Governors enacting laws that discriminate against LGBTQ+ youth -- primarily transgender youth -- should be ashamed of themselves, says a new ad from the Human Rights Campaign.
The ad will run across Arkansas during the Saturday night basketball game between the University of Arkansas and Oral Roberts University. The teams are in the Sweet 16, that is, the 16 remaining teams, in the National Collegiate Athletic Association's men's basketball tournament.
The spot calls our four Republican governors: Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas, Bill Lee of Tennessee, Tate Reeves of Mississippi, and Kristi Noem of South Dakota. As coronavirus deaths mount, "it is shocking that elected officials across the country are using their time and energy to attack LGBTQ kids, putting even more lives at risk," the ad says.
Hutchinson Thursday signed a bill into law barring transgender athletes from competing on the school sports teams consistent with their gender identity. Lee followed him Friday. Reeves signed a similar bill two weeks ago. Noem has backtracked about signing one, sending it back to legislators and asking for an exemption for college athletes. But she has also announced she's forming a national coalition of people opposing trans inclusion, with the goal of resisting efforts to "punish" states with laws like this.
Also Friday, Hutchinson signed into law a "religious refusals" bill allowing health care workers to opt out of procedures to which they have religious or moral objections. Opponents say there are already sufficient conscience protections for these workers and that the new law will enable discrimination against LGBTQ+ people, women, and others.
There has been a surge in anti-LGBTQ+ legislation introduced this year -- 174 bills in states all over the country, with a record 95 of the bills aimed specifically at trans people, according to HRC. Of the anti-trans bills, about half seek to bar trans athletes from the school sports teams designated for their gender identity, while many others seek to keep trans minors from receiving gender-affirming medical care. Arkansas legislators are expected to give final approval to one of the latter bills Monday, and their state would be the first to do so.
The sports bills are based largely on the belief that trans girls and women have an inherent and unfair advantage over cisgender females because of body size and testosterone levels. Scientists and activists dispute this, saying there are many other factors that can give an athlete an advantage, and that there is no widespread dominance of women's sports by trans competitors, who have been allowed in college sports and the Olympics for years. Most of the politicians backing these bills can't name a single instance in which trans female athletes caused a problem in their state -- plus these bills further marginalize trans young people, who already face much discrimination.
Elite cisgender women athletes have also stood up for trans colleagues. "As someone who has played sports with someone who is trans, I can assure you all is well, nothing is spontaneously combusting," cis lesbian soccer star Megan Rapinoe told members of Congress this week.
Activist groups have condemned the latest round of anti-LGBTQ+ bills signed into law. On the Arkansas religious refusals bill, HRC President Alphonso David released this statement: "Governor Hutchinson is proving himself to be a cruel opponent of equality by signing this draconian medical refusal bill that would devastate the ability of LGBTQ Arkansans to access medically necessary care," said Human Rights Campaign President Alphonso David. "[Senate Bill] 289 prioritizes individual providers' beliefs ahead of patient health and well-being. The Arkansas legislature rejected a similar bill four years ago and their eagerness to advance it, especially in the midst of a devastating pandemic, is inexcusable. At a time like this, governors across the country should be looking to expand access to health care and make it more affordable, not make it harder for LGBTQ Arkansans to receive the care they need. While Arkansans continue to struggle with real issues, Governor Hutchinson is hell-bent on signing bills that manufacture problems in search of a reason to discriminate."
David also condemned the Tennessee anti-trans sports bill, saying it "legislates against a problem that simply doesn't exist and targets transgender kids who are trying to navigate their adolescence." There were statements on it from the Trevor Project and the American Civil Liberties Union as well.
"It is hard to keep up with the avalanche of anti-transgender bills, but please know that we will never give up fighting to protect transgender and nonbinary young people," said Sam Brinton, vice president of advocacy and government affairs at the Trevor Project. "They deserve access to the same opportunities as their peers. This discriminatory policy is illegal. The Trevor Project is here 24/7 to support trans youth in Tennessee and across the country who feel hurt and invalidated by these purely political attacks."
"Governor Lee's rush to discriminate against transgender children is appalling," added Hedy Weinberg, executive director of the ACLU of Tennessee. "Transgender people have the right to participate in sports consistent with who they are, just like everyone else. Denying this right is pure discrimination. When Lee has made every effort to deny women the ability to make decisions about their own bodies, his grandstanding about protecting women's rights by discriminating against transgender children is disingenuous at best. The marginalization of trans student athletes is rooted in the same kind of gender discrimination and stereotyping that has held back cisgender women athletes. Should any student be excluded because of this shameful legislation, we will see him in court."