The Reporter (Lansdale, PA)

Trans people face ‘horrifying’ rhetoric at statehouse­s

- By Andrew Demillo

LITTLE ROCK, ARK. >> It was pharmacist Gwendolyn Herzig’s first time testifying before a legislativ­e committee when she spoke to several Arkansas lawmakers in a packed hearing room this month about a bill restrictin­g gender-affirming care for minors.

Herzig, who is transgende­r, spoke out against the legislatio­n and told the panel that one of the biggest obstacles trans people face is a lack of empathy. Only a few minutes later, a Republican lawmaker asked her an inappropri­ate question about her body.

“It was horrifying,” she said.

The exchange, which was livestream­ed on the Legislatur­e’s website and has since been widely shared on social media, is an example of the type of demeaning questions and rhetoric that transgende­r people meet when they show up to statehouse­s to testify against new bills targeting their rights.

In South Dakota, a lawmaker invoked “furries” — people who dress up as animals — when talking about gender-affirming care. In Montana, a legislator compared parents supporting their children in finding treatment to asking doctors to carry out medically assisted suicide.

‘Strangers in power’

Advocates worry that increasing­ly hostile rhetoric about transgende­r people could have a chilling effect on those who want to speak out against new restrictio­ns and could do lasting damage to a community of trans youth that is already marginaliz­ed.

“I feel like that’s what they’re trying to do, to keep us from coming and exercising this right that we have,” said Rumba Yambu, executive director of Intransiti­ve, an advocacy and support group for transgende­r people in Arkansas. “Because who wants to go and be asked about their (bodies) in front of a bunch of strangers? Especially strangers in power.”

So far this year, at least 150 bills targeting transgende­r people have been introduced, which is the highest in a single year, according to the Human Rights Campaign.

Bans on gender-affirming care for minors have already been enacted this year in South Dakota and Utah, and Republican governors in Tennessee and Mississipp­i are expected to sign similar bans into law. Arkansas and Alabama have bans that were temporaril­y blocked by federal judges.

The push has included efforts in some states to restrict gender-affirming care for adults and proposed bans on drag shows that opponents have warned would also discrimina­te against transgende­r people.

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