Arkansas becomes first US state to criminalise treatment for transgender minority

Friday, April 9, 2021

On Tuesday, lawmakers in the Republican-governed US state of Arkansas became the first in the country to ban specific treatment types to transgender youth under the age of eighteen, irrespective of parental consent. It is to become law at the earliest by the 91st day after the legislative session's recess, or July 30.

Arkansas state governor Asa Hutchinson.
Image: Arkansas National Guard.

While vetoed by the state's governor Asa Hutchinson on Monday, House Bill 1570, or the Save Adolescents From Experimentation Act was overturned 25–8 in the state Senate and 72–25 in the House of Representatives, prohibiting any healthcare professional from providing puberty blockers, cross-sex hormone therapy or gender-affirming surgery to anyone under the age of eighteen, as well as referring them to other providers.

Representative for Arkansas' District 87 Robin Lundstrum said, "[t]hey need to get to be 18 before they make those decisions".

This ban also applies to those minors who are already receiving such treatments. The punishment will be a loss of medical licence.

While praised by conservative organisations such as The Family Council, Governor Hutchinson called the bill "a product of the cultural war in America". In a statement Governor Hutchinson said, "I do hope my veto will cause my Republican colleagues across the country to resist the temptation to put the state in the middle of every decision made by parents and health care professionals".

The American Academy of Pediatrics, representing 67 thousand paediatricians nationwide accused the bill of depriving young people of the medical care they need. Medical director at the University of California San Francisco Madeline Deutsch said of transitioning treatment "[t]here's a general consensus among professionals in this field" that "[t]here's tons of solid science supporting this approach", and division head of adolescent and young adult medicine at a children's hospital in Chicago Dr Robert Garofalo called it as "perpetuat[ing] the very things we know are harmful to trans youth".

Executive director of the Arkansas American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Holly Dickson condemned the act's proponents as "[disregarding] widespread, overwhelming, and bipartisan opposition to this bill and [continuing] their discriminatory crusade against trans youth [...] to block trans youth from the care they need simply because of who they are is not only wrong, it's also illegal, and we will be filing a lawsuit to challenge this law in court". The institution is preparing for litigation; according to deputy director for transgender justice with the ACLU's LGBTQ & HIV project Chase Strangio, "[w]e will always have your back and will be relentless in our defense of your rights."

The bill's passage comes after similar anti-transgender legislation in Arkansas and other states, including legislation signed by Hutchinson March 25 banning transgender girls and women from competing with their gender identity in sports, described by Dickson according to the AP as "discriminatory and shameful".

After the lawmakers enacted this ban, pro-LGBTQ rights group the Human Rights Campaign said over 100 bills targeting transgender people have been filed, with bills of similar nature proposed in 20 states or more.