Arizona Republican Gov. Doug Ducey has signed two bills into law targeting transgender youth, restricting their ability to participate in sports and access certain types of gender-affirming health care.
The first measure requires all Arizona public and private schools to designate sports teams as male, female or coeducational, with gender-specific sports based on team members’ assigned sex at birth.
With Ducey’s signature, Arizona becomes the 14th state to bar transgender females from competing in female-designated sports. Similar laws in Idaho and West Virginia have been blocked from taking effect by federal courts.
Proponents say the measure is intended to ensure fairness in athletic competitions, where students who have undergone male puberty have physical advantages over cisgender females, such as a larger wingspan, greater lung capacity, and bigger muscles.
Many supporters of the bill pointed to the success of UPenn swimmer Lia Thomas, the NCAA Division I women’s 500-yard freestyle champion, who previously swam on the men’s team for 3 years before undergoing two-and-a-half years of hormone therapy to transition, as an example of the advantage enjoyed by transgender female athletes.
However, since 2017, only about 16 trans athletes — both female and male — out of 170,000 high school athletes across the state, have received waivers from the Arizona Interscholastic Association to compete on a sports team matching their gender identity.
“Every young Arizona athlete should have the opportunity to participate in extracurricular activities that give them a sense of belonging and allow them to grow and thrive,” Ducey said in a statement explaining his decision to sign the bill. “SB 1165 creates a statewide policy to ensure that biologically female athletes at Arizona public schools, colleges, and universities have a level playing field to compete.”
The second measure Ducey signed prohibits transgender youth from undergoing surgical interventions for gender dysphoria before the age of 18.
According to proponents, it would not restrict the ability of trans youth to access puberty blockers or hormone therapy associated with a gender transition, reports NBC News. It makes Arizona the third state, after Arkansas and Texas, to take action to restrict the types of medical interventions that can be performed on minors — although Texas’ attempts to investigate, and eventually prosecute, parents of transgender youth for “child abuse” have been blocked by a state judge.
“SB 1138 delays any irreversible gender reassignment surgery until the age of 18,” he noted. “The reason is simple, and common sense — this is a decision that will dramatically affect the rest of an individual’s life, including the ability of that individual to become a biological parent later in life.”
Critics of the latter bill say it is based on the assumption that transitioning, either socially or medically, is something taken lightly by transgender youth or their parents, who often undergo years of counseling and therapy, as well as consultation from doctors, before pursuing medical interventions.
Although surgical interventions, particularly genital surgery, is rarely prescribed for youth under age 18, Democrats largely voted against the bill because of the negative message they felt it sent to transgender individuals, and because not every case of gender dysphoria is exactly the same — meaning it should be left up to parents and doctors to decide whether a transgender youth should transition.
Ducey called both bills “common-sense and narrowly targeted to address these two specific issues while ensuring that transgender individuals continue to receive the same dignity, respect, and kindness as every individual in our society.”
But The Trevor Project, the world’s largest suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization serving LGBTQ youth, expressed concerns that the bills will only further marginalize transgender youth and lead to greater rates of depression and suicidal ideation.
“While the problems transgender and nonbinary youth cause communities are hypothetical, the harms these laws will cause them are very real,” Sam Ames, the director of advocacy and government affairs for The Trevor Project, said in a statement, noting that past polling has shown that 85% of LGBTQ youth say recent debates around laws targeting the trans community have negatively impacted their health.
“Today, alone, on the eve of Transgender Day of Visibility, three anti-trans bills were signed into law across the country,” Ames said. “This onslaught is not an accident; it is overwhelming by design and in direct response to progress in the fight for trans rights. But the Trevor Project will continue supporting our young people while we continue the fight against these policies. We are here for you, and we are not going anywhere.”
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