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In Arkansas, Governor Vetoes Ban On Gender-Affirming Care For Trans Youth

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Asa Hutchinson, the governor of Arkansas, says his state's legislature went too far limiting transgender rights. The Republican-led legislature in Arkansas passed a bill that would ban gender-affirming medical treatments or surgery for young people. Governor Hutchinson vetoed that bill yesterday.

Jacqueline Froelich from KUAF joins us from Fayetteville. Good morning.

JACQUELINE FROELICH, BYLINE: Good morning.

INSKEEP: How big an issue has this been in Arkansas?

FROELICH: We're in the middle of a pandemic, yet we have this legislation that's tightly focused on transgender youth in Arkansas. There have been a number of bills that have passed the legislature, which is majority Republican, majority conservative Republican. And Hutchinson believes - he stated that this legislature has engaged in vast government overreach.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ASA HUTCHINSON: The bill is overbroad, extreme and does not grandfather those young people who are currently under hormone treatment. In other words, the young people who are currently under a doctor's care will be without treatment when this law goes into effect.

FROELICH: The governor is referring here to minors undergoing hormone treatment to begin gender transition with parental consent. But gender confirmation surgery, the governor pointed out, is only legally available to adults 18 years and older in Arkansas, not children. And the governor said after talking with physicians, social workers and parents of transgender youth, which he learned number around 200 kids in Arkansas, he now understands how trans-affirming medical care helps young people to thrive in society.

INSKEEP: But we should notice something about Arkansas law. At the federal level, Congress can override a veto if they pass it with a two-thirds majority. But in Arkansas, it's only a simple majority. They just have to pass it again like they already did once. What happens now?

FROELICH: So the Republican-majority legislature is expected to vote to override the governor's veto. Either way, we knew this was going to happen. Still, Hutchinson challenged Arkansas' legislative branch, asking them to consider a more restrained approach - this is the word he used - encouraging thoughtful study of the science and ethics surrounding the issue before acting. Hutchinson also said that government, under a conservative philosophy, should be restrained, in this case to not interfere in relationships in society.

INSKEEP: How are people responding to that veto?

FROELICH: Trans activists are encouraged by the veto but are resolved to fight a legislature they view as really extreme. After the governor's veto, I interviewed Holly Dixon, executive director of ACLU Arkansas, who says she hopes legislators, like the governor has, will take time to research the evidence before voting. Barring that, she says, she, too, is committed to fighting on behalf of any transgender youth seeking medical care in the courts.

INSKEEP: How does the governor's veto fit in with other measures that he has signed?

FROELICH: Over the past six weeks, I've interviewed trans Arkansans who say they've been strategically targeted for destruction by right-wing conservatives in Arkansas. We have a new law barring trans girls and women from participating in public school and college sports. Lawmakers are also expected to pass a bill mandating transgender youth be acknowledged in public schools based only on their name and genders listed on school birth certificates. And there's much more in this pipeline.

INSKEEP: KUAF's Jacqueline Froelich in Fayetteville. Thanks so much.

FROELICH: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.