Bills aimed at transgender students make their way through Arkansas legislation

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Erica Roman

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Anna Vanasse and Layne Robinson

Content warning: This article may be difficult for some people in the LGBTQIA+ community to read.  Please take care of yourselves.

Trans students may be directly affected by two bills that have been proposed in the Arkansas legislature already this year. One, House Bill 1749, deals with students who go by a different name or gender than was assigned on their birth certificates. The other, the “Fairness in Women’s Sports Act” has already been signed into law by Governor Asa Hutchinson and restricts the ability of trans women and girls to participate in team sports. 

HB1749

HB1749 says that a public school employee must address their student by the name and sex on their birth certificate. The employee can address the student by the name and pronouns that match their gender identity only if the student has changed their name and sex at birth on the certificate. If that does not work, the student is allowed to go by a nickname of their choosing. 

HB1749 was created by Mary Bentley who is a state Rep. Bentley had originally created the bill because she kept hearing concerns from stressed teachers whose students kept changing their names and gender identities. After facing some backlash about the bill, she released a statement saying, “it’s not the intent of the bill and our people maybe don’t understand they can just change the birth certificate so it’s not [like]I’m trying to be hateful or mean and I see people’s concerns. I was not trying to bash anybody.”

A former educator in Arkansas, Trystan Lawhon who identifies as transgender and nonbinary believes the bill is “born out of ignorance on transgender issues.” Lawhon also says the bill would basically be legalized bullying and would justify the actions of the people who do not agree with other gender identities. 

Tippi McCollough, another state representative also disagrees with the bill, but she says for a different reason. Tippi said that teachers are trained well enough to handle their students needs, “no matter how they identify.” She also said, “They’re the ones that know best how to deal with students and to (…) give them an education (…) and make them feel comfortable [and] welcome in the classroom.”

https://arktimes.com/arkansas-blog/2021/03/17/fear-and-loathing-at-the-arkansas-legislature-the-anti-lgbt-laws

https://www.kark.com/news/local-news/newly-proposed-arkansas-bill-accused-of-targeting-transgender-students

Senate Bill 354

The “Fairness in Women’s Sports Act”, formerly Senate Bill 354, was signed into law on March 25 of this year. The act places several restrictions specifically on trans women who want to participate in school sports. It strictly forbids any women’s public school sports team, including college and club sports, from allowing trans women and girls to play. 

The bill was originally proposed by Republican Senator Missy Irvin, and gathered wide support in both houses of the state legislature. Sen. Irvin has stated that her bill was designed to protect fair competition in women’s sports, an intent that can be seen in the language of the bill, which references an inherent athletic difference between sexes.

Opponents of the legislation cite a lack of definitive research defending a significant performative difference between cis- and transgender athletes. Multiple sports organizations, including the Arkansas Activities Association, NCAA and even the International Olympic Committee, have also allowed trans athletes to compete on teams matching their gender identities for years.

Dr. Dostal and Dr. Collbert were contacted for statements, but neither has responded by the time of publication.  We will update if we receive a response.

https://www.myarklamiss.com/news/arkansas-news/arkansas-bill-on-trans-athletes-in-female-sports-advances/ 

https://katv.com/news/local/opponents-call-fairness-in-womens-sports-act-anti-transgender-discrimination 

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