Hobbs orders give trans state employees access to surgery, bar state money for ‘conversion therapy’
In a move that marked the last week of Pride Month, Gov. Katie Hobbs signed executive orders on Tuesday guaranteeing trans state employees access to gender-affirming surgery and cutting off conversion therapy from any public funding.
The Democrat announced the orders at One-N-Ten, an LGBTQ youth advocacy and support organization in central Phoenix.
“Our LGBTQ+ community should never have to face hate and discrimination, and I will do everything in my power to fight for full equality,” Hobbs said in a statement. “The state is leading by example on this issue, and we will continue working until Arizona is a place where every individual can participate equally in our economy and our workforce without fear of discrimination or exclusion.”
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The first order ensures gender-affirming surgery is within reach for all state employees who may need it. Previously, policy governing the state’s health plan, long under the purview of conservative administrations, blocked it from covering surgeries undertaken to transition.
That policy resulted in a lawsuit when University of Arizona professor Russell Toomey, who is a trans man, was denied coverage for a hysterectomy. The lawsuit has yet to see a resolution and has so far cost Arizona more than $1 million to defend in court, according to estimates first reported by ProPublica.
The second order prohibits any federal or state funds from being used to support or promote conversion therapy in Arizona, and directs state agencies to develop policies that protect Arizona youth from such programs.
The primary aim of conversion therapy is to change the sexual orientation of LGBTQ people to heterosexual. Decades of research and numerous health professionals have denounced it as nothing more than pseudo-science that highly increases the rates of depression and suicide among LGBTQ youth, who already face disproportionately high risk. As many as 22 states ban the practice, but Arizona is not one of them, despite previous attempts as recently as this year that sought to do so but failed to make it through the GOP-controlled legislature.
LGBTQ advocates lauded Hobbs’ action as an extension of her continued allyship. The Democrat has repeatedly vowed to act as a bulwark against discriminatory legislation from Republican lawmakers, vetoing several attempts this year designed to ban preferred pronoun use in schools, keep trans kids from using the bathrooms consistent with their gender identity and restrict and criminalize drag performers.
“This is what it looks like to have a champion for equality in office,” said Bridget Sharpe, executive director of Arizona’s branch of the Human Rights Coalition, in an emailed statement. “These executive orders are a crucial step in addressing discrimination against LGBTQ+ people, especially children. No matter who they are or who they love, all Arizonans deserve access to high-quality, best practice health care and to live their lives authentically.”
The Trevor Project, an advocacy and research group focused on preventing suicide among LGBTQ youth, celebrated the action to defund conversion therapy.
“LGBTQ young people deserve to live freely and be protected from the dangerous and discredited practices of ‘conversion therapy’,” said Troy Stevenson, director of the organization’s state advocacy campaigns, in an emailed statement. “This so called ‘therapy’ is condemned by every major professional medical and mental health association in America, associated with poor mental health outcomes and greater suicide risk, and inflicts a major financial burden in our society.”
Not everyone, however, agreed with the orders. Cathi Herrod, the president of the anti-LGBTQ Center for Arizona Policy, which has opposed bans on conversion therapy and was a leading opponent of giving gay people the right to marry in Arizona, warned that her organization is reviewing its legal options to challenge the order allowing gender-affirming surgery.
“Governor Katie Hobbs should have run for the Arizona Legislature again if she wanted to make law,” Herrod said in an emailed statement. “Arizona lawmakers who represent Arizonans from throughout the state are tasked with passing new laws, not the Governor.”
Republican lawmakers, who hold a one-vote majority in each legislative chamber, are likely to agree with that sentiment. Just last week, Hobbs issued an executive order to prevent prosecution of abortion law violations in the state. The action sparked outrage among Republicans, who have now vowed to postpone confirming her agency nominations over a concern that Hobbs’ directives will allow them to flout existing state law.
The committee which oversees those nominations is headed by Sen. Jake Hoffman, R-Queen Creek, the leader of the legislature’s far-right Freedom Caucus that in January threatened to bring legal action over an executive order Hobbs issued in her first week enshrining LGBTQ non-discrimination hiring policies for state agencies.
In the nearly six months since that threat, no lawsuit has been filed.