PHOENIX - Republican Gov. Doug Ducey has signed bills banning transgender girls from playing on girls' sports teams and prohibiting gender reassignment surgeries for minors.
The governor described Senate bills 1138 and 1165 as legislation to "protect female athletes" and "to ensure that individuals undergoing irreversible gender reassignment surgery are of adult age."
"This legislation is common-sense and narrowly-targeted to address these two specific issues — while ensuring that transgender individuals continue to receive the same dignity, respect and kindness as every individual in our society," Ducey said in a Twitter thread.
Two GOP governors last week bucked conservatives in their party and vetoed bills in Indiana and Utah requiring trans girls to play on boys sports teams.
Republicans have said blocking transgender players from girls sports teams would protect the integrity of women’s sports, fearing that trans athletes would have an advantage.
Many point to the transgender collegiate swimmer Lia Thomas, who won an individual title at the NCAA Women’s Division I Swimming and Diving Championship last week.
But there are few trans athletes in Arizona schools. Since 2017, about 16 trans athletes have received waivers to play on teams that align with their gender identities out of about 170,000 school-based athletes in the state, according to the Arizona Interscholastic Association.
"This bill to me is all about biology," said Republican Rep. Shawnna Bolick, who said she played on a coed team in the 1980s but could not have made the high school boys team. "In my opinion, its unfair to allow biological males to compete with biological girls sports."
Critics said the legislation dehumanizes trans youth to address an issue that hasn’t been a problem.
"We’re talking about legislating bullying against children who are already struggling just to get by," said Democratic Rep. Kelli Butler. fighting back tears.
Until two years ago, no state had passed a law regulating gender-designated youth sports. But the issue has become front-and-center in Republican-led statehouses since Idaho lawmakers passed the nation’s first sports participation law in 2020. It’s now blocked in court, along with another in West Virginia.
"This bill is creating a pointless and harmful solution to a non-existent issue," Skyler Morrison, a 13-year-old transgender girl, told lawmakers during a committee hearing earlier this month. "It’s obvious this bill is just an excuse to discriminate against transgender girls."
Republicans around the country have leaned into culture war issues including transgender rights. The debate and vote on the transgender sports legislation came the same morning the House considered and passed a ban on abortions after 15-week gestation. Republicans said little during debates on all three bills.
‘It is irreversible’
Arizona is one of 20 states that have considered legislation to restrict gender-affirming health care. The bill originally would have banned all such care for minors but was scaled back to restrict only irreversible procedures, such as surgeries related to gender reassignment.
Similar legislation passed the Idaho House earlier this month but it died in the Senate amid concerns from some Republicans about restricting parental rights.
Supporters of the Arizona bill said it would prevent children from making permanent decisions that they might later come to regret. Republican Rep. John Kavanagh compared the vote to the Legislature’s unanimous decision in years past to ban genital mutilation.
"We should stand the same way today because this is mutilation of children," Kavanagh said. "It is irreversible. It is horrific."
Critics said the decision should be left to parents, their children and the health care team caring for them. They said surgeries are only performed after extensive care and therapy.
"We’re talking about our kids, who are already going to be taking the proper steps with their parents to be able to be who they are," said Democratic Rep. Andres Cano.
The bill originally would have banned all gender-affirming care, including hormone therapies and puberty blockers but was scaled back in the Senate.
Similar legislation passed the Idaho House earlier this month but died in the Senate, where some Republicans said they were concerned about restricting parental rights.
Parents, advocates speak out
On March 30, a day after the bills were signed into law by Gov. Ducey, some in the state have expressed their frustration with the new laws.
At Arizona State University's very first pride prom, those who attended the event weighed in on the new laws.
"We're obviously very saddened that these bills passed," said Diego Eann. "We want to keep the focus on that, and know that we are always doing what we can to benefit people, regardless of what legislation passes at the moment."
Others, like parents of transgender youth, are also speaking out.
"It was a punch," said Ai Binh Ho. "It takes away our rights to make decisions together with our children."
Ho's four-year-old daughter is transgender.
"For me to say ‘you’ll never be part of a team,' I just don’t even know what to say, how to tell her that," said Ho. "It takes away that hope that we have for her."
President Joe Biden, meanwhile, promised his administration will stand up for the transgender community.
"The onslaught of anti-transgender state laws attacking you and your families is simply wrong," said the President.
On March 30, the U.S. Department of Justice sent a letter to states, warning it will go after states that practice unlawful discrimination based on gender identity. In response, Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich tweeted ‘See you in court (again).'
In the meantime, some parents are now thinking about leaving Arizona, for the sake of their kids.
"You know when she reaches the age where she wants the surgery, and is ready for the surgery -- we know that the surgery decreases suicide, it is a lifeline for her -- I think we will have to move," said Ho.
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