State Watch

Arkansas legislature targets trans students’ names

The Arkansas state House has passed a measure that would allow teachers to ignore a transgender student’s preferred name or gender pronouns, the latest in a series of bills targeting the rights of trans children.

The measure, House Bill 1749, would bar public schools from requiring teachers or staff to address a student by their preferred pronouns or even a preferred name that does not conform to the student’s biological gender.

School employees who are required to use a pronoun, title or word to address a student would be protected under the state’s Civil Rights Act under the bill.

State Rep. Mary Bentley (R), the legislation’s chief sponsor, said she had heard from teachers about students who frequently changed their names or pronouns. Those teachers said they feared being sued if they used the wrong title, Bentley said, according to the Arkansas Democrat Gazette.

“This bill is just a first step to help protect our teachers, but when we have students in school now that don’t identify as a boy or a girl but as a cat, as a furry, we have issues,” Bentley said, using an incorrect pronoun to describe students.

State Rep. Fred Love (D) said the use of a student’s preferred pronoun or name was nothing more than common courtesy.

“That’s one of the simplest decencies that we can give someone,” Love said. “That’s not hard. That’s not difficult. That’s just a bit of decency and a bit of respect and I think that’s what we need to do.”

The measure passed largely along party lines, though two Republicans voted against it.

The bill is the latest attack on transgender rights, a new focus of Republican-led legislatures that have passed bills in several states to bar transgender children from girls’ sports. 

Arkansas this week became the first state to bar gender-affirming medical procedures — usually hormone therapy — from transgender minors. The legislature overrode Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s (R) veto to pass that measure.

In a statement, Hutchinson said the new measure did not pass muster. He said he would ask the state Department of Education to look into the matter, though he hinted he would issue another veto.

“This bill is unnecessary,” Hutchinson wrote.

Legislators in dozens of states have considered bills that target the transgender community, especially over participation in girls’ sports. Transgender youth are already among the groups most susceptible to suicidal ideation.

“They’re trying to find something where people’s fear will still overwhelm their wish to be inclusive, and they work very hard to spread fear and misinformation to try to keep equality from spreading too far,” Kate Oakley, the state legislative director and senior counsel at the Human Rights Campaign, told The Hill last month. “It’s complete fear mongering.”

Tags Arkansas Asa Hutchinson Preferred pronouns transgender rights transgender students

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