LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Arkansas lawmakers on Monday approved banning transgender girls and women from competing on school sports teams consistent with their gender identity, the latest state to advance the prohibition despite warnings of the devastating impact it could have on trans youth.
The majority-Republican House voted 75-18 in favor of the ban, sending it to GOP Gov. Asa Hutchinson. Hutchinson on Monday said he supported the bill’s objective but stopped short of saying whether he’d sign it into law.
Republicans in at least 20 state legislatures have been pushing for similar bans this year. Mississippi’s governor signed a prohibition into law earlier this month. South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem had initially said she would sign similar legislation sent to her but has since pushed for changing it to exclude college sports.
Only one state, Idaho, has enacted a law curtailing trans students’ sports participation, and that 2020 measure is blocked by a court ruling as a lawsuit plays out.
National advocacy groups, including those representing pediatricians and social workers, have said the ban and other measures targeting trans youth risk further marginalizing a group already at high risk for bullying, depression and suicide.
“It’s extremely hard to be a kid, and if you’re a transgender kid, your life’s even harder,” Rep. Tippi McCullough, the top Democrat in the Arkansas House and the only openly gay member of the Legislature, said before the vote. “Sports gives kids a place to belong, a place to be included, a place to succeed or learn to deal with setbacks and work to overcome them.”
Arkansas’ proposal applies to K-12 and collegiate sports teams.
Rep. Sonia Barker, the bill’s sponsor, told the lawmakers the measure “creates fairness in women’s sports by establishing a level playing field for girls and women in our Arkansas schools.”
Under the bill, a student or school who suffers “direct or indirect harm” could take a school to court for violating the ban.
Hutchinson has five days, not counting Sunday, after the legislation reaches his desk to take action before it becomes law without his signature. If he vetoes the measure, it only would take a simple majority of the Legislature to override.
The measure is the latest bill targeting transgender people to advance in Arkansas’ Legislature. The Legislature last week sent Hutchinson a bill that would allow doctors to refuse to treat someone because of religious or moral objections.
A Senate panel late Monday afternoon endorsed legislation banning gender confirming treatments or surgery for minors, despite pleas from pediatricians, social workers, transgender people and the parents of trans youth
The bills are also winning favor while a hate crimes measure backed by Hutchinson has stalled in the Legislature due to resistance from conservatives. The bill would impose additional penalties for committing a crime against someone because of their characteristics, including their gender identity or sexual orientation.
Hutchinson in 2017 opposed a “bathroom bill” that would have prohibited people from using restrooms in government buildings that do not match their gender at birth. That measure, which never advanced out of committee, had drawn opposition from tourism groups who said it would harm the state’s economy.