During a state legislative committee meeting on Monday, one Arkansas Republican lawmaker shocked LGBTQ+ rights advocates and members of the public by asking a transgender woman whether she has a penis in front of the entire gallery.
The state’s Senate Judiciary Committee was meeting to vote on Arkansas S.B. 199, which would allow people to sue healthcare providers up to 30 years after receiving treatment if they can prove “injury.” As UA Little Rock Public Radio reports, the bill’s sponsor, state Sen. Gary Stubblefield (R), said that it is designed to deter healthcare professionals from providing gender-affirming care. It also institutes a two-year waiting period for trans youth seeking treatment, and bans youth with mental health-related diagnoses like depression and eating disorders from accessing gender-affirming care according, as Arkansas Times notes.
In 2021, Arkansas became the first state in the country to ban gender-affirming care for people under the age of 18 after state lawmakers passed the Save Adolescents From Experimentation or “SAFE Act.” That law, however, is on hold pending a legal challenge brought by the ACLU on behalf of four transgender young people and their families and two doctors, alleging that H.B. 1570 is unconstitutional because it violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment by discriminating against transgender people.
S.B. 199 has been described as a way for Arkansas Republicans to circumvent that legal challenge.
At Monday’s committee meeting, members of the public spoke out against the bill, with only one advocating for it.
Arkansas pharmacist Dr. Gwendolyn Paige Herzig, who is trans, testified against the bill.
“Are you telling us that you’re unfamiliar with the large body of medical evidence of the harm that has come upon people that have gone through these processes?” state Sen. Matt McKee (R) asked Herzig.
“I’m familiar with the large body of evidence that shows that providing good affirming care saves lives,” Herzig replied.
Gender-affirming care for both adolescents and adults has been endorsed by the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Psychiatric Association, and many other professional groups as necessary and frequently lifesaving for transgender individuals. There is also growing evidence that hormone therapy improves the mental health of trans youth. Irreversible surgeries are rarely, if ever, performed on minors, and as other members of the public testified on Monday, have not been performed on minors in Arkansas.
Seemingly unsatisfied with Herzig’s answer, McKee repeated his question several times, with Herzig responding that she would repeat what she’d just said.
McKee then changed tack. “You said that you’re a trans woman?”
“A trans female, yes sir,” Herzig said.
“Do you have a penis?” McKee asked. The crowd erupted with boos and expressions of disgust at the senator’s invasive question. In video from the meeting posted to Twitter by activist Erin Reed, members of the public can be heard shouting “disgraceful” and “shameful.”
“That’s horrible,” Herzig responded.
McKee claimed that Herzig was “the one who brought that into the discussion.”
“I never said anything about genitalia,” Herzig replied.
“I don’t know what my rights are right now,” Herzig continued, “But that question was highly inappropriate.”
“You do not have to answer any question,” state Sen. Terry Rice (R), acting as committee chair, said. “If you’re through we’ll dismiss you.”
“I’m not through with questions, but I’m not going to answer that question. That’s highly inappropriate…I’m a healthcare professional, a doctor. Please treat me as such. Next question please.”
State Sen. Clarke Tucker, the committee’s only Democrat present at the meeting, accused his Republican colleagues of giving “a gross mischaracterization of what’s happening in the field with gender-affirming care.”
The committee ultimately voted in favor of S.B. 199, which now goes to the full Arkansas Senate for a vote.