Hobbs reaffirms commitments to LGBTQ community via vetoes, executive orders

Legislative hostility towards LGBTQ Arizonans is likely to persist next year, though in a more muted form as Republican lawmakers adjust to the realities of working with a Democratic governor. 

This session was a landmark year for discriminatory legislation at the state Capitol. Several bills were introduced to restrict the behavior and daily lives of LGBTQ people, including measures to 

clamp down on drag shows, cripple students’ preferred pronoun use and limit school bathroom access

The proliferation of anti-LGBTQ proposals followed a year of success for Republicans, when former Gov. Doug Ducey signed a school sports ban for trans girls and a prohibition on gender-affirming surgery for minors. But this year’s attempts met a drastically different end. 

While the bills won unanimous support from Republican lawmakers, who hold a one-vote majority in each legislative chamber, they were swiftly vetoed by Gov. Katie Hobbs. The Democrat has been a stalwart critic of anti-LGBTQ sentiment and has repeatedly vowed to act as a bulwark against discriminatory legislation. That commitment was reasserted on July 8, at an event hosted by civil rights and LGBTQ advocacy organizations to celebrate Hobbs’ actions. 

“As long as I’m governor, the LGBTQ+ community in Arizona will be protected,” she announced, to enthusiastic cheering and applause. “I will continue to use my veto pen as many times as I need to.” 

For Sen. John Kavanagh, that promise means a scaledown of some of his policy goals for the next few years. The Fountain Hills Republican was this session’s most prolific author of anti-LGBTQ legislation, sponsoring a trio of headline-grabbing bills that he told the Mirror he mostly plans to save for a more like-minded administration. 

“I’m going to hibernate for the next three years until we get a Republican governor,” he joked. 

Kavanagh’s bills prohibiting preferred pronoun use without parental permission — which Hobbs’ office warned was dead on arrival after its very first debate — and forcing schools to give up three years of public funding if they host a drag show for minors aren’t going to make a reappearance anytime soon. 

But his bathroom bill, which Kavanagh has attempted to pass some version of since 2013, will be reworked. This year’s iteration sought to bar students from using any school facility, including bathrooms, locker rooms and showers, that doesn’t match their biological sex. He said next session’s version will focus on showers, instead. Kavanagh repeatedly used the hypothetical of teen girls being forced to shower next to much older biological boys to alarm lawmakers during debates, despite lacking evidence that such a situation has ever occurred. 

He’s counting on that argument to garner support from Democrats next year. 

“I don’t think anybody can deny the awkwardness of a 14-year-old female standing next to an 18-year-old biological male, naked in the shower,” he said. “Perhaps there’s common ground.” 

It’s unlikely, however, that a continued emphasis on biological essentialism will earn Hobbs’ approval. Proposals preoccupied with culture war issues, which she denounced on July 8 as out of step with the actual problems facing Arizona, are destined to meet with her rejection. 

“Sadly, a faction of extremist, out-of-touch legislators have become hyper-focused on culture wars, mainly targeting the LGBTQ community,” she said. “The good news (is) I’m there to stop their attacks, and I will do it as many times as I need to.” 

That assurance was particularly heartening for Zoe Lenz, a high school student who spoke at the July 8 event. Lenz, who founded her school’s Gay Straight Alliance Club, said she and her classmates were able to “let out a collective sigh of relief” once the discriminatory bills they were anxiously watching were vetoed by Hobbs. 

“There were so many bills aimed directly at us: at our right to be called by our names and our pronouns, our right to use the bathroom, at our ability to be supported by our teachers and peers. Those bills were aimed directly at children,” Lenz said. “Thank you for standing up for me and proving that my right to live and exist isn’t a debate or a question, but a self-evident and inalienable truth.” 

Executive power spurs more conflict 

Lawmaking isn’t the only area Hobbs and Republicans have clashed recently. Last month, Hobbs exercised her executive authority as the state’s governor to issue two orders. One of them removes an exclusion in the state’s health care plan that prohibited coverage for gender-affirming surgeries and the other prevents any government funding from being used to support conversion therapy, a widely discredited pseudoscience whose sole aim is to change the sexuality or gender identity of LGBTQ people. 

The order defunding conversion therapy prompted an immediate response from GOP leadership. Arizona House Speaker Ben Toma warned in a letter that the action was likely unconstitutional, and accused Hobbs of abusing her executive power to do the job of legislators. 

But the Peoria Republican’s argument relied on interpreting the executive order as a full ban on conversion therapy. In fact, the order still allows conversion therapy to continue operating in the state; it only prohibits any state or federal money from being used to power that operation, and directs state agencies to develop policies to protect Arizona youth from the pseudo-science. 

The second order guaranteed state employees access to gender-affirming surgeries. A lawsuit challenging the exclusion in the state’s health insurance plan has been ongoing since 2019, when University of Arizona professor Russell Toomey was denied a hysterectomy that his doctor had determined was critical for his mental health and well-being. The state has so far spent over $1 million defending the exclusion in court, until Hobbs’ executive order prompted a settlement agreement between the two parties. 

GOP legislative leadership moved to oppose the case’s newfound move towards a resolution, sounding the alarm over possible violations of law. Toma and Senate President Warren Petersen filed an amicus brief on Monday urging the judge to dismiss the settlement agreement, claiming that both the agreement and executive order threaten to override a 2022 law that prohibits gender affirming surgeries for minors. The two argue that, because the policy change is effective for both state employees and their dependents, it risks looping in minor dependents seeking gender-affirming surgeries. The judge has yet to make a decision. 

Hobbs touted her executive orders as a necessary defense for a targeted community, and said she would resist pressure from Republicans to withdraw them. 

“Both of these executive orders have clearly made an impact, because the extremists in the legislature haven’t been able to stop talking about them. But I want to be clear… I will not be rescinding these executive orders,” she said at the July 8 event. 

A spokesman for Hobbs didn’t respond to a question on whether or not she still intends to keep the order in place in light of the new challenge. 

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