The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Arkansas is now the poster child for ignorant anti-trans reaction

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) speaks in Little Rock in March.
Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) speaks in Little Rock in March. (Staton Breidenthal/AP)

AS THE economy recovers, many Republicans have turned to culture wars to unite the GOP and boost their political standing. As he vetoed an egregiously anti-transgender bill, Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) argued Monday that his party should not be so eager to exploit cultural divisions for political benefit, at least when doing so would gratuitously harm real people.

“The nation is looking at Arkansas because I have on my desk another bill passed by the General Assembly that is a product of the cultural war in America,” Mr. Hutchinson said, warning that the bill “would put the state as the definitive oracle of medical care overriding parents, patients and health-care experts.”

Opinion by Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson: Why I vetoed my party’s bill restricting health care for transgender youth

The state legislature promptly ignored Mr. Hutchinson’s cautions, overriding his veto on Tuesday and making Arkansas the poster child for ignorant anti-transgender reaction.

Mr. Hutchinson is not a notable ally of the LGBTQ community. He said that he would have signed the bill if its restrictions were not quite as extreme. The bill does not just ban gender transition surgery for minors. It also ends hormone therapy for young people, even for those already undergoing it, a potentially shocking disruption to their treatment. Moreover, denying gender transition services short of surgery does nothing to prevent surgical “experimentation” on transgender youth, which is what the bill’s advocates say they oppose. Rather, it encourages depression, hopelessness and suicide among young Arkansans struggling with their gender identities.

State lawmakers promote an oblivious view of transgender youth and their treatment as some kind of Dr. Frankenstein fantasy. The protests of people who are actually transgender and those who care for them — that gender transitioning is not experimental, that people undergo intensive therapy and screening before transitioning is considered, that hormone therapy is introduced carefully in stages that reflect patients’ age and development, that those who undergo the transition process emerge relieved to feel more themselves — did not deter majorities in the Arkansas legislature from picking on a small, often misunderstood portion of the population. The bill’s mean, petty spirit is revealed in the fact that gender transition surgery is not performed on Arkansas youths, according to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Fewer than 200 are even on hormone therapy.

Mr. Hutchinson said he hoped his veto would prompt the legislature to reflect on the bill. Instead, on Tuesday the state House voted 71 to 24 and the state Senate voted 25 to 8 to override his veto. Now the best hope is that Arkansas serves as a warning to the other states, such as Alabama and Tennessee, considering similar anti-transgender policies. No state should covet the distinction that Arkansas now has: that of chief anti-trans bully.

In this time of change for the Republican Party, in which many want to double down on Trumpism, Republicans have a choice: Do they want to appeal to the center-right nation they claim the United States is, or do they want to be populists lurching from one malicious cultural crusade to the next, committed to preserving power at the expense of vulnerable minorities, indifferent to the nation’s real problems or even counterproductive in solving them? Their voting-law crackdowns and anti-transgender activism are not encouraging signs. But Mr. Hutchinson’s veto at least shows the party is not monolithic in making these wrong choices.

Read more:

Asa Hutchinson: Why I vetoed my party’s bill restricting health care for transgender youth

Tey Meadow: Restricting care for transgender teens would be a terrible mistake

The Post’s View: Republicans see attacking transgender youth as a convenient way to whip up bigotry

Megan Rapinoe: Bills to ban transgender kids from sports try to solve a problem that doesn’t exist

Henry Olsen: The veto that could undo Kristi Noem’s presidential ambitions