Oct 19, 2023 - Politics & Policy

Arkansas Gov. Sanders bans gender-neutral terms from state documents

Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders stands alone behind a podium giving her acceptance speech in Nov. 2022.

Gov. Sanders gives her acceptance speech in 2022. Photo: Worth Sparkman/Axios

Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders signed an executive order Thursday banning the use of terms like "pregnant person" and "chestfeeding" in state government documents. The terms are to be replaced with "pregnant woman" and "breastfeeding."

The big picture: Legislatures in all but two states introduced more than 500 bills during the 2023 session targeting the LGBTQ+ community, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.

  • Earlier this year, the Human Rights Campaign declared a state of emergency for LGBTQ+ people living in the U.S. in response to the spike in anti-LGBTQ+ legislative efforts.

Details: Arkansas government offices "are prohibited from using exclusionary, sexist language" in state documents, the executive order states. Those terms "shall be replaced with accurate, female-affirming alternatives."

  • The order provides nine specifics such as "woman" rather than "birth-giver" and "birth mom" rather than "laboring person."
  • The change is effective immediately.

Yes, but: Gender-neutral terms like "firefighter" are not impacted by the changes.

The intrigue: Asked Thursday how many times the now-banned terms had been reported, Sanders said she was aware of one instance and that "a number of other instances" had been reported.

  • Spokesperson Alexa Henning later shared with Axios a single example of "pregnant person" used in a Department of Health newsletter but wouldn't confirm there were complaints directly tied to the publication.
  • Henning did say "complaints and examples have been flagged for the office."

What she's saying: "Some on the left will accuse us of being nitpicky, that Arkansas should just lay down and accept the cultural revolution without complaint," Sanders said at a news conference.

  • "I say it's the exact opposite. It's the left that decided that woman is a dirty word. It's the left that decided we needed to toss out basic biology and basic grammar along with it."

The other side: "The governor has spent her short time in office spewing hatred and robbing Arkansans of life-saving healthcare, so we aren't surprised by her most recent attack on the many trans people in our state," said Rumba Yambú, executive director of the trans rights organization Intransitive in Little Rock, in an email to Axios.

  • "It's her duty to represent all Arkansans, but instead she is openly discriminating against her constituents."

Reality check: Women are adults, meaning the mandated replacement language doesn't accurately represent people under 18 who get pregnant and give birth.

Of note: A 2019 study showed that adoption of gender-neutral terms tends to improve both gender equality and tolerance toward the LGBTQ+ community.

Flashback: On her first day in office, Sanders signed a series of executive orders, stepping directly into the national discourse around cultural issues.

  • One required state offices, departments and agencies to revise written materials by replacing "Latinx" and its variants with "Hispanic" or "Latino/Latina" and their variants.
  • Another prohibited "indoctrination and critical race theory in schools."

During the regular legislative session this spring, lawmakers greenlit several bills aimed at restricting how transgender students use restrooms, travel to overnight events with peers, and how a teacher may address modifying pronouns.

  • Sanders also signed a bill that allows anyone who received gender-affirming care as a minor to file a malpractice lawsuit against the provider for up to 15 years, making it harder for health care providers to get necessary insurance.

Go deeper: Arkansas has kicked more than 400,000 people off Medicaid

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