A bill that would prohibit administering gender transition treatment, including surgery and hormone therapy, to minors in Arkansas gained the support of a House committee on Tuesday.
Sponsor Robin Lundstrum, a Republican representative from Elm Springs, and the legislation's supporters said House Bill 1570 is about protecting children, but transgender Arkansans and advocates who testified against the bill said banning those procedures would be damaging to a vulnerable segment of Arkansas' youths.
"The alternative is a future in which thousands of former children look at themselves with regret and wonder where the adults were," said Joseph Backholm with the Family Research Council, a conservative group based in Washington, D.C., that backs the bill.
Opponents of the bill said those types of concerns were rooted in misinformation.
"If this bill is passed, it could kill my son," said Brandi Evans, a parent of a transgender child who receives hormone therapy. "When he was put on testosterone, his anxiety and depression disappeared."
Holly Dickson, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas, said the bill is unconstitutional and infringes on parents' rights.
Sex reassignment surgeries already are not being done on minors in Arkansas. Some transgender adolescents use puberty-blocking drugs to stall the onset of secondary sex characteristics.
Dr. Michele Hutchison, an endocrinologist who said she has taken care of about 200 transgender children over the past few years, said the average age of a patient who uses cross-sex hormones is 17.
The public health panel's vote was 13-4 and along party lines, with four Democrats voting no. Two committee members, Rep. Aaron Pilkington, R-Clarksville, and Josh Miller, R-Heber Springs, did not vote.
HB1570 is one of multiple efforts moving through the Arkansas Legislature that would affect transgender youths. Two bills and a proposed constitutional amendment seek to prevent transgender athletes from participating in girls' and women's sports in Arkansas schools.