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ANNOUNCES VETO: Governor at news conference. Brian Chilson

Governor Hutchinson vetoed a measure to deny gender-affirming hormone treatments to transgender youth, but said he expects state legislators will override his veto.

Hutchinson announced his decision on House Bill 1570 Monday at a press conference at the Governor’s Mansion. While he’s already signed into law this year two bills that will negatively affect transgender people in the state (a ban on trans girls playing on girls’ school sports teams and a “medical conscience bill” allowing health care providers to deny non-emergency care on moral grounds), Hutchinson said HB1570 goes too far.

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The state should not presume to jump into the middle of a family’s relationship with medical professionals, Hutchinson said about the bill. HB 1570 would not only bar transgender youth from accessing puberty blockers and hormone therapy, but would also bar Arkansas doctors from counseling transgender children on what medical options are available and appropriate for them.

“Interference in a doctor/patient relationship does not make sense to me,” the governor said. He also pointed out that if HB1570 goes into law, Arkansas will be the first state to deny gender-affirming care to youth.

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Businesses and sports leagues are in the news in Georgia and nationwide for exerting their financial power to protect civil rights, and many in the state were hoping that Arkansas-based powerhouse Walmart would flex some corporate muscle to protect transgender rights here. But so far, Walmart has not done so, at least not publicly. Hutchinson said economic pressure played no role in his decision-making to veto HB1570.

The bill is overbroad, extreme, and does not grandfather in the young people in Arkansas who are already on hormone treatments, Hutchinson said. Those young people would have to look to black market treatments or head out of state to continue their therapies if HB1570 goes into law.

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While Hutchinson said he believes the General Assembly will override his veto (which they can do with a simple majority of votes), he said he hopes his veto and his arguments against the bill will give proponents pause and lead them to rethink their positions.

By taking the step to veto, Hutchinson sent a message to governors of other states considering anti-trans legislation, said Wyatt Ronan with the Human Rights Campaign. The group is monitoring 192 anti-LGBTQ bills under consideration in state legislatures across the country.

“This veto will prevent further discrimination against transgender kids who are simply trying to receive gender-affirming care that will improve their health, safety, and wellbeing,” said Human Rights Campaign Arkansas State Manager Eric Reece. “All Arkansans deserve access to health care, especially in the midst of an ongoing pandemic. Reaffirming access to this medically necessary care is an important step to prevent discrimination and exclusion of transgender kids. What’s too extreme for Governor Hutchinson should be too extreme for any governor.”

About 200 people gathered on the Capitol steps this past weekend to rally for transgender health care. The rally was organized by the Arkansas chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, and a sizeable fraction of attendees were doctors, nurses and other clinicians involved in the medical care of transgender youth. With a veto on the books but an easy override vote ahead, trans rights groups are regrouping for this next phase.

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Trans rights leader Willow Breshears was taking a few minutes Monday afternoon to celebrate. “I was so happy! I feel like this is one of the only wins we’ve had this legislative season,” she said.

An organizer for The Center for Artistic Revolution, Breshears said she was joining forces with other groups to contact lawmakers in hopes of collecting enough votes to sustain Hutchinson’s veto. It’s an uphill battle: HB1570 passed 28-7 in the state Senate and 70-22 in the House, with 8 not voting. (Find links to how your own representatives voted here.)