In a move against young transgender people in Arizona, Governor Doug Ducey signed new laws banning them from participating in women’s and women’s sports and getting sex reassignment surgery.
Senate Bill 1138 prohibits physicians from performing genital reassignment surgery on minors, including mastectomies or mammoplasties to feminize and masculinize a patient’s chest to conform more to their gender identity. Senate Bill 1165 demands that all interscholastic sports narrowly define gender, thereby denying trans student-athletes the opportunity to play on the teams most consistent with their gender identity, from elementary school through college.
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In a signing letter, Ducey explained that the bills ensure a level playing field for biological women and protect trans minors from irreversible procedures that could affect their future ability to have children.
“This legislation is common sense and narrowly aimed at addressing these two specific issues – while ensuring that transgender people continue to enjoy the same dignity, respect and kindness as every individual in our society.” he writes.
Trans rights advocates have noted that the passage of anti-trans legislation negatively affects the mental well-being of trans children and can contribute to an increased risk of suicide. A recent poll by The Trevor Project, a suicide prevention organization for LGBTQ youth, found that up to 85% of transgender and non-binary youth surveyed felt that debates around anti-trans bills had a negative impact on their mental health.
Ducey responded to a question from Arizona Mirror of this effect by saying that the intention of the bill was to protect women’s sports.
“(SB1165) has been positioned and framed to protect women’s sports, women’s sports and title IX. which we have great empathy…I think Arizona has handled this in the most responsible way possible to maintain a level playing field for young female athletes and to address other issues,” he said.
The sponsors of SB1138 presented it as a reiteration of international standards of care for transgender children. But opponents say those standards must change this year, and codifying the old standards may present physicians with a contradiction between following the law and providing the best medical care practices to their patients.
“We’re going to put doctors in a situation where they codify the standards from 10 years ago, and we’re going to put them in a situation where they now disagree with the new standards,” Rep. Melody said. Hernandez, D-Tempe, who is also a paramedic, during a House debate on the bill on March 24.
Proponents of adopting barriers to women’s sport argue that trans youth have an unfair biological advantage. But the Arizona Interscholastic Sports Medicine Advisory Committee says it’s not a problem that needs to be solved in the state. Of the roughly 170,000 students the committee oversees in high schools across the state, it has filed just 16 transgender youth appeals since 2017. When reporters pointed it out to Ducey during a brief media availability Wednesday, he veered off course, reiterating the intent of the bill.
“We will protect women’s sport. It’s a matter of fairness,” he said.
Critics say the law is setting Arizona back. Just two years ago, a 1991 law prohibiting schools from promoting a “homosexual lifestyle” was repealed, and Arizona superintendent of public instruction Kathy Hoffman tweeted that the new legislation would be just as difficult to manage later.
“We repealed ‘no-promo homo’, a sectarian law three years ago that took decades to be overturned. Today (Ducey) sided with extremism, injected politics into our schools and signed equally hateful bills into law,” she wrote.
Last week, similar legislation in Indiana and Utah was vetoed by the governors of those states.
The Human Rights Campaign has condemned Ducey’s action in relation to this, saying the move only contributes to nationwide attacks on trans children. This year has seen a record number of anti-trans legislative proposalswith no less than 280 – a spike from last year’s 147 bills.
“Governor. Ducey has chosen discrimination over protecting the welfare of vulnerable children. That’s not leadership, that’s cowardice,” Principal Cathryn Oakley said in an emailed statement.
***UPDATE: This story has been updated to include comments from Doug Ducey.