Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) has signed a bill barring transgender middle school, high school, and college athletes in the state from competing in extracurricular sports based on their gender identity.
The bill, sponsored by Sen. Missy Irvin (R-Mountain View), not only restrict athletes to playing based on their assigned sex at birth, but allows students who believe they’ve been “deprived of an athletic opportunity” to sue if they believe they were disadvantaged by competing against transgender athletes.
With Hutchinson’s signature into law, Arkansas becomes the second state this year to pass such legislation, even though lawmakers in more than two dozen states have introduced similar bills.
South Dakota lawmakers passed a ban on trans athletes, but Gov. Kristi Noem (R) sent the bill back to the legislature, with instructions to remove the restrictions on college athletes, in an attempt to avoid backlash from the NCAA. Utah Gov. Spencer Cox (R) balked at a ban on trans athletes in his state, and Republican legislators in South Carolina tabled a bill for a similar ban.
LGBTQ advocates criticized Hutchinson’s actions, with Alphonso David, the president of the Human Rights Campaign, accusing him of making a politically-motivated decision.
“Governor Hutchinson’s eagerness to sign this discriminatory legislation is an affront not just to the transgender kids it is bound to hurt but to all Arkansans who will be impacted by its consequences,” David said in a statement. “Hutchinson is ignoring the ugly history of states that have dared to pass anti-transgender legislation in years past, and by doing so he is exposing Arkansas to economic harm, expensive taxpayer-funded legal battles, and a tarnished reputation.
“Transgender kids are kids who just want to play, and they deserve that chance,” added David. “The fact that neither Governor Hutchinson nor the legislators who voted to pass this bill have named a single example of what they are legislating against underscores that this is simply a politically-motivated bill for the sake of discrimination itself. Governors who make their state more discriminatory often suffer the consequences and damage their state in the process, and Governor Hutchinson is no different.”
Prior to Hutchinson’s signing of the bill, LGBTQ advocates held a conference call denouncing the bill as detrimental to not only transgender student-athletes, but potentially the state’s economy, pointing to the backlash that North Carolina experienced after lawmakers there passed a bill seeking to bar transgender people from using restrooms matching their gender identity in government-funded facilities.
“I do not think that there is a father in this state who thinks that the Arkansas legislature or the Arkansas governor should have a voice in making their family’s private medical decisions, deciding which of their kids can and cannot play sports, or telling their kids what names they have to use,” Chris Attig, an Arkansas resident and father of a transgender son, said during the press conference.
See also: Arkansas committee passes bill banning trans youth from accessing gender-affirming care
“I own three businesses here in the state of Arkansas, pay tens of thousands of dollars in taxes to the state. I employ transgender workers. These anti-trans bills hurt my business and all small- and medium-sized businesses in this state by putting us at a competitive disadvantage, because diversity and inclusion are known to be good for business, because discrimination imposes enormous productivity costs on our businesses,” he added.
“These bills will force companies to shut their doors and even leave this state. … New business will not come to this state because of these bills,” said Attig. “The state of Arkansas will waste hundreds of thousands of dollars of our scarce taxpayer dollars defending these laws, only to find out what we already know: these laws are unconstitutional and, in my opinion, they’re un-American.”
When a reporter asked about statements made by Hutchinson indicating he’d be open to signing an LGBTQ-inclusive hate crimes law, Holly Dickson, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas, dismissed such action as insufficient, in light of the other anti-LGBTQ bills being pushed this session.
“Hate crimes legislation is closing the door on the barn after the horse has already left,” Dickson said. “Arkansas does not have civil rights protections for LGBTQ people to protect against employment, housing or public accommodations discrimination. So to say ‘We actually care about your rights if you’ve been assaulted or killed and we’ll put someone in prison a little bit longer,’ while at the same time passing state-sanctioned discrimination is the wrong message.”
Dickson also argued that the anti-LGBTQ bills proposed in the state are already having a negative impact on transgender individuals, with local hospitals fielding calls from despondent youth.
“These bills are already harmful. We’re just trying to stop them for now,” she said.
“Governor Hutchinson would have been wise to focus his efforts on caring for and protecting Arkansans from COVID-19 and its economic fallout,” HRC’s Arkansas State Director Eric Reece said in a statement. “Instead, this bill will likely create economic headaches for the state when Arkansans need help the most. There’s no ‘balancing out’ this discriminatory bill. Transgender kids will be hurt by his actions today and Arkansas is worse off for his actions.”
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