Arkansas becomes first state to ban gender-affirming healthcare for trans youth

The Republican-controlled legislature overrode the governor's veto despite medical professionals' warnings of the harm posed to trans youth.

Arkansas: Image of Trans rights protest with a poster held aloft that has a trans flag and the words Protect Trans Kids

Arkansas has become the first state to ban anyone under the age of 18 from accessing gender-affirming healthcare after the state’s General Assembly voted to override a veto on an anti-trans bill described by Republican Governor Asa Hutchinson as “a vast government overreach”.

The law is the first of its kind in any state in America. Doctors will be prohibited from providing hormone treatment or puberty blockers, carrying out gender-affirming surgery or referring trans youth to other providers for treatment. 

“To the transgender and nonbinary youth of Arkansas, please know that you deserve love and support and to be affirmed in your gender identity. We will not stop fighting until this cruel and illegal ban is overturned,” Sam Brinton, Vice President of Advocacy and Government Affairs for The Trevor Project said in a statement.

“We knew this override could happen, but it is nonetheless devastating because we also know it could have deadly consequences. 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 (this) legislation.”

The bill was passed by the Senate 28-7 and then vetoed by Gov. Hutchinson before being overturned by the Republican-controlled legislature. It is one of many recent setbacks for trans rights in America. A number of anti-trans legislative measures have advanced in Republican-controlled states in 2021. Hutchinson himself has played a prominent role in this anti-trans agenda. He along with the governors of Mississippi and Tennessee have signed laws banning transgender girls and women from competing on school sports teams consistent with their gender identity. He also recently signed a measure allowing doctors to refuse to treat someone because of moral or religious objections, which opponents say has paved the way for denying LGBTQ+ patients healthcare.

The president of the American Academy of Paediatrics, Dr Lee Savio Beers, condemned the bill last week saying “medical professionals and not politicians really need to be the ones to decide what medical care is in the best interests of a patient in accordance with medical best practices.”

The American Medical Association, the Endocrine Society and the American Psychiatric Association are among the other major American medical organisations that have supported gender-affirming healthcare for trans youth and opposed attempts to restrict this treatment.

Rep. Robin Lundstrum, a Republican who proposed the Arkansas bill, made comments that contradict science and medical professionals in explaining why she supports denying gender-affirming treatment. She also falsely stated that being transgender is a choice.

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

The American Civil Liberties Union plans to legally challenge the bill, which is due to come into effect in the summer.

“This is a sad day for Arkansas, but this fight is not over – and we’re in it for the long haul,” Holly Dickson, executive director of ACLU in Arkansas, said in a statement.

This law will have a cruel and hurtful effect on an already marginalised community. According to The Trevor Project’s 2020 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health, more than half (52%) of transgender and nonbinary youth seriously considered suicide in the past year, compared to 40% of all LGBTQ youth respondents. Research demonstrates that gender-affirming social, medical, and legal interventions for transgender and nonbinary youth have positive effects on mental health and overall well-being while decreasing depressive symptoms and suicidality.

More than 100 bills have been filed in statehouses around the country targeting the trans community according to The Human Rights Campaign, the largest US LGBTQ rights group. Similar treatment bans have been proposed in at least 20 states.

The American Republican Party continues to be in favour of big government when it can be used to punish marginalised communities.

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