Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson signed SB354 into law on March 25th banning transgender girls and women from participating in sports, despite recognition from lawmakers that there has been no instance of trans participation being an issue in their state.
“Arkansas has nearly 1 in 4 children living in poverty, ranks near the bottom in education, and has no renter’s habitability standards. It’s embarrassing that our elected officials are more concerned with policing transgender young people than ensuring Arkansas’ children are fed, educated, and have a safe place to sleep,” Joseph M. Porter, Board President & CEO of Northwest Arkansas Equality told GLAAD.
“This legislation is also bad for business and could open our state up to a boycott. We believe this legislation violates federal law and we expect Arkansas to be sued. The state seems intent on wasting taxpayer money defending a losing lawsuit when it should be focused on lifting young people out of poverty.”
The bill coincides with several dozens of other states around the country proposing bans, including Mississippi which was signed into law by Gov. Tate Reeves on (date?). While there is no evidence of trans participation being an issue in these states, evidence against these bills is well-documented. According to the Center for American Progress participation in girls’ sports declined in states with policies that exclude transgender girls, while participation remained steady in states that include trans girls.
Further research has found that trans participation benefits students- 27% of transgender and nonbinary youth who participated in sports reported mostly A grades compared to 19% who did not participate in sports, and the risks of exclusion are great. The Trevor Project has found 40% of transgender and non-binary youth have reported being physically threatened or harmed because of their gender identity. 45% of trans students fear using the bathroom at school, while 22% of trans women perceived as trans in school were harassed to the point they had to leave school because of it.
16 states, the NCAA (since 2011), the Olympics (since 2004), and several professional and recreational leagues including USA Gymnastics, U.S. Soccer, and the National Women’s Hockey League all have policies allowing transgender participation in sports. Earlier this month more than 545 college student-athletes sent a letter to the NCAA Board of Governors calling for the NCAA to uphold its nondiscrimination policy and publicly refuse to host events and championships in states with bans against trans athletes.
A second anti-trans youth bill in Arkansas titled HB1570, also known as the “Save Adolescents from Experimentation (SAFE) Act,” is moving forward in Arkansas which would prohibit medical professionals from providing and referring gender-affirming healthcare to transgender youth. If passed, the bill would be the first of its kind to go into law in the nation. In addition, trans people of all ages would be prohibited from receiving public funds for gender-affirming healthcare, including Medicaid dollars.
Major medical associations including the American Psychological Association, the American Psychiatric Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the Endocrine Society have said that gender-affirming treatment can dramatically benefit the mental health of transgender youth.
“The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that youth who identify as transgender have access to comprehensive, gender-affirming, and developmentally appropriate health care that is provided in a safe and inclusive clinical space. We also recommend that playing on sports teams helps youth develop self-esteem, correlates positively with overall mental health, and appears to have a protective effect against suicide,” said Lee Savio Beers, President of the American Academy of Pediatrics, in a statement.
“These bills not only ignore these recommendations, they undermine them. Instead, the legislation would allow policymakers rather than pediatricians to determine the best course of care for our patients, and in some medically underserved states, it could mean losing an already limited number of pediatric practitioners who care for transgender youth. Forcing transgender children to play on teams according to their sex assigned at birth, rather than the gender they live in, also puts their physical and mental health at risk.”
According to studies, transgender adolescents in the United States suffer from one or more mental health crises including anxiety, depression, and suicidality, which is believed to be a combination of gender dysphoria and minority stress. Further reports have shown that puberty blockers greatly benefit trans youth with gender dysphoria, including reduction of depression and anxiety, improved social interactions, and integration with other kids, eliminates the need for future surgeries, and reduces thoughts or actions related to self-harm.