GOP bill barring preferred pronoun use in Arizona schools passes Senate
Pleas from parents & warnings from Senate attorneys that it’s illegal were ignored
Arizona Republican lawmakers on Wednesday unanimously backed a measure that critics warn would harm trans students, ignoring pleas from parents and students to reject it, and in spite of its unconstitutionality and guaranteed veto.
“This bill violates trust, eliminates the only safe haven some students have and allows bigotry in the name of religion,” the mother of a trans student wrote in a letter imploring lawmakers to defeat the proposal. “Let’s not be the state that willingly harms already disenfranchised students.”
The anonymous letter, along with several others, were read by Democratic lawmakers on the Senate floor in opposition to Senate Bill 1001, which passed on a 16-12 vote, supported only by Republicans. The bill bans the use of preferred pronouns inconsistent with a student’s biological sex, or names that aren’t rooted in the one that appears on official school documents.
Written parental permission would be required to circumvent those rules, but even that would be no guarantee: Teachers who have a “religious or moral conviction” would be allowed to defy that request.
On Monday, legislative attorneys warned the measure is unlikely to pass legal muster, given that the U.S. Supreme Court in 2020 ruled in Bostock v. Clayton County that gender identity is protected under the Civil Rights Act of 1964. And, the anonymous mother added in a letter read by Tucson Democrat Priya Sundareshan, the Title IX Education Amendments of 1972 prohibit federally funded schools from engaging in sex discrimination, which the U.S. Department of Education has interpreted to include gender identity.
Trans youth warned that the proposal threatens to further stigmatize them, takes away a welcoming environment that many of them depend on and threatens to negatively affect their academic performance. Research from GLSEN, a pro-LGBTQ education organization, found that absenteeism rates decline when students feel supported in their classrooms. Other studies have found that gender-affirming care, which often includes preferred pronoun use, gives youth a greater sense of belonging, which contributes to lower rates of suicide risk.
“A school should be a safe place where you’re welcomed, and where you’re accepted. If my school didn’t use my pronouns, it would be like I did not exist,” an 8th grader wrote to Sen. Raquel Terán, D-Phoenix.
Democrats slammed the measure as an attempt to score political points at the expense of vulnerable youth. And that effort has dire consequences: surveys conducted by the Trevor Project, an organization focused on suicide prevention among LGBTQ youth, concluded that discriminatory legislation negatively impacts the mental health of trans and nonbinary people, and may increase the rates at which they contemplate suicide — which are already disproportionately high.
“Caught in the crosshairs of elected officials’ divisive political strategy are vulnerable kids who are simply trying to navigate their adolescence,” said Sen. Christine Marsh, D-Phoenix.
“These students just want to feel comfortable as they learn. They’re not involved in some culture war, they’re not trying to score points,” added Sen. Juan Mendez, D-Tempe. “This proposal sacrifices students and their ability to learn in a safe space simply to make legislators feel more comfortable, and that’s a selfish shame that we bring to this state.”
Republican lawmakers bristled at the accusations, defending the bill as a protection of parental rights — despite the fact that it includes a carveout that would essentially allow school employees to override the will of parents. Schools and teachers, GOP senators claimed, have gone too far by concealing the gender identities of students from their families.
“The Arizona Parents’ Bill of Rights reserves parental rights to a parent of a minor child without interference,” rebutted Glendale Republican Anthony Kern. “(This bill) puts the rights of the parents back into the hands of the parents and away from the teachers and school officials.
Sen. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, who sponsored the measure, argued that it’s intended to protect trans students, not target them. He noted that gender dysphoria, a condition wherein a person suffers distress because their gender identity is incongruent with their biological sex, is often associated with higher rates of depression, and parents should be informed so that they might seek professional help.
“I think it’s dangerous to a child to purposely hide that information,” he said. “The parents need to know if their child is in emotional and psychological turmoil to the point where they could be suicidal.”
Gender dysphoria and the degree of social acceptance are closely tied, and the Mayo Clinic states that young adults without gender affirming care — which can include supportive therapy, hormone treatments or even correct pronoun use — are at a higher risk of contemplating suicide.
The proposal is destined to meet Gov. Katie Hobbs’ veto stamp. Her chief of staff, Allie Bones, dismissed it as dead on arrival after its first hearing in January, and spokeswoman Josselyn Berry told the Arizona Mirror that anti-trans bills are nothing more than a waste of time.
“The Legislature should be spending its time on real issues, not spreading hate against the transgender community,” she said.
If you or someone you know is struggling with thoughts of suicide, call 1-866-488-7386 or text START to 678-678 to reach the Trevor Project’s LGBTQ+ Suicide Prevention Lifeline, or call 800-273-8255 (TALK) to speak with a representative of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
This report was first published by the Arizona Mirror.