Mar 30, 2023 - Politics

Arkansas' anti-trans bills mirror national push

Illustration of columns in the colors of the transgender pride flag.

Illustration: Maura Losch/Axios

As many as nine measures introduced so far this legislative session seek to limit the rights of transgender Arkansans.

  • Most proposals have already been signed into law or are on track to be enacted.

The big picture: Friday is International Transgender Day of Visibility, but in the background, legislatures in 44 states have introduced 435 bills this year targeting the LGBTQ+ community, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.

  • And three conservative Christian organizations — Alliance Defending Freedom, Family Research Council and the Liberty Counsel — are involved with many of the proposals.
  • Lawmakers' say their reasoning for the legislative push — at least in Arkansas — leans heavily on "protecting children," a national GOP talking point and a phrase Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders has often used.
  • Context: Politicians in red states are putting new limits on gender-affirming care for transgender people, creating a patchwork of sanctions on health providers who offer such services, Axios' Oriana González writes.

Why it matters: 71% of LGBTQ+ youth — including 86% of trans and nonbinary youth — say debate around state restrictions on LGBTQ+ young people has negatively impacted their mental health, according to a poll by The Trevor Project, which provides crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to LGBTQ+ youth.

  • Critics of Arkansas' legislation tell us the laws further marginalize the marginalized.

What they're saying: "Arkansas is a pretty conservative state and people think the whole world's gone crazy," Rep. Mary Bentley (R-Perryville) said to Axios of the motivation behind many of the bills.

  • "They're just really concerned about students," she said of her constituents.
  • Bentley told us she's worked with the three Christian organizations on legislation she's sponsored in Arkansas.
  • Sen. Gary Stubblefield (R-Branch) and Rep. Wayne Long (R-Bradford) — who've sponsored various anti-trans bills — declined to talk to Axios.

The other side: These efforts "are part of the never-ending onslaught of bills to deny equal rights to Arkansans," Holly Dickson, executive director of the ACLU of Arkansas, told Axios.

  • "This is part of an attack against trans people across the country," Rumba Yambú, executive director of Intransitive in Little Rock, said.

"The irony here is really beyond words for me that these bills … are coming from Christian organizations," Sen. Clarke Tucker (D-Little Rock) told us.

  • "One of the more consistent themes of the gospel is to 'take in the stranger' and these bills are doing the opposite … pushing them further away."

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