Arizona Senate Advances Bills Targeting Transgender Students, ‘Gender Pronouns’ in Books | Phoenix New Times
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Arizona Senate Advances Bills Targeting Transgender Students, ‘Gender Pronouns’ in Books

Republicans in the Arizona Senate are one step closer to banning books that "promote gender pronouns" and banning trans students from school bathrooms.
A transgender pride flag is carried during a protest against anti-LGBTQ legislation at the Arizona State Capitol on January 22.
A transgender pride flag is carried during a protest against anti-LGBTQ legislation at the Arizona State Capitol on January 22. Matt Hennie
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In 2013, then-Representative John Kavanagh, a Republican, introduced his first attempt at a “bathroom bill” that would criminalize transgender people for using restrooms that match their gender identity. That bill was flushed away following national outrage.

A decade later, Kavanagh — now a state senator — hasn’t stopped attacking trans people.

Following a 4-2 party-line vote Wednesday, the Senate Education Committee advanced SB 1040 to a full Senate vote. Kavanagh’s bill again targets the use of restrooms by transgender people in schools and allows individuals to sue if they encounter trans people in school bathrooms.

Republican Senators Sine Kerr, Steve Kaiser, Justine Wadsack, and Ken Bennett voted to pass the bill. Democratic Senators Christine Marsh and Sally Ann Gonzales voted against it. Democratic Senator Catherine Miranda did not vote.

SB 1040 would require public schools to provide single-occupancy restrooms and locker rooms for students who are unable or unwilling to use communal facilities. Additionally, public schools could be sued if a student uses a designated facility that is not consistent with what the bill refers to as one’s “immutable biological sex.”

SB 1040’s advancement is another troubling moment in a legislative session that has been marked by several proposed anti-LGBTQ bills, including a measure banning books that also received a hearing on Wednesday.

“I am deeply concerned that this bill is fundamentally discriminatory and will result in further discrimination of students who are transgender,” said Elijah Watson, a Democratic advocate with Keep Arizona Blue. “This will only lead to an extension of the already normalized marginalization of transgender students. This bill is a step backward and will only lead to an increase in discrimination against transgender students.”

Critics of the bill pointed out that the bill would “other” trans people — a goal of several anti-trans bills successfully moving their way through the legislative process in Arizona right now — rather than acknowledge them as men and women.

Those who spoke in favor of SB 1040 included Robert Wallace, who heads up Arizona’s chapter of the anti-trans hate group Gays Against Groomers. Wallace equated being transgender to having a disability, saying that “people with special needs should be given special accommodations so they feel safe.”

While Kavanagh did not directly address Wallace’s argument, he offered that, “this bill attempts to balance the modesty needs of students who are uncomfortable being in the same facility with a person of a different biological sex. Especially in a shower, where a person is completely naked.”

Kavanagh also asserted that, “modesty is a basic universal and historic human instinct. It goes back to Adam and Eve hiding behind the bush. Especially females, where an issue of protection comes in when she is naked.”

Throughout Wednesday’s hearing, Kavanagh referenced unsubstantiated claims that school-aged girls were refusing to use the bathrooms at school over fears of encountering transgender people.

“I think it’s a real tragedy to make a 14-year-old biological female stand next to an 18-year-old biological male naked in the shower,” Kavanagh said, without providing any evidence of such an event happening in Arizona schools. “It’s shocking.”

Marsh called Kavanagh’s concern “an issue that’s not really an issue.” She questioned why lawmakers shouldn’t target the few students who would be uncomfortable sharing a bathroom with transgender classmates.

“I really fear the outcome” of this bill, she said. “That population already tends to suffer from isolation.”

Senate Committee Passes Book Ban

At the same Senate Education Committee meeting on Wednesday, Republican senators passed SB 1700 by a 4-3 party-line vote. Kerr, Kaiser, Wadsack, and Bennett voted in favor of the bill. Marsh, Gonzales, and Miranda voted against it.

The lengthy bill cosponsored by Wadsack and Republican Representatives Rachel Jones and Cory McGarr promises to usher in a new era of book banning.

Under the bill, parents and guardians of children enrolled in public schools can review and request the removal of digital and hard copy library books and textbooks based on several criteria:
  • A parent finds the book to be lewd or sexual in nature.
  • The book promotes gender fluidity or gender pronouns.
  • The book promotes the grooming of children into normalizing pedophilia.
Wadsack said she wants to ban “books about masturbation, mutual masturbation. Talking about penis and vagina.”

A proposed list of books to be banned has not yet surfaced, but if Arizona follows the lead of Texas and Florida, classics such as The Great Gatsby and The Catcher in the Rye could be on the chopping block. Nationally, more than 1,600 books were banned in the 2021-2022 school year.

“These books are not appropriate in schools,” Wadsack said. “Students don’t need to be hearing about their best friend’s erection or what it felt like in their hand.”

Failed school superintendent candidate Shiry Sapir and former Illinois state Representative Allen Skillicorn, as well as anti-trans groups such as Gays Against Groomers and Protect Arizona Children Coalition, supported Wadsack’s bill.

Although more than 500 people opposed the measure, after more than four hours of testimony on other controversial bills, Bennett allowed only a single person from each side to testify.

“Books like these provide valuable insight into the human experience,” Keep Arizona Blue’s Elijah Watson testified in opposition. “By banning books that are deemed as sexual, it would be preventing necessary discussions about the need of consent in sexual relationships. This is not only irresponsible, it is dangerous.”

Local resident Leslie Shepherd said that “the overwhelming majority of gay people” are in favor of banning these books but didn’t offer any evidence to support her claim. Then she confusingly shifted the issue to race.

“Our community that once preached love and acceptance has been hijacked by racial activists that are pushing extremist positions into society and specifically targeting children,” Shepherd said.

SB 1700 will now advance to the full Senate for consideration.
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