Arizona Gov. Katie Hobbs issued two pro-LGBTQ executive orders seeking to prohibit state dollars from being used to fund conversion therapy efforts and allowing transgender state employees to receive coverage for gender-affirming treatments under employee insurance plans.
Hobbs made the announcement on Tuesday, June 27, from the offices of one•n•ten, a Phoenix-based nonprofit that serves LGBTQ youth, casting the executive orders as actions that will help curb discrimination against LGBTQ Arizonans, reports the Arizona Republic.
“The state is leading by example on this issue, and we will continue working until Arizona is a place where every individual can participate equally in our economy and our workforce without fear of discrimination or exclusion,” Hobbs said in prepared remarks. “This is the only way to move our state forward.”
Under the first executive order, state agencies will be prohibited from using funds to promote or facilitate conversion therapy, or efforts to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity based on the belief that LGBTQ identities are pathologies that can be suppressed or even “cured.”
Most major medical and mental health organizations have denounced conversion therapy as unscientific and, more importantly, ineffective at achieving its purported goals — namely, the ability to radically and permanently “change” a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity, or feelings of sexual attraction, as opposed to simply providing subjects with techniques that help them resist giving into or acknowledging their feelings or desires.
Among the organizations denouncing the practice are the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Counseling Association, the American Psychiatric Association, and the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy.
A 2009 report by the American Psychological Association found that practices typically used in conversion therapy are ineffective and may even be detrimental to a person’s mental well-being.
Negative side effects from conversion therapy may include increased depression, anxiety, feelings of isolation, and suicidal ideation.
Notably, these effects are possible not only if a person is subjected to intense physical stress or aversion therapies like induced vomiting or electroshock therapy, but even for so-called “talk” therapy — especially if a therapist, religious leader, or conversion therapy practitioner is attempting to overtly influence a subject or direct them to reach a particular conclusion, rather than allowing them to explore their feelings and thoughts fully.
Currently, 21 states and the District of Columbia have explicit bans prohibiting the practice of conversion therapy on minors, while five other states, in addition to Arizona, have executive orders or rules that partially prohibit conversion therapy by prohibiting practitioners from receiving taxpayer dollars or being reimbursed by insurance plans.
Social conservatives are outraged, insisting that any prohibition on conversion therapy is unconstitutional. They warn there will be a backlash to such bans.
“What [Hobbs] calls ‘conversion therapy’ amounts to basic counseling for those struggling with their gender,” Cathi Herrod, the president of the Center for Arizona Policy, a right-wing nonprofit lobbying group, told the Republic. “It is likely unconstitutional to tell therapists what they can say and citizens what therapy they can seek.”
It remains unclear whether courts will ultimately decide that barring groups or individuals from enriching themselves at taxpayer expense, as Hobbs’s order prohibits, is tantamount to abridging their freedom of speech.
The second executive order requires state employee health plans to cover the cost of gender-affirming surgery that has been deemed “medically necessary” for transgender people suffering from gender dysphoria, reversing a 2017 exclusion that categorically classified all transition-related procedures as “cosmetic” or elective.
The order applies to all former and current state employees and public university workers.
It also resolves an ongoing lawsuit, filed in 2019, by Dr. Russell Toomey, a University of Arizona professor who is transgender and sued to have his insurance plan cover the cost of a gender confirmation surgery that his doctor deemed necessary.
Attorneys with the American Civil Liberties Union representing Toomey have since said they intend to file a motion asking to settle the case.
A provision of the insurance executive order also directs state agencies not to cooperate with civil or criminal cases, including complying with extradition requests, in which authorities from other states are seeking to prosecute individuals for violating bans on gender-affirming care.
Some states with such bans in place, like Texas and Florida, have either sought to prosecute parents for “abuse” for allowing their children to access gender-affirming care, or have sought to give state courts jurisdiction in child custody battles where parents in separate states disagree on what medical treatment their trans-identifying children should be allowed to pursue.
An Arizona law signed by former Republican Gov. Doug Ducey last year prohibits transgender minors from undergoing gender confirmation surgery, which is rarely recommended for minors to begin with but does not prohibit them from accessing hormone therapy or puberty blockers.
LGBTQ advocates cheered Hobbs’s orders.
“This is what it looks like to have a champion for equality in office,” Human Rights Campaign Arizona Director Bridget Sharpe said in a statement. “These executive orders are a crucial step in addressing discrimination against LGBTQ+ people, particularly children.”
Mathew Shurka, the co-founder of Born Perfect, an initiative by the National Center for Lesbian Rights that seeks to prohibit conversion therapy from being practiced on minors in all 50 states, also praised Hobbs’s decision.
“We applaud Governor Hobbs for her leadership in protecting LGBTQ youth and their families from this deadly practice, which has been rejected as unethical and harmful by every leading medical and mental health association in the country,” Shurka said in a statement. “As a survivor of conversion therapy, I know how much this means to others who have been subjected to this abuse.”
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