Anti-Trans Legislation in Arkansas

Anti-Trans Legislation in Arkansas

By Eliza Sullivan

Content Warning: Mentions of transphobia and suicide

2021 has already been a record breaking year for anti-trans legislation, with more than 100 bills across 33 states attempting to limit transgender rights. One law in particular, the Arkansas Save Adolescents from Experimentation (SAFE) Act is one of the most extreme anti-trans laws ever proposed, and it will have real ramifications. 

Transgender youth are one of the most at-risk populations in society. They are at an extremely high risk for homelessness, substance abuse, hate crimes, mental health issues, and suicide. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, more than half of trans males, about 30% of trans females, and about 40% of nonbinary teens reported attempting suicide in their lifetime. This will not improve if trans youth are unable to access the healthcare they need. 

Transgender people can choose to transition socially and/or medically. Social transitioning includes changing gender presentation, pronouns, and names. Medical transitioning includes using puberty blockers, hormones, and obtaining several different types of surgeries. All forms of transitioning, with the exception of surgery, are easily reversible and all are safe. What isn’t safe or reversible is social isolation, bullying, mental illness, and suicide. 

This law would prevent doctors from providing trans youth with gender affirming care, including reversible puberty blockers or hormones, even if the person has parental approval to get this treatment. This would remove trans people’s ability to choose the medical treatment that is best for them and force them through a puberty that they feel is wrong. Arkansas governor Asa Hutchinson vetoed this bill saying that it “would be and is a vast government overreach,” but the state’s general assembly overturned the veto with a simple majority. 

When asked what they thought about the bill, a Talawanda student said “As a trans person, I see this for what it is, an uncalled for and blatant attack against our community. This legislation will cause transgender minors who are already on hormones to no longer have access to them, despite having a parent’s approval… a teenager getting hormone replacement therapy with a parent’s approval doesn’t affect you in the slightest.” They added that, “all of this is a complete step back from the progress that we’ve been making for the community in the past few years and it really hurts to see.” 

So, with all that being said, what were the lawmakers’ reasoning for this law? The law cites the American Psychiatric Association as saying, “For natal adult males, prevalence [of gender dysphoria] ranges from 0.005% to 0.014%, and for natal females, from 0.002% to 0.003%.” This statistic refers to the number of people who experience gender dysphoria, which is something that not all transgender people suffer from. According to the CDC, 1.8% of high school students identify as transgender. 

In addition, the law suggests that medically transitioning doesn’t alleviate the social and mental health implications of being transgender, saying, “even among people who have undergone inpatient gender reassignment procedures, suicide rates, psychiatric morbidities, and mortality rates remain markedly elevated above the background population.” What it fails to mention is that 67% of transitioning people thought more about suicide before transitioning whereas only 3% thought more about suicide more after their transition (Bailey et al., 2014). The poor mental health among trans teens is so high even after transition because it was shockingly high to begin with. Trans youth are at extremely high risks for poor mental health because of factors such as transphobia, rejection by friends and family, bullying, and gender dysphoria. 

This law goes on to imply that hormone therapy is being given to children when it is not safe and that children are obtaining gender reassignment surgeries, despite all evidence contradicting that. The Endocrine society states that it is safe for transgender youth to start puberty blocking hormones at age 10, gender affirming hormones at age 16, and gender affirming surgeries no earlier than age 18, and the vast majority of doctors abide by this. 

Under this law, healthcare providers are forbidden from providing gender affirming care of any kind to transgender people under 18. If a healthcare provider does provide gender affirming care to a trans minor, they could lose their medical license and be charged with a felony. It also stops funding (insurance, grants, etc.) for gender affirming care for minors, meaning they would have to pay the full cost themselves. 

Unfortunately, there’s nothing Oxford residents can do to change this law, although the ACLU stated that it is preparing litigation against it. You can help trans people in your community in many ways. This includes donating to and supporting lgbtq+ organizations such as The Trevor Project, the Equality Foundation, and the ACLU. You can also support any trans people you may know by using their preferred name and pronouns. In addition, you should stay informed and contact your state and local representatives about any bills that concern you.