed bills of this kind last year. The Idaho and West Virginia laws are temporarily blocked by court orders while lawsuits against them proceed.

On the health care front, last year Arkansas, over the governor’s veto, adopted a law banning all gender-affirming health care for minors, but it is likewise blocked while a lawsuit is heard. Tennessee passed one banning hormone treatment for gender-dysphoric minors who haven’t entered puberty, although hormones are not prescribed before puberty anyway. LGBTQ+ rights groups nonetheless opposed the legislation because it codifies discrimination and interferes in the relationship between health care providers and patients.

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