- Arkansas has become the first state to block transition-related care for trans youth.
- Gov. Hutchinson said he met with trans people before deciding to reject the bill, though lawmakers overrode his veto.
- The state’s only openly trans elected official spoke to Insider about her meeting with the governor.
- See more stories on Insider’s business page.
Shortly before Gov. Asa Hutchinson vetoed a bill that would make Arkansas the first state to block transition-related care for trans youth, he sat down with two trans women to better understand its impact.
On Tuesday afternoon, the state legislature voted to override Hutchinson’s veto, paving the way for it to take effect if the law survives legal challenges. Still, the governor’s veto a day earlier came as a surprise to many LGBTQ advocates around the country, as Hutchinson had already signed two other anti-trans bills, one banning trans girls from girl’s scholastic sports, and the other a sweeping religious exemption for health care providers who can now turn away LGBTQ patients for non-emergencies.
An account of the meeting between the Republican governor, the state’s only openly trans elected official, and an 18-year-old trans women may shed some light on Hutchinson’s surprising opposition to the bill.
The meeting, on March 30, was expected to last 30 minutes, according to Evelyn Rios Stafford, a Justice of the Peace in Fayetteville, who is openly trans.
But the governor had so many questions that it ran 10 minutes long, she said.
“He had a lot of questions,” Rios Stafford told Insider. “I could tell that this was not an issue that he was super familiar with at all.”
A spokesperson for the governor did not respond to questions about the meeting, but Hutchinson has said that he met with trans people and healthcare providers before reaching his decision. The young trans woman who was also present was not immediately available to discuss it.
Rios Stafford said that, as she watched the governor’s press conference less than a week after they had sat across from one another, she heard him echo some of what had come up in their closed-door meeting.
“The bill is overbroad, extreme, and does not grandfather those who are under hormone treatment,” Hutchinson said during his press conference. “I want people in Arkansas and across the country that whether they’re transgender or otherwise, that they’re loved, they’re appreciated, they make part of our state, and we want to send the message of tolerance and diversity.”
The message meant a lot to Rios Stafford, who said she can’t remember a southern Republican governor ever saying that trans people are loved, important members of the state.
Arkansas’ bill, HB 1570, bans puberty blockers and other transition-related care for trans minors. But it is not just limited to harming trans kids, and introduces a host of further restrictions on care for trans adults. It bans state funds, such as Medicaid, from being used towards transition care for trans people of any age.
Studies have shown that puberty blockers help relieve dysphoria triggered by an adolescent’s puberty, and vastly improves mental health overall. The treatment is widely accepted within the medical community, with endorsements from the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Medical Association, the American Psychological Association, the Endocrine Society, the World Professional Association for Transgender Health, and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.
The March 30 meeting was set up by Nicole Clowney, a Democratic state Representative from Fayetteville, Rios Stafford said.
She said that while she was used to meetings with other elected officials being super policy-focused, she was a bit nervous to speak with the governor about an issue that was so personal to her. But she was encouraged that the governor asked specifically how the trans community has been feeling, given all of the hostility of this legislative session.
“He asked how the trans community is reacting to all the bills that the legislature is sending his way,” she said, and told the governor about the community’s anxiety. “Honestly, they’re worried,” she explained. “They don’t know what else is coming down the pipeline.”
Rios Stafford said she explained to the governor that the bill would make life unlivable for a lot of trans people in Arkansas, and that she had been hearing from a lot of folks who are planning to flee the state as soon as possible. “I think that pained him a little bit to hear that,” she said.
The young trans woman told her story of coming out and transitioning in her Arkansas high school, and how she worried the wave of bills passed by state lawmakers would signal a green light for cisgender kids to bully and alienate trans kids.
The governor brought up specific medical questions about the treatments given to trans kids to treat gender dysphoria, Rios Stafford was able to answer some of those questions, but said she deferred to medical experts on others.
At one point during the meeting, Rios Stafford tried to appeal to the governor’s political values as a libertarian and a conservative.
“I was like, ‘Governor, I thought Republicans were supposed to be the party of small government,'” she said, noting that the governor smiled at that comment. “A lot of these bills are reaching down into the classrooms between teachers and their students. They’re reaching down in between families and their doctors. They’re reaching in between coaches and their teams. This is big government.”
Rios Stafford said she emerged from the meeting cautiously optimistic, but prepared for the governor to sign the bill anyway.
“The fact that he asked how the trans community is reacting, at least shows that he acknowledges the existence of the trans community,” Rios Stafford said.