LITTLE ROCK -- Arkansas lawmakers on Wednesday advanced measures banning transgender athletes from girls' sports teams at school and prohibiting gender confirming treatments for minors, the latest state to take up restrictions targeting trans youth despite objections from health and education groups.
The majority-Republican Senate approved the athletics ban on a 28-7 vote, while the majority GOP House approved the treatment ban on a 70-22 vote. Both bills need approval from the other chamber before heading to Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who said he was still reviewing the measures.
The proposals are among at least 73 bills targeting transgender people being considered in statehouses across the country, according to the Human Rights Campaign, the nation's largest LGBTQ rights group.
"We're spending a lot of time bullying a small minority of Arkansans and restricting them in ways that are unimaginable to most of us," Democratic Rep. Tippi McCullough, the Legislature's only openly gay member, said before the House vote.
The House-backed bill would prohibit doctors from providing gender confirming hormone treatment or surgery to minors, or from referring them to other providers for treatment. Supporters of the bill, however, acknowledge gender confirmation surgeries aren't performed on minors in the state.
The bill's sponsor portrayed the ban as a way to protect youth from making life-altering changes they're not prepared for and compared the restriction to the state prohibiting minors from smoking or going to a casino.
"We've all done some things when we're under 18 that we probably shouldn't have done, and the children of Arkansas deserve to be protected," Republican Rep. Robin Lundstrum said.
At least one lawmaker thought the concerns of transgender people ridiculous.
"What if your child comes to you and says I want to be a cow?" Republican Rep. Jim Wooten said.
The measure passed a day after a House panel heard objections from social workers, doctors, transgender people and others. The mother of a transgender boy said she was worried her son would commit suicide if he didn't have access to hormone treatments.
The Senate-backed measure would prohibit transgender women and girls from playing sports consistent with their gender identity. Similar legislation has been introduced in at least 20 states so far this year. Idaho was the only state to pass a similar law last year, but it has been blocked in federal court as a lawsuit plays out.
South Dakota's Republican governor this week said she planned to sign similar legislation into law.
The measure would apply to K-12 schools, colleges and universities. It would allow students or schools "directly or indirectly" harmed by a violation of the ban to seek action in court.
"This bill will ensure that girls and women in Arkansas will be able to compete on a level playing field," Republican Sen. Missy Irvin said.
Democratic Sen. Joyce Elliott, who is Black, compared the move to when she was prevented from playing basketball for a year when she integrated into an all-white high school.
"We are better than shunning kids," Elliott said. "Let's be the adults and find the way to let them play."
Several national groups, including the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Counseling Association, earlier this month issued a letter criticizing the push by states to place new restrictions on transgender youth. The groups said the measures target a population already vulnerable to bullying, depression and suicide.
"These bills exacerbate those risks by creating an unwelcoming and hostile environment in places where students should feel the safest and most supported," the groups said in a statement.