May 1, 2021 - Politics & Policy

"I want to choose flight": Families look to leave states banning health care for trans kids

The Spurrier family stands on their front porch

Photo courtesy of the Spurrier family.

At 1 a.m., the day after the Arkansas state Senate had overridden Gov. Asa Hutchinson's (R) veto of a bill banning gender-affirming care for trans kids, the Spurrier family opened a GoFundMe so they could move out of the state.

Why it matters: The Spurriers believe leaving their home of 16 years is the only way to protect their transgender son. Over 80 bills targeting trans children have been introduced so far this year.

What they're saying: Emily and George, who have worked to support their 17-year-old transgender son Cas since he came out in 2019, say they felt cornered.

  • "It was like okay, the monster's coming at you. You see the tentacles, 'okay, I can beat the tentacles,' but then the head comes out and now you realize the beast you're dealing with," Emily said. "In that fight or flight scenario, I feel like at this point I want to choose flight because it’s difficult to fight a brick wall."
  • Cas said the bills make him feel like lawmakers are saying they don't want him to exist. "I shouldn’t have to justify the fact that I’m a normal person."

Although Cas is 17 — at the cusp of being affected by Arkansas' bill banning transition-related health care for minors — his parents say their move is motivated by wanting to escape the overall anti-trans environment.

Emily sent an email to Hutchinson on April 5, thanking him for vetoing the bill that was ultimately pushed through by the state legislature. "To us, this meant everything," she wrote.

  • Emily told Axios she had not received a response to the email. Hutchinson's office did not return requests for comment. When asked in an NPR interview last month what he would say to trans minors and their parents, the governor replied: "Well, I'm sorry."
Data: ACLU; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios
Data: ACLU; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

The big picture: Bills targeting trans kids have been introduced by predominately Republican state legislatures this year. 

  • 7 bills focused on sports have passed in Arkansas, Mississippi, Tennessee, Alabama and West Virginia, plus Arkansas' health care bill. South Dakota's bill banning trans girls from women's sports was enacted via executive order.
  • 9 bills across five states, mostly focused on health care, have failed. 72 other bills on trans youth are still being considered.

The Spurriers are not alone. Amy Allen, the mother of a trans son in Tennessee, said on a Human Rights Campaign call with reporters last week that her family has "talked seriously" about leaving the state.

  • Amber Briggle of Texas told NBC News if the state passes a bill that makes it a felony for parents to provide gender-affirming care to their children, she would consider moving. “It'd be really complicated for us, but it's certainly not out of the question,” she said. “My son always comes first.”
  • “My Black trans daughter here in Arkansas will absolutely be a part of that fallout," Jasmine Banks said on the HRC call. "We know that Black and brown folks already have trouble accessing medical care."

The bottom line: LGBTQ advocates, including HRC president Alphonso David, tell Axios the bills are a threat to trans kids even if they don’t pass.

  • "What happens if we were to pass a law that says that you don't exist?" David asked. "And if you don't like it, you can just move? That's not how this country works. We have a democracy and a Constitution."
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