SPECIAL REPORT: Transgender rights in Arkansas take center stage

KNWA

NORTHWEST ARKANSAS, (KNWA/KFTA) — The state of Arkansas in the spotlight, becoming the first state to outlaw gender-affirming surgery for those under 18 years old. It’s one of dozens of states passing legislation surrounding transgender youth.

In a special report, we speak to a political expert on the effects of these bills that have gained national interest.

A focus on transgender rights continues, as several states, including Arkansas, pass bills on several measures including banning trans-girls from participating in girl’s sports.

“Because of some things on Arkansas’ legislative calendar Arkansas has been kind of at the forefront in terms of passing them before other states,” said University of Arkansas, Political Science Professor Andrew Dowdle.

He notes the Human Rights Campaign recorded over 100 trans-related bills introduced across 30 states.

“If 20 states end up passing legislation… you can boycott one state but it becomes harder to boycott more than one state,” said Dowdle.

State Representative, Robin Lundstrum proposed House Bill 1570 the Arkansas Safe Act. She says the ban on gender reassignment surgery and medication for minors is about protecting children.

“You can’t drink until your 21, or smoke cigarettes, have a tattoo, or even change your name until you’re 18 … Let’s get these kids to 18 where their bodies have developed and then they can make those decisions because it does have long term impact,” said Lundstrum.

Republican Governor Asa Hutchinson signed the transgender athletes’ ban but vetoed House Bill 1570, calling it government overreach. However, the bill had enough support in the Arkansas legislature to override his veto.

“He’s probably also being realistic that not only is this going to draw criticism and possible business boycott from inside and outside the state… but he is probably looking at is this going to even survive in the federal courts?” said Dowdle.

The bills have sparked boycotts and rallies across the natural state including the cyclocross off-road biking organizer parting ways with the Cyclocross World Championships, which are held in Fayetteville.

Laura Calloway a transgender woman tells us these laws do more damage than good.

“I can’t imagine not being able to help my child through their transition, not being able to legally be allowed to do so and making them have to live as someone they are not,” said Calloway

Despite all of the headlines, Dowdle says there may be some victories at the state level but he is skeptical it will survive the federal courts.

“My guess is that the courts are going to react especially in terms of the bans on medical procedures in a way similar to governor Hutchinson, that this is an overstep,” said Dowdle.

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