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Arkansas bills targeting transgender athletes, children explained

by Arkansas Democrat-Gazette | March 23, 2021 at 4:08 p.m.
Sen. Missy Irvin (right), R-Mountain View, speaks in favor of SB354 regarding transgender athletes during the House Education Committee meeting Thursday, March 18, 2021 at the state Capitol in Little Rock. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Staci Vandagriff)

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Two bills moving through the General Assembly target transgender Arkansans — one designed to deter schools from allowing them to participate in girls’ and women’s sports, the other intended to ban transition treatment for minors.

What exactly would each bill do?

Senate Bill 354 would allow students to seek injunctive relief and monetary damages from a school if they were "deprived of an athletic opportunity" or suffered "direct or indirect harm" as a result of a kindergarten-through-12th-grade school or higher-education institution not maintaining separate teams for cisgender female students.

The legislation would allow for transgender girls and women to play on boys’, men’s or co-ed sports teams.

House Bill 1570 would ban transition treatment for minors, including hormone therapy and certain surgeries.

What are supporters and opposition saying about the athletics bill?

Sen. Missy Irvin, R-Mountain View, sponsored the bill on sports and characterized the legislation as protecting the gains in equity women have made in sports through Title IX. House sponsor Sonia Barker, R-Smackover, told the committee the bill ensures a “level playing field.”

Sen. Clarke Tucker, D-Little Rock, said he believes the law may be illegal because of the Civil Rights Act’s protections from discrimination based on sex. He added that the students targeted by the bill “are having a very hard time in high school, and this will only make their lives harder.”

A number of national health, education and child-welfare organizations, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the National PTA and the National Education Association, have called on lawmakers to oppose bills like SB354.

"Transgender youth are already at a heightened risk for violence, bullying and harassment," an open letter from the groups reads. "These bills exacerbate those risks by creating an unwelcoming and hostile environment in places where students should feel the safest and most supported."

What are supporters and opposition saying about the transition treatment bill?

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Robin Lundstrum, R-Elm Springs, equated the procedures to "chemical and surgical" mutilation that children should be protected from -- a statement that opponents of the bill, transgender Arkansans and medical professionals specializing in their care said is untrue.

They say such care is essential to those children's mental health, adding that it isn't done without a great deal of consideration.

Rep. Nicole Clowney, D-Fayetteville, noted that about half of transgender young people said they had attempted suicide, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Where are the bills in the process to become law?

SB345, regarding sports teams, has passed in both chambers as of Monday, sending it to the governor. Gov. Asa Hutchinson said through a spokeswoman last week that he is "supportive of the objective of the bill but will continue to review the specific language before announcing his position."

HB1570, regarding transition treatment, has passed the House and the Senate Public Health, Welfare and Labor committee. It is now before the entire Senate.

Go here to read more about the bills from Capitol reporter Rachel Herzog.

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