Arkansas, which has already passed two anti-transgender bills in this legislative session, is advancing another one — and its sponsor is worried that students are identifying as animals.
The state’s House of Representatives Thursday approved House Bill 1749, which would bar public schools and state colleges and universities from requiring that teachers use students’ preferred names and pronouns if those differ from a student’s “biological sex,” the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reports. It now awaits Senate action.
Supporters say the legislation is necessary to protect teachers who might be sued or face other negative consequences for not using a student’s preferred terms. “It’s not compelling anyone’s speech. It’s not prohibiting anyone’s speech. It’s helping those professors and teachers in our schools that do not want to be sued for not using a certain person’s pronoun,” said its sponsor, Republican Rep. Mary Bentley, according to the Democrat-Gazette.
But Bentley admitted she didn’t know of any such incidents in Arkansas. There have been a very few incidents around the nation of teachers being fired or otherwise disciplined for failure to use students’ preferred names and pronouns.
Opponents of the bill said using the preferred terms shows respect. “That’s one of the simplest decencies that we can give someone. … That’s not hard,” Democratic Rep. Fred Love said. “That’s not difficult. That’s just a bit of decency and a bit of respect, and I think that’s what we need to do.”
Richelle Brittain, a transgender activist and recent graduate of the William H. Bowen School of Law at University of Arkansas at Little Rock, testified against the bill in a committee hearing Tuesday. “This bill targets trans kids. It is aimed at protecting intentional misgendering of our kids,” Brittain said, further noting that it violates federal law. President Joe Biden’s administration has said Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which bans sex discrimination in education, bans anti-trans discrimination as well.
Bentley, however, has called for actions that go beyond HB 1749, claiming some students want to identify as animals. “We have a real issue in our state, and I need our districts to take a look at this and do more than this bill does,” she said. “This bill is just a first step to help protect our teachers, but when we have students in school now that don’t identify as a boy or a girl but as a cat, as a furry, we have issues.” Furries are people who enjoy costuming themselves as animals.
Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson has expressed doubts about the legislation. “This bill is unnecessary,” he said in a statement released Thursday, according to the Democrat-Gazette. “I am requesting my Department of Education to further evaluate.”
Hutchinson is getting criticized from the right for his veto of another anti-trans bill, this one denying gender-affirming health care to trans minors. The legislature overrode his veto. He has signed another anti-trans bill into law — barring trans student-athletes from competing under their gender identity — in addition to signing a more broadly anti-LGBTQ+ bill, allowing health care workers to opt out of procedures that violate their religious or moral beliefs.
Fox News host Tucker Carlson this week claimed that Hutchinson vetoed the health care bill to curry favor with Arkansas-based Walmart, in hopes of joining the company’s board. The Walton Family Foundation, run by heirs of Walmart founder Sam Walton, had spoken out against the legislation. Hutchinson called Carlson’s comments “baseless claims without any evidence or truth to back them up.”
Hutchinson was also blasted by Donald Trump, who termed the governor a “lightweight RINO,” an acronym for “Republican in Name Only,” who failed to ban “the chemical castration of children.” Trump is supporting his former White House press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, in her run for the Republican nomination for Arkansas governor in 2022. Hutchinson isn’t eligible to run again due to term limits. Sanders is the daughter of former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.