Arkansas Outlaws Gender-Affirming Treatment for Trans Youth After Overriding Governor's Veto

Arkansas has become the first state to outlaw gender-affirming treatment for trans youth, in what Republican Governor Asa Hutchinson decried as a "vast government overreach."

The state's General Assembly voted Tuesday voted to override Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson's veto, with a 71-24 vote in the Republican-controlled House, followed shortly after by a 25-8 vote in the Republican-controlled Senate, according to CNN.

H.B. 1570 — otherwise known as the Arkansas Save Adolescents from Experimentation (SAFE) Act — passed last month, with a 70-22 vote in the House and 28-7 vote in the Senate.

It prohibits physicians from providing trans people under 18 with access to gender-affirming medication and surgery. This includes puberty blockers, a treatment that prevents the onset of puberty for trans. The bill also bans cross-hormone therapy, which allows trans people to make their physical appearance more consistent with their gender identity.

Proposed by Rep. Robin Lundstrum and Sen. Alan Clark, many of their comments supporting the bill contradict the science of gender identity, falsely positing trans and nonbinary identities as a "choice."

"Those kids are precious," Lundstrum said during a House panel, before the bill passed. "Some of them may choose to be transgender when they're older. That's OK, that's their choice. But when they're under 18, they need to grow up first. That's a big decision, there's no going back."

Several medical groups, including the American Psychiatric Association, have argued otherwise. "Patients and their physicians, not policymakers, should be the ones to make decisions together about what care is best for them," the APA wrote in a statement.

The bill does make a so-called exception for intersex people, meaning those born with chromosomal makeup and hormonal production that does not fit the typical binary of male or female bodies. There's also an "exception" for people facing difficulties as a result from previous gender-affirming treatments.

As of March 31, which marked International Transgender Day of Visibility, there are 192 anti-LGBTQ bills under consideration across the country, according to HRC. Of those, a record 93 directly target transgender people.

The latest vote came just one day after Gov. Hutchinson vetoed the bill. "I was told this week that the nation is looking at Arkansas because I have on my desk another bill passed by the General Assembly that is a product of the cultural war in America," he said in a press conference. "I don't shy away from the battle when it is necessary and defensible, but the most recent action of the General Assembly, while well intended, is off course."

He continued, "I'm hopeful that my action will cause conservative Republican legislators to think through the issue again, and hopefully come up with a more restrained approach that allows a study of the science and ethics surrounding the issue before acting."

Hutchinson also noted that he spoke to several Arkansas medical associations, who told him denying gender-affirming care to trans youth could "lead to significant harm to the young person from suicidal tendencies, social isolation to increased drug use."

The Trevor Project, a nonprofit focused on suicide prevention among LGBTQ youth, condemned the Arkansas state legislature in a statement for overriding Hutchinson's veto. "Governor Hutchinson listened to trans youth and their doctors, the state legislature clearly did not," wrote Sam Brinton, vice president of advocacy and government affairs for The Trevor Project.

"We knew this override could happen, but it is nonetheless devastating because we also know it could have deadly consequences," they continued. "It is not extreme or sensational to say that this group of young people, who already experience disproportionate rates of violence and suicide attempts, would be put at significantly increased risk of self-harm because of legislation like HB 1570 pushing them farther to the margins of society."

The American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas also promised to challenge the law in court. "We are hearing from concerned families all over the state who are afraid about the impact of this bill and others like it," wrote Holly Dickson, ACLU of Arkansas executive director.

"We are committed to doing all we can to support these families and ensure they know how to continue to fight for their rights and get the care and resources they need," Dickinson added.

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