Arizona’s Democratic Governor, Katie Hobbs, vetoed a bill that would have barred schools from referring to transgender students by names or pronouns matching their gender identity.
Under the bill, employees or independent contractors of a school district or charter school would be prohibited from knowingly calling a student under the age of 18 by a pronoun other than the one matching their assigned sex at birth, reports the Associated Press.
School staff would also be prevented from referring to the student by any name besides the first or middle name listed on their school records, although nicknames rooted in a student’s given name would be acceptable.
Opponents of the bill argued that students should have the freedom to be referred to by whatever names or pronouns they wish, since they all enjoy a right to freedom of expression.
Furthermore, opponents argue that just because a student adopts pronouns that do not match their assigned sex at birth does not mean they are being fast-tracked for surgical interventions.
For example, a student who identifies as nonbinary and uses “they/them” pronouns may not experience gender dysphoria to the point where they would seek to medically transition; rather, they may just want to have their identity respected.
State Sen. John Kavanagh (R-Fountain Hills), the bill’s sponsor, previously claimed the bill was about making sure parents were aware that their child wanted to identify by another name or pronoun.
“Parents have a right to know if their children are in psychological turmoil,” Kavanagh said, noting that youth may feel confused, depressed, anxious, or suicidal due to their gender dysphoria, and may require mental health care to better deal with those problems.
“Parents can’t get their children the counseling or therapy needed if their school is hiding this information from them.”
But, as the Arizona Capitol Times notes, nothing in the legislation would have actually required teachers or schools to report a child’s dysphoria to parents. Rather, it simply would have barred teachers from referring to students with their preferred names or pronouns, and teachers with personal religious or moral beliefs or convictions would be empowered to refuse student requests.
Only if a teacher agreed to a student’s request was there a requirement to notify a parent and get consent, just as they would for any other issue, such as going on a field trip or allowing their children to take an aspirin at school.
Kavanagh also argued that his legislation contained an exception allowing teachers to use a student’s preferred pronoun if a parent gave written permission.
But even that provision was flawed, as the legislation would have allowed a teacher to override a parent’s wishes based on the teacher’s “religious or moral convictions.”
Just prior to Republicans voting to approve the measure on a party-line vote, State Rep. Lorena Austin (D-Mesa), who identifies as the first nonbinary, gender-nonconforming state representative, pleaded with her colleagues to consider the bill’s ramifications.
“I can tell you as a young person, if this bill had come through when I was in high school, it would have terrified me,” Austin said during debate on the bill. “I was already terrified of knowing that I would not be accepted in the society as such.”
Kavanagh slammed Hobbs for vetoing the bill earlier this week.
“For the governor to turn a blind eye to what’s happening is reckless and irresponsible. I would expect more from a former social worker,” he said.
But Hobbs denounced the bill as an attack on transgender children.
“Instead of coming up with new ways to target and isolate our children, we should be working together to create an Arizona where everyone has the freedom to be who they are without fear of harassment or judgment,” she said in a statement.
Hobbs also thanked Austin for “telling their story and speaking their truth” during debate on the bill, and sought to re-emphasize Austin’s words to young people that “you have every right to be who you are.” Hobbs added, “I will veto every bill that aims to attack and harm children.”
Kavanagh also sponsored another bill, which passed along party lines, requiring schools to create “reasonable accommodations” — often a single-user or unisex restroom, such as the kind that Virginia student Gavin Grimm was forced to use by his school system — for any student who refuses to use restrooms matching their assigned sex at birth.
But despite the bill’s passage, the Senate GOP leadership has not yet sent it to Hobbs, who is expected to veto it.
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