GOP bid to ‘protect’ cis women would scrap all legal protections for trans Arizonans

In a bid to keep transgender women off of girl’s sports teams and out of public restrooms, Arizona Republicans are pushing to insert a narrow and inflexible definition of biological sex into state law that would effectively eliminate all legal recognition of transgender people. 

The proposal would remove any reference to gender in Arizona’s laws or policies and replace it with “sex,” which is strictly defined as the male or female label assigned to someone at birth based on their physical and reproductive characteristics. 

Under that premise, sports teams, locker rooms, bathrooms, domestic violence shelters and sexual assault crisis centers could be separated by biological sex, with gender-nonconforming people left to suffer legalized discrimination. 

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Sen. Sine Kerr, the sponsor of Senate Bill 1628, refused to acknowledge that the proposal could lead to rights violations for transgender people, saying that it is only meant to help clarify state law. 

“(It) enshrines truth into law,” the Republican from Buckeye said during a Tuesday morning news conference. “It rejects the fiction that the definitions of male and female are truly in question.” 

Instead of hurting transgender and nonbinary people, Kerr said, her legislation serves to protect cisgender women from the threats posed by biological men in intimate spaces like locker rooms and bathrooms. She has titled her measure “The Arizona Women’s Bill of Rights.” 

The safety of women from assault has been an often repeated reasoning from Republican lawmakers seeking to bar transgender people from accessing public accommodations, despite the reality that there is no evidence to suggest that transgender-friendly policies endanger anyone. 

In fact, transgender people face a much higher risk of experiencing violence than non-transgender people — and that risk is elevated when restrictive policies are passed to keep them out of restrooms and locker rooms consistent with their gender identities. 

Kerr added that her proposal supports women’s athletic achievements by eliminating unfair competition. To bolster that claim, former University of Pennsylvania swimmer Paula Scanlan, who was on a team with transgender athlete Lia Thomas, shared her opposition to transgender athletes competing in women’s sports, saying that she’s met women who were robbed of their wins because of inclusive policies. 

A focus on trans women in sports has led nearly two dozen states to ban transgender athletes from competing on teams that best fit their gender identity. That includes Arizona, which in 2022 passed a law prohibiting trans girls from joining girls sports teams in their schools, despite criticism from LGBTQ advocates and evidence from the state’s public schools athletic association that transgender athletes are an extreme minority. That law is currently being challenged in court by two trans teens who argue that it violates multiple federal equal protection laws.

Scanlan, who has testified before Congress and traveled to state legislatures to support GOP-backed anti-trans policies, said she supports Kerr’s proposal because it protects the needs of women in multiple environments. 

“This will not apply only to sports,” she said. “It will prevent men who say they identify as women from gaining unfettered access and rights to women’s shelters and be housed in women’s prisons and join women’s sororities.” 

It’s very, deeply troubling to the transgender community when we see that kind of hate coming out of our governmental leadership. These bills send panic through my entire community. This is nothing short of legislative terrorism.

– Erica Keppler, Arizona Trans Alliance

Erica Keppler, the co-founder and co-chair for the Arizona Trans Alliance, denounced the bill as a blatant effort to eliminate transgender people from public life. 

“This is a sweeping attempt to erase the existence of transgender people in law and in every corner of the state,” she said. 

Keppler, who is trans, warned that the measure would only serve to endanger trans people by barring them from obtaining identity documents, like driver’s licenses and birth certificates, that are consistent with their lived gender identity. A 2015 survey from the National Center for Transgender Equality found that nearly one-third of respondents who presented an identity document that was incongruent with their perceived gender experienced harassment, physical violence or were denied services. 

By codifying a limited understanding of sex into law, the measure seeks to control how trans people act and present themselves, Keppler said. 

“This is trying to mandate what Americans have to be as a condition of birth,” she said. “It is saying that, legally, a trans person cannot exist, that we cannot live our lives according to our identity. It says: ‘You must live and wherever you go the law will punish you and humiliate you and degrade you for expressing and feeling you live in a different gender.’” 

Keppler said that, while she’s reassured by Gov. Katie Hobbs’ repeated promises to veto anti-LGBTQ legislation, continued attacks from the GOP-majority legislature are upsetting. Eleven of the state Senate’s 16 Republican members signed on as co-sponsors of the bill, including Senate President Warren Petersen, R-Gilbert, in a show of support that sends a hostile message to LGBTQ Arizonans. 

“It’s very, deeply troubling to the transgender community when we see that kind of hate coming out of our governmental leadership. These bills send panic through my entire community,” Keppler said. “This is nothing short of legislative terrorism.”

Bridget Sharpe, director for the Arizona chapter of the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBTQ advocacy organization, said enacting laws that would force schools and other public service providers to discriminate against transgender people would negatively impact their funding sources. Public schools that receive federal dollars are forbidden from engaging in sex-based discrimination, which includes discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, and would be at risk of losing that funding. 

“SB1628 would put federal funds for schools, domestic violence centers, and rape crisis centers at risk, and it would harm Arizonans simply trying to live their lives,” Sharpe said. “We don’t need to understand everything about each other to treat each other with dignity and respect, and this bill absolutely does the opposite.” 

Sharpe added that a provision in the bill that requires schools and other data-collection agencies, like police departments, to fill out reports using only biological sex would jeopardize the ability of trans and gender nonconforming people to report crimes committed against them.

And while the bill purports to protect women, the Women’s Foundation for the State of Arizona, which advocates for legislation that achieves equity for women, was unimpressed. Erika Mach, the vice president of external affairs for the foundation, similarly criticized the bill for erasing transgender people and forcing them into dangerous situations. 

Instead, Mach called on lawmakers to advance solutions that help women obtain affordable health care, including reproductive care, accessible and quality childcare services and fair wages.

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