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Critics say AZ ‘Women’s Bill of Rights’ puts transgender women at risk

GOP lawmakers are continuing to advance anti-trans proposals under the guise of protecting women and minors despite the threat of a veto from Democratic Gov. Katie Hobbs.

By Gloria Rebecca Gomez, Arizona Mirror - February 14, 2024
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Trans pride flags on a curb in Washington, D.C.
Trans pride flags in Washington, D.C. (Ted Eytan / Flickr)

GOP lawmakers are continuing to advance anti-trans proposals under the guise of protecting women and minors despite the threat of a veto from Democratic Gov. Katie Hobbs. 

On Tuesday, the Senate Health and Human Services Committee gave the greenlight to two measures that LGBTQ advocates say only serve to erase trans Arizonans and villainize their health care needs.

Senate Bill 1628 would eliminate any mention of gender in state law, replacing it with a strict and inflexible definition of biological sex. Every person would be either female or male according to their assigned sex at birth, determined by their physical and reproductive characteristics. Named the “Arizona Women’s Bill of Rights”, it would allow the separation of sports teams, locker rooms, bathrooms and even domestic violence shelters and sexual assault crisis centers by biological sex, greenlighting discrimination against transgender Arizonans.

Jennifer Braceras, founder of the Washington-based Independent Women’s Law Center, applauded the bill. The center has filed numerous amicus briefs opposing inclusive policies in schools and supporting trans athlete bans in court, including Arizona’s. Braceras denied that the proposal takes away anyone’s rights, saying that it instead simply clarifies the terms of engagement for lawmakers considering the role of trans women in public life. 

And, she said, it keeps ideology out of the courtroom. 

“A powerful group of activists today seek to convince judges and unelected bureaucrats that men who identify as women have an unfettered right to access women’s spaces, no questions asked,” she said. “The Women’s Bill of Rights is a tool to stop this sort of interpretive overreach and judicial activism.” 

But Hugo Polanco, a lobbyist for the Arizona chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, called the bill cruel and discriminatory. He warned lawmakers on the panel that its provisions would only serve to put transgender people at risk of violence by preventing them from obtaining identity documents that reflect their lived reality. A 2015 survey from the National Center for Transgender Equality found that nearly one-third of respondents who presented an identity document, like a drivers license, that didn’t match their perceived gender were harassed, denied services or experienced physical violence. 

“This bill would force transgender people to live a lie and put them at risk of harm by disclosing the sex they were assigned at birth on documents like drivers’ licenses, marriage licenses, school records and burial paperwork,” Polanco said. “All of us, including transgender people, need accurate and consistent identity documents that reflect who we are. That’s what IDs are for.” 

Sen. Eva Burch, D-Mesa, denounced the measure and criticized the persistently hostile rhetoric from GOP lawmakers, saying she was worried about the effect on transgender Arizonans. 

“This effort to erase trans people and try to force them to fit into boxes that they don’t fit into is totally unacceptable to me,” she said, her voice shaking with anger. “I’m not afraid of trans people, I’m afraid of what’s going to happen to them if we keep treating them like this.”  

The Republican-majority legislature is well into its third year in a row of proposing anti-trans measures. In 2022, under Republican Gov. Doug Ducey, lawmakers succeeded in passing a trans athlete ban barring trans girls from joining sports teams consistent with their gender identity and a prohibition on gender-affirming surgery for minors. And last year, despite Hobbs’ warning that discriminatory bills would meet her veto stamp, Republicans sought to criminalize drag queens and restrict how welcoming schools could be for trans students

The abundance of anti-trans legislation in Arizona’s statehouse reflects a hostile political movement across the country. In 2023, nearly 500 anti-LGBTQ bills were proposed across the countrydouble those introduced the previous year. And this year is shaping up to be just as bad as last year, much to the consternation of LGBTQ advocacy groups, who point to research that shows discriminatory legislation and talking points negatively impact the mental health of LGBTQ youth — a population that is already at a disproportionately high risk of contemplating suicide or suffering from depression. 

The proposal was approved by a vote of 4-3, with only Democrats opposed, and goes next before the full Senate for consideration. 

Also approved by the Senate Health and Human Services Committee on Tuesday was Senate Bill 1511, which requires hospitals, insurance companies and doctors to provide and pay for detransitioning services if they offer gender-affirming care. 

The stories of people who regret receiving gender-transitioning procedures have been increasingly spotlighted by Republican politicians who oppose gender-affirming health care. The care, which has the backing of every major medical organization, supports the identities of trans people through social acceptance, such as using a person’s preferred pronouns, or medical care that includes puberty blockers, hormone therapy and surgical procedures that help align a person’s physical body with their gender identity. 

Detransitioning, however, is an extremely rare and often temporary occurrence. Out of nearly 28,000 respondents who participated in the 2015 survey from the National Center for Transgender Equality, only 8% reported having detransitioned at some point. The vast majority later transitioned again and cited external pressures, such as family disapproval, as the reason for detransitioning. 

Health care for people who detransition is virtually the same as gender-affirming care. It, too, seeks to support the gender identities of patients. Like gender-affirming care, it may also include the use of preferred pronouns and gender-affirming procedures, like chest reconstruction surgery.

Chloe Cole, a frequent supporter of anti-trans proposals in legislatures across the country, spoke in favor of the effort to protect access to detransition care. The 19-year-old California native transitioned in her teens and received a double mastectomy at 15. Protecting people in Arizona who regret their transition is critical, she said, especially as the number of people who identify as transgender has increased in recent years. 

“An exponential growth amongst those entering the transition pipeline will inevitably be reflected in those who desist and detransition,” Cole said. “All who, we should expect, will require lifelong medicalization.” 

Claims that the transgender population is increasing don’t account for refined data collection strategies, which previously didn’t exist, and higher than ever social acceptance. Younger generations are likelier than their older counterparts to identify as LGBTQ, with 28% of Gen Z adults identifying as LGBTQ compared to just 16% of Millenials and 7% of Baby Boomers.

Sen. Justine Wadsack, R-Tucson, voted to pass the proposal, sounding the alarm over the danger that she claimed young children with non-traditional gender expression, like tomboys, face. 

“Had I grown up today the way I did in the ‘70s, catching fireflies in jars and pulling the tails off lizards and watching them float around in the sink…If I had been a tomboy in this day and age, they would have changed my gender,” she said. “It’s just the way it is. Protect the tomboys.” 

In reality, transitioning is a multi-step and multi-year process involving parents, doctors and therapists who rely on the patient’s repeated and persistent assertions that they are transgender. 

The proposal to guarantee detransition services in Arizona was approved by the committee by a vote of 5-2, with Sen. Theresa Hatathlie, D-Tuba City, the lone Democrat in favor. Hatathlie didn’t explain her vote. 

This story was originally published in the Arizona Mirror


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