On a party-line vote, the Senate Education Committee approved SB 1001 after a hearing. The proposal is sponsored by Republican Senator John Kavanagh, who is an eight-term lawmaker and quite possibly the state's worst.
The bill prohibits teachers and school officials from referring to students by pronouns that don't match their gender assigned at birth unless they have written parental permission. Even then, the bill allows preferred pronouns of students to be ignored if using them runs counter to the "religious or moral convictions" of school employees.
Twenty people showed up at the hearing to speak about the legislation, which critics said is another legislative attack on transgender children and will rob queer students of finding support in schools.
The committee passed the bill with a 4-3 vote. Republican Senators Steve Kaiser, Sine Kerr, Justine Wadsack, and Ken Bennett voted in favor of the bill. Democratic Senators Sally Ann Gonzales, Christine Marsh, and Catherine Miranda voted against it. The measure moves to the full Senate for consideration.
But if the bill makes it to Governor Katie Hobbs, it faces a near-certain veto. Hobbs’ chief of staff, Allie Bones, said the bill is dead on arrival. “I hope the Legislature doesn’t waste any more time on this,” Bones tweeted after the hearing.
Kavanagh has sponsored three other anti-LGBTQ bills this session:
• SB 1005, which allows parents to sue teachers and schools over allegations that they violated their parental rights. The bill also prohibits parents from being ordered to pay attorneys fees or damages if they lose the lawsuit. The Senate Judiciary Committee passed the bill on Thursday, according to the Arizona Mirror.
• SB 1026, which prohibits public money from being used to pay for “drag shows targeting minors.” The legislation was assigned to the Senate Government Committee on Tuesday.
• SB 1040, which targets the use of restrooms by transgender people in schools and allows individuals to sue if they encounter trans people in school bathrooms. The bill was initially scheduled for a hearing during the Senate Education Committee meeting on Wednesday but was later removed from the agenda.
Senator Anthony Kern, a Republican who was fired from a police job for lying, has sponsored two anti-LGBTQ bills:
• SB 1028, which would make it illegal to host drag performances at any public place where the show “could be viewed by a minor.” This would criminalize drag brunches, family drag shows, drag story hours, some musicals, and more. The bill was assigned to the Senate Judiciary Committee on January 10.
• SB 1030, which would require permits for drag shows and zone businesses that host them as an “adult-oriented business." The bill lumps drag performance in the same category as cabaret, adult entertainment, and sex work. It was assigned to the Senate Government Committee on January 10.
Trans Students Need ‘An Opportunity to Flourish’
Critics of SB 1001 worry that queer children who don’t have parental support at home will be robbed of the chance to find supportive adults at school. Research shows that transgender children who lack supportive adult role models are more likely to succumb to substance abuse, self-harm, and suicide.
Fen Davidson, a trans man from Tucson, made the trip to Phoenix on Wednesday to speak against Kavanagh's pronouns prohibition. Citing a lack of support as a child, Davidson said he attempted suicide at age 14.
“If transgender kids aren’t getting support at home, sometimes being at school gives them an opportunity to flourish,” Davidson told Phoenix New Times before the hearing. “If they’re not getting it at home or at school, then there’s nowhere where they can be themselves.”
Supporters of the bill have used the unfounded argument that gender dysphoria is a dangerous mental health condition. They also maintain that parents ought to dictate their child’s gender expression until the child turns 18, which is the age limit in Kavanagh's bill. Gender dysphoria is a medical diagnosis often required for people to undergo gender affirmation procedures.
Notable Republicans voiced their support, including failed state schools superintendent candidate Shiry Sapir; Robert Wallace, who heads up Arizona’s chapter of the national anti-LGBTQ group Gays Against Groomers; and new Peoria Unified School Board member Heather Rooks. During the hearing, Rooks confusingly asserted that “asking for preferred pronouns is asking someone to reveal their sexual attraction.”
Steve McEwen, a behavioral psychologist who has worked with children in juvenile detention centers and the Arizona Department of Child Safety, said that adopting new pronouns is nothing more than “a way to attract attention, to disrupt, and to take away the rights of people who are in school for academia.”
His comment drew applause and hoots from supporters in the audience. It also drew boos and scoffs from a group of transgender people and allies on the opposite side of the room, including Sadie Redfern, a fifth-grade teacher at Rogers Ranch School in Laveen.
Coming out as transgender led Redfern to experience trauma, loss of family, broken friendships, and loss of livelihood, she said. Redfern noted that two-thirds of LGBTQ students in Arizona said they struggle with absenteeism over feeling unsafe or unsupported at school. Kavanagh's bill could make that worse, critics argued.
“For LGBTQ students, finding a person to confide in can be very difficult,” Redfern told the committee. “All I got for my honesty was conversion therapy and no support from my family whatsoever then or now. I wonder what would have happened if someone at school would have been supportive of me and my pronouns.”
Lawmakers on the committee also pointed out loopholes in the bill concerning nicknames. Bennett, the committee chair, said friends in grade school called him “Conrad,” which is not his first or middle name. The nickname stemmed from an inside joke from his Spanish class. Bennett voted for the bill but said that doesn't mean he'll support it in the future, according to the Arizona Mirror.
Marsh, who has been a teacher for 33 years, pointed out another problem with the legislation. She goes by “Chris,” a common derivative of her name that’s also widely used as a reference to men.
Kavanagh laughed at Marsh’s concerns and quipped, “You found a loophole in the law, but I’m not going to lose sleep over it.”
The bill is about parental rights and student safety, Kavanagh maintained.
“Many of the students who have this identity issue suffer from depression, they suffer from anxiety, and some are even suicidal,” he told the committee. “This is what advocates of these so-called transgender youth say.”
The solution is “counseling and psychological care,” not acceptance, he said.
Kavanagh denied that parents may be likely to kick their child out of the house if they identify as transgender. He called that “a very cynical view of the American family.”
Democrats outside the hearing also criticized Kavanagh's bill.
“This type of despicable hate has no place in our community,” Maricopa County Democratic Party Chair Nancy Schriber said in a statement after the hearing. “Our legislators should be focused on delivering real solutions to the issues our public schools and students face, like equitable funding, mental health support, and providing resources to ensure that our public schools are places that every Arizona child can grow and succeed.”
Arizona Democratic Party Chair Raquel Terán said that children in the state are once again caught in the crosshairs of GOP lawmakers’ divisive political strategy.
“These Republican politicians are creating more discrimination and violence against transgender and non-binary children,” she said. “Our leaders should have zero tolerance for this kind of hate. Instead, they are inciting it.”