A Senate committee advanced legislation on Monday that would ban administering gender transition treatment, including surgery and hormone therapy, to minors in the state.
In the Senate Committee on Public Health, Welfare and Labor, House Bill 1570 by Rep. Robin Lundstrum, R-Elm Springs, was sent to the Senate floor with no discussion among committee members and no audible opposition. The Senate is scheduled to vote on the bill Monday, Lundstrum said on Friday.
Lundstrum has acknowledged that the surgeries her bill targets are not being provided to youths in Arkansas. She said Monday that the bill seeks to protect children from making a choice they might regret later in life.
"These are children under 18. We are simply asking that they be protected," Lundstrum said.
She likened undergoing gender transition treatment to other things off-limits to minors in the state, including alcohol, tattoos, drugs and buying lottery tickets.
The Arkansas Family Council also supports HB1570.
The committee heard about an hour of testimony from nearly 20 members of the public who included transgender Arkansans and family members of transgender people, as well as medical professionals and social workers who have treated them.
The speakers said denying transgender youths access to gender-affirming care would result in more suicides among an already at-risk population, and shared the joy that came when they or their child was able to live as their true self.
"I just want to tell you how happy transitioning and living my truth has made me. Without that, I probably wouldn't be here," said community organizer Willow Breshears, who said she began hormone treatment as a teenager with no negative side effects.
Lundstrum said the bill would not prevent children with gender dysphoria from being referred to counseling, though objectors to the bill said it could be broad enough to do so.
A state bill that would deter schools from allowing transgender girls and women to play on the sports team that aligns with their gender identity was also headed to the governor with the House's approval on Monday afternoon. Gov. Asa Hutchinson signed Senate Bill 354 into law on Thursday.
According to the Human Rights Campaign, the nation's largest LGBTQ civil rights organization, there have been at least 39 bills filed in the U.S. to restrict transgender athletes' participation in sports and 29 that would restrict transgender people's access to medical care.
More than a dozen health, education and child-welfare organizations, including the National Education Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics, have also urged legislators to vote against bills such as SB354.
Earlier this month, Mississippi became the first state this year to sign a law restricting transgender athletes from participating in sports.
Idaho was the first state to enact such a law, but its 2020 measure is blocked by a court ruling.