A slew of GOP-backed anti-LGBTQ bills race towards Hobbs’ veto stamp

This article was originally published by The AZ Mirror.

Arizona Republicans sent a spate of anti-LGBTQ proposals to Gov. Katie Hobbs on Monday, forging ahead with the discriminatory legislation despite warnings that doing so endangers the lives of trans youth. 

Rep. Lorena Austin, D-Mesa, admonished GOP lawmakers for voting to pass Senate Bill 1001, which would prevent teachers from respecting their students’ name changes and preferred pronouns without first obtaining parental permission. Austin, the state’s first nonbinary and gender nonconforming legislator, denounced the bill as performative, and said appealing to a minority of fringe voters isn’t worth imperiling already at-risk youth. 

“It’s not worth risking one child’s safety,” she said. “It’s not worth risking one life.” 

The bill, like the other anti-LGBTQ bills passed Monday, won approval in the state House of Representatives with the backing of all 31 Republicans and no support from Democrats.

Trans and nonbinary youth face disproportionately high rates of depression and suicide, but research shows that simply being allowed to use accurate names and pronouns can decrease suicide attempts by 65% and depression by 71%. A majority of trans youth find that critical support in the classroom, not at home. SB1001 would eliminate that resource for students with hostile families. 

The measure contains a provision that ostensibly allows parents to support their child’s pronoun choice, but it’s entirely hollow: Even if parental permission is given, the bill includes an exception for school staff who have a “religious or moral conviction,” allowing them to ignore what the parent and student want. 

The measure is headed next to Hobbs’ desk, where it’s guaranteed to be vetoed. The Democrat has issued repeated warnings that she’ll reject the proposal since its first hearing in January, and she has emphatically said she will reject any anti-LGBTQ bills that land on her desk.

Republicans also approved Senate Bill 1040, which prohibits trans students from using school facilities, like bathrooms and locker rooms, consistent with their gender identity. Schools with inclusive policies would face lawsuits from students seeking to recover damages for their “psychological, emotional and physical harm.” 

Both the pronoun ban and the bathroom restriction were authored by Sen. John Kavanagh, a Fountain Hills Republican with a long history of anti-trans legislation. Kavanagh framed both bills as compromises between the rights of trans students and those of their parents and peers, but Democrats were unconvinced. 

Rep. Jennifer Longdon, who is paralyzed and uses a wheelchair, was particularly offended by the framing of the bathroom bill as a reasonable accommodation for trans students. The Democrat from Phoenix shared how demoralizing finding adequate restroom accommodations can be as someone with a spinal cord injury, and worried that segregating trans youth from their classmates because of their gender identity would negatively impact their mental health. 

“We are going to take a group of children who already feel incredibly other-ized and further dehumanize them,” she said. “It’s wrong.” 

Rep. Patricia Contreras, D-Phoenix, criticized the emphasis on biological sex, saying it dismisses trans students’ identities. The bill requires schools to provide a separate accommodation for students who are “unwilling or unable” to use facilities that match their sex at birth. That ignores, Contreras said, the social transitioning that many trans students undergo and may in fact put them in danger. One study found that restrictive bathroom policies significantly increase the risk of sexual assault for transgender students. 

“We need to stop playing these games with these kids’ lives,” Contreras said. “They know in their hearts, in their minds and in their bodies that they are not that gender, and we need to respect that.” 

Also approved on Monday were several bills intended to criminalize and outlaw drag shows

Senate Bill 1026, however, is the only measure that retains drag shows in its definition of banned performances, defining it as a show in which one or more performers wear makeup or dress in clothing opposite of their biological sex to exaggerate gender roles and sing, dance or act for an audience of minors. Critics have worried it could loop in satirical Shakespeare plays or pep rally performances, but Kavanagh, the bill’s sponsor, and other supporters have dismissed those concerns. 

The bill cleared the House on a 31-26 vote, and heads next to the Senate, which must approve an amendment added in the lower chamber before the measure can be sent to Hobbs. 

On Monday, Rep. Alexander Kolodin, R-Scottsdale, said it would be illogical to vote against a bill that prohibits using state funds for drag shows targeting minors. The measure, however, would also bar any private money from being used for family friendly shows, likely affecting drag story hours. The popular events, used to promote early childhood literacy often held at local coffee shops and libraries, have become a target in the GOP culture war. Hostile political rhetoric has led to an uptick in bigoted attacks, including a bomb threat at a Tempe event

Also given final approval on Monday were a trio of bills originally drafted to specifically punish and restrict drag shows that were later changed to obfuscate their target, but whose sponsors have made clear that the intent remains the same

Senate Bill 1028 and Senate Bill 1030 initially equated drag shows with strip performances and heavily regulated where and when they could take place. The language was revised to cover only “sexually explicit” performances, defined as having the intention to arouse or simulating sexual acts, including simply touching a person’s clothed genitals, buttocks, or breasts. 

Similarly, Senate Bill 1698 would have mandated a minimum of 10 years in prison for drag artists who performed in front of minors and required them to register as sex offenders. It, too, was revised to punish only performances that are “adult-oriented” after the sponsor worried its definition was broad enough to criminalize everyday dance teachers. 

While the bills earned the approval of the Republican-majority legislature, each was unanimously opposed by Democrats and vociferously criticized by the LGBTQ community. Hobbs, who has vowed to reject any anti-LGBTQ measures that make it to the Ninth Floor, is certain to veto them.

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