Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson Thursday signed a bill into law that will bar transgender student athletes from competing under their gender identity.
"This law simply says that female athletes should not have to compete in a sport against a student of the male sex when the sport is designed for women's competition," said a statement released by the Republican governor. "As I have stated previously, I agree with the intention of this law. This will help promote and maintain fairness in women's sporting events."
The measure, Senate Bill 354, was approved Monday by the Arkansas House of Representatives and earlier by the state's Senate. It's part of a rash of such legislation pushed by conservatives this year, aimed primarily at keeping trans girls off girls' teams, due to the perception -- disputed by scientists and activists -- that trans girls have an inherent and unfair advantage over their cisgender peers. There is no evidence of widespread domination of sports by trans girls and women, and most lawmakers pushing these bills can't name a single example of a trans athlete causing problems in their state.
The Arkansas law will apply to public elementary, secondary, and college teams as well as private school teams that compete against the public institutions. It is set to take effect this summer.
Hutchinson is the second governor to sign such a bill into law this year. Gov. Tate Reeves of Mississippi signed a similar bill recently, and it also takes effect in the summer. In South Dakota, both houses of the legislature have approved an anti-trans sports bill, but Gov. Kristi Noem has backtracked about signing such a bill, demanding that legislators change it so it doesn't apply to colleges. She has announced, however, that she's forming a multistate coalition to fight back against calls to boycott states with trans-exclusionary laws. Idaho enacted a ban on trans athletes at public schools and colleges last year, but it has been blocked by a federal judge while a lawsuit against it is heard.
Bills like these are advancing despite warnings about the damage they could do to a state's reputation, including those boycott threats, and the damage they could do to young trans people, who are already marginalized.
"To the transgender and nonbinary youth of Arkansas -- please know that you deserve love and support and that we will never stop fighting for you. The Trevor Project's trained crisis counselors are available 24/7 if you ever need to talk about what's been going on in the world," said a statement from Sam Brinton, vice president of advocacy and government affairs at the Trevor Project. "The slate of hateful bills we've seen introduced in Arkansas this year is appalling. Lawmakers should be focusing on real problems like economic hardship and the deadly pandemic, not making life harder than it already is to be transgender in America. Discrimination on the basis of gender identity is illegal."
Human Rights Campaign President Alphonso David also released a statement, saying, "Governor Hutchinson's eagerness to sign this discriminatory legislation is an affront not just to the transgender kids it is bound to hurt but to all Arkansans who will be impacted by its consequences. Hutchinson is ignoring the ugly history of states that have dared to pass anti-transgender legislation in years past, and by doing so he is exposing Arkansas to economic harm, expensive taxpayer-funded legal battles, and a tarnished reputation. Transgender kids are kids who just want to play, and they deserve that chance. The fact that neither Governor Hutchinson nor the legislators who voted to pass this bill have named a single example of what they are legislating against underscores that this is simply a politically motivated bill for the sake of discrimination itself. Governors who make their state more discriminatory often suffer the consequences and damage their state in the process and Governor Hutchinson is no different."
"Governor Hutchinson would have been wise to focus his efforts on caring for and protecting Arkansans from COVID-19 and its economic fallout," added HRC Arkansas State Director Eric Reece. "Instead, this bill will likely create economic headaches for the state when Arkansans need help the most. There's no 'balancing out' this discriminatory bill. Transgender kids will be hurt by his actions today and Arkansas is worse off for his actions."
Arkansas is also considering a bill to bar trans minors from access to gender-affirming health care, as are several other states, and both houses of its legislature have approved a bill allowing health care providers to opt out of procedures based on religious or moral objections, something that could lead to discrimination against LGBTQ+ people and others. The latter legislation is now with Hutchinson for his signature or veto, although if he takes no action within five days from receiving it, it will become law automatically.
Also Thursday, West Virginia advanced an anti-trans sports bill. The House of Delegates approved the measure 78-20 and sent it on to the state's Senate.
There are so far 174 anti-LGBTQ+ bills under consideration in state legislatures across the country, according to the HRC. Of those, 95 directly target transgender people, and about half of those would bar transgender girls from participating in sports consistent with their gender identity. Many of the other anti-trans bills seek to ban gender-affirming care for minors.