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Arkansas legislature now aims to ban trans people’s correct names & pronouns in schools

Arkansas Rep. Mary Bentley (R)
Arkansas Rep. Mary Bentley (R) Photo: Arkansas Legislature

April 9 is National “Name Yourself” Day. Yet, a proposed law progressing through the Arkansas legislature would allow educators to misgender and deadname students if they wish, and protect them from reprimands if they choose to do so.

House Bill 1749 passed the Arkansas House of Representatives yesterday and is now in consideration in the state senate’s Education Committee.

Related: North Carolina Republicans propose ban on gender-affirming care for young adults up to age 21

The proposal’s full title is “An Act To Prohibit Requiring Public School And Institution Of Higher Education Employees From Addressing A Student By A Term That Identifies A Student As Male Or Female And That Is Inconsistent With The Student’s Biological Sex.”

An employee of a public school or a state-supported higher education institution “shall not be required to use pronoun, title, or other word to identify a public school student” in a way that the employee believes “is inconsistent with the public school student’s biological sex.”

The bill doesn’t specify how an educator would determine a student’s assumed biological sex, but the bill’s sponsor claimed they could amend the bill to clarify later if they find it necessary.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R), who vetoed a bill earlier this week that banned gender-affirming healthcare, but then had his veto overridden, has already expressed his opposition to the proposal.

“This bill is unnecessary,” Hutchinson said in a written statement. “I am requesting my Department of Education to further evaluate.”

Yet the legislature, with a Republican supermajority, seems primed to ignore his concerns again and pass the state’s fourth anti-trans legislation into law in this calendar year alone. State lawmakers are justifying the proposal as protection of teachers, indemnifying them from lawsuits if they choose not to respect a student’s identity.

“It’s not compelling anyone’s speech. It’s not prohibiting anyone’s speech. It’s helping those professors and teachers in our schools that do not want to be sued for not using a certain person’s pronoun,” The bill’s introducing sponsor, Rep. Mary Bentley (R) argued.

Bentley even compared trans and gender non-conforming students to people that identify as animals, claiming it is already “a real issue” in Arkansas.

“This bill is just a first step to help protect our teachers but when we have students in school now that don’t identify as a boy or a girl but as a cat, as a furry, we have issues,” she said.

Yet, according to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, a fellow Republican reported to the House that the number of teachers that “had been sued for not using a student’s preferred name or pronoun in Arkansas” is zero.

House Bill 1749 passed the House by a vote of 62 to 21. In addition to 60 Republicans, 2 Democrats voted in favor of the bill. 19 Democrats and only two Republicans voted against it. 17 voting members were excused or didn’t vote.

Anti-trans legislation enacted in the state of Arkansas includes the bill that Gov. Hutchinson vetoed, the so-called “Arkansas Save Adolescents From Experimentation (SAFE) Act.” The act bans gender-affirming care of any kind from being given or even offered for consideration to trans youth, including surgery (which trans youth rarely undergo before the age of 18), hormone therapy, and reversible puberty blockers.

On March 25, Hutchinson signed legislation that made Arkansas the second state this year to ban trans youth from participating in sports as their gender. It applies to trans girls and women from kindergarten all the way through collegiate sports.

Hutchinson also signed the “Medical Ethics and Diversity Act” on the same day, which expanded religious exemptions for health care workers, allowing doctors, nurses, EMTs, and other workers to refuse care for people if they cite their “religious, moral or ethical” beliefs. This could lead to health care workers refusing to treat LGBTQ people.

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