Gov. Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas vetoed a bill on Monday that would make it illegal for transgender minors to receive gender-affirming medication or surgery — a rare Republican rejection amid the growing conservative effort to restrict transgender people’s health care and participation in society.
The Arkansas Legislature could override Hutchinson’s veto of the bill, known as HB 1570. Republicans hold large majorities in both chambers and passed the bill last month with mostly party-line votes: 70-22 in the House and 28-7 in the Senate.
“I was told this week that the nation is looking at Arkansas because I have on my desk another bill passed by the General Assembly that is a product of the cultural war in America,” Hutchinson said in announcing his veto. “I don’t shy away from the battle when it is necessary and defensible, but the most recent action of the General Assembly, while well intended, is off course.”
Chase Strangio, a lawyer at the American Civil Liberties Union who has fought anti-trans legislation in Arkansas and other states, said that while he and other advocates needed to be “tentative in our celebration” because of the possibility of an override, Hutchinson’s veto was significant both practically and symbolically.
“First and foremost, it’s such an important rebuke of this sweeping range of legislation targeting trans youth across the country,” Strangio said. Referring to two states that are considering similar bills, he added: “I hope Alabama’s watching. I hope Tennessee’s watching.”
Raquel Willis, a transgender activist and writer, called the veto “a great signal to the trans community and all of our supporters that the energy that we’re putting into this fight has a real impact.”
Young transgender people and their supporters had mobilized in opposition to HB 1570, along with medical organizations like the Arkansas chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics. If the measure is enacted, it could also be challenged in court.
Sam Brinton, vice president for advocacy and government affairs at the LGBTQ suicide prevention organization the Trevor Project, said people who contacted the group for help during mental health crises often cited discrimination and public expressions of anti-trans sentiment.
Hutchinson said he would have signed the bill if it had prohibited only gender-affirming surgeries, and urged legislators to pass a more “restrained” version.