The hotly-contested legislation was the most egregious in a string of attempts in state legislatures across the country to prevent transgender people from accessing facets of civic life the rest of us take for granted, including health care and participation in sports. The veto override was perhaps less surprising and far more depressing.
“Though I can’t speculate as to Gov. Hutchinson’s true intentions, this decision demonstrates the beginning of a shift among conservative politicians about whether interfering with the health and well-being of transgender young people is a bridge too far,” Preston Mitchum told me Monday. Mitchum is the policy director for Unite for Reproductive & Gender Equity, a network of community activists founded by Gloria Steinem and focused on sexual health.
Of course, this moment could be but a blip in an otherwise vast sea of bills. In the end, the governor’s action could not stop the bill from becoming law.
But maybe, just maybe, we’re seeing a glimpse of a different paradigm emerge. One in which party lines aren’t written in blood, but in erasable ink, amenable to reason and logic, to pushback and critique.
The unexpected move that a Republican politician made to break party lines and veto this harmful bill has implications that could reach far beyond the Arkansas legislature and even the transgender community. Is it a signal shift away from ride-or-die partisanship? Or merely an anomaly? And does it matter? Are the optics of a right-wing elected official in a right-leaning state killing a bill that would harm some of its most marginalized constituents enough to shift national consciousness, regardless of the move’s intent?
“Government overreach” was another, as the governor claimed the law went too far in dictating what should otherwise be a private conversation between patient and doctor. There was also no provision written into the clumsy and dangerous bill for transgender residents of Arkansas already receiving gender-affirming health care — who would have, if it had become law, been forced to de-transition.
For those in the transgender community and gender nonbinary community, it represented a brief (all too brief) exhale, one momentarily successful swing in a never-ending game of whack-a-mole.
For Republicans and political leaders of all persuasions, one can hope this serves as a staunch awakening that there are lines that should be drawn and not crossed. Perhaps this gives more credit to Hutchinson than he deserves, but I hope it also sends a message that elected officials should lead with at least some semblance of humanity.
For everyone else watching, the moment could be a turning point. Or it could not be. Either way, the message it sends will likely have ripple effects that could very well inform what the far-right’s next culture war skirmish will be. We can only hope they leave transgender people, or any of the most vulnerable in our communities, out of the equation — and that they will recognize that you can’t just sling hate at the wall and expect it all to stick.
This op-ed has been updated to reflect news developments.