In a press conference on the steps of the state Capitol this morning, representatives of the Arkansas Transgender Equality Coalition (ARTEC), ACLU of Arkansas, the Arkansas branch of the Human Rights Campaign and a transgender pioneer spoke out against a number of anti-transgender bills proposed by the legislature. Citing the economic and political fallout for North Carolina over their “bathroom bill” the groups say the bills will harm the Arkansas economy if passed.
The bills cited at the press conference today include HB 1986 by Rep. Bob Ballinger (R-Hindsville) which would alter the language of the indecent exposure statute in a way that targets transgender people; SB 774 by Sen. Linda Collins-Smith (R-Pocahontas) — a bill most closely resembling North Carolina’s “bathroom bill” — which would prohibit the use of public restrooms and changing facilities by those whose birth gender doesn’t match the sign on the facility*, and HB 1894, which would require that birth certificates must list the biological birth gender of a person and cannot be changed after a person transitions from one gender to the other.
Rev. Gwen Fry, a transgender Episcopal priest who also serves as the director of ARTEC, introduced the speakers, including ACLU of Arkansas executive director Rita Sklar, who said that LGBT people are “under attack once again” by the state Legislature. Sklar said of SB 774 that she has no idea how such a bill could be enforced, and that HB 1986 is meant to target transgender people. Currently, the indecent exposure statute only includes exposure “with the intent to gratify sexual desire.” Sklar called the stated reason behind changing the indecent exposure law “a trumped up problem that doesn’t exist.”
Sklar noted that throughout American history, desegregating access to public facilities like bathrooms have often been at the forefront of the fight for civil rights. Arkansas, she said, is a poor state with a host of social and economic problems that could be addressed, and legislators have seen what discriminatory bills have done to North Carolina. “We don’t need to do anything that hurts the economy more,” Sklar said.
Kendra Johnson, with the Human Rights Campaign, said that the anti-LGBT bills filed this session represent an attempt “to legislate trans people out of existence.” There are already laws on the books that protect privacy and safety in public restrooms, and the bills aren’t needed.
Mara Keisling with the National Center for Transgender Equality, who was in town to lobby against anti-trans bills in the legislature, called the bills “extremist nonsense.” She said that opposition to anti-trans “bathroom bills” isn’t about allowing people to choose which public restroom they want to use, it is about allowing a person to use the right bathroom for their gender. Legislators working on such bills, she said, are wasting time they could be using to solve other, more pressing problems for the state.
Last up to speak was Miss Major Griffin-Gracy, a transgender pioneer who relocated to Arkansas from the San Francisco in 2016. “They need to back up off of us and let us pee where we need to,” Griffin-Gracy said. “I am too old to be searching around for a male bathroom just because of my birth certificate. Which reminds me: how the hell do you walk around with that? Do you all have your birth certificates on you?”
Discrimination against transgender people needs to stop, Griffin-Gracy said, and Arkansans need to get the word out that anti-trans legislation doesn’t help anyone. “You all need to back up off of us and let us live,” she said. “It’s hard enough being who were are, making the choices we have to make to get through each and every day.”
*A previous version of this post incorrectly said that SB 774 had been withdrawn.