A fight for transgender rights: Arkansas passes the SAFE Act

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Muskan Basnet

The implications of the SAFE Act in Arkansas will be felt by the transgender community and their allies greatly as the bigotry against the LBGTQ+ community worsens.

Muskan Basnet, Copy Editor

Identity is a crucial part of everyone’s life. Various things we are composed of make up our identity; it is who we are. Protecting that identity is important for many, and health care is one way to do that. Whether it be a typical checkup or a life saving surgery, health care is crucial. However, there has been an attack against transgender youth’s access to healthcare that will change many people’s lives forever. 

Recently, a new Arkansas bill banning gender-affirming care for transgender youth called the Save Adolescents From Experimentation Act, or the SAFE Act, was approved by both the House and Senate.

Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson vetoed the bill April 5, claiming that it would be too much of an interference with parents, doctors and youth. However, quickly after, the House voted to override the governor’s veto.

The bill discusses the issues with gender-affirming care for minors. It highlights Arkansas’ desire to ensure the safety of its citizens, especially its “vulnerable children.”

One of the main points that this bill discusses is that the percentage of people who struggle with their gender identity is small. Even within that small percentage of people, there are many who have some sort of mental disorder, and Arkansas believes that that is a major aspect that needs to be taken into consideration. 

They also explain that there is minimal research done on the use of puberty blockers, yet they are still being prescribed. The bill goes on to explain the risks of hormone drugs and gender reassignment surgeries. 

This bill will prevent transgender youth from receiving proper gender-affirming care, such as puberty blockers and cross-hormone therapy. The transgender youth will not be able to prevent the onset of puberty or receive hormones that will aid with the transition process. 

It is important to understand and discuss the implication of bills like this. There is a large population of youth whose mental and physical health are being threatened with the passing of a bill like this. 

Sophomore Alexa Schneider stressed the danger that banning these rights are for young adults. “Limiting the rights of young adults will lead to more dangerous methods of receiving these treatments and make it more difficult for individuals to transition as they age,” she expressed.

This bill is not only controversial, but it is highly detrimental to youth in Arkansas. Denying this type of care so early on in youth can cause more problems than it intended to solve. 

Things like puberty blockers are crucial for adolescents trying to explore gender identity. Planned Parenthood explains puberty blockers as “medicines that prevent puberty from happening. They work by blocking the hormones — testosterone and estrogen — that lead to puberty-related changes in your body. This stops things like periods and breast growth, or voice-deepening and facial hair growth.”

Without these, adolescents have to deal with unwanted changes in and on their body, leading to further confusion and identity issues. Time is an important aspect of puberty blockers, as they cannot reverse any changes; they can only prevent them. 

Junior Lila Teitle believes that children deserve the right to their bodily autonomy. “It is important to allow young adults to explore their own gender identity and validate their viewpoints. Their opinions matter; they know what they are talking about, and they should be able to determine their own identity,” she said.

While many might argue that the use of these medications at such a young age is not a good idea, it is important to recognize that they are only temporary; they allow transgender youth more time to explore gender identity. 

This will directly impact the issue of gender dysphoria within the transgender community. Having gender dysphoria means wanting to live a life that correlates with their gender identity. While gender dysphoria is not a mental illness, it does often cause mental health issues. 

Junior Claire Horsfield is frustrated with the unaddressed implications of the SAFE Act. “The transgender community is constantly underfire because people simply hate them because they exist. It is disgusting to see how legislation is going to dictate the identity of children and harm their mental health,” she stated.

While everyone struggles with identity in varying ways, it is important to understand how specific legislation, like the SAFE Act, can impact transgender youth’s fight with identity. The mental health impacts are just as important as impacts to their physical health. Navigating through identity is a crucial aspect of adolescence; gender identity is included in that journey. 

With newer gender identities becoming more accepted in society, children can have more ease with gender exploration. However, with legislation preventing that, children will struggle more with gender identity and feel more confused during their developmental stages.

Additionally, the name of the bill is Save Adolescents From Experimentation Act, which already says a lot about the bill itself. The bill explains that minors need to be “saved” from gender transition processes because they are experiments.

This bill might claim to make decisions for the safety of children, but it is only impacting transgender youth negatively. The bill discusses the physical health of minors but fails to take into consideration the mental health of minors. The disregard for the mental health aspect of gender identity is a highly detrimental factor of this bill.

Additionally, the bill claimed, “Only a small percentage of the American population experiences distress at identifying with their biological sex.” This insinuates that because it is a small percentage of people, their struggle does not matter. Regardless of the fact that many children are struggling with gender identity and gender dysphoria, the issue itself needs to be addressed through proper gender-affirming care.

Mental health is already an issue that is not addressed sufficiently; acknowledging the mental health struggles that transgender people go through because of gender dysphoria, body dysmorphia and discrimination is the first step to helping the transgender community. It is vital that transgender youth have access to the healthcare they desperatetly need in order to actually keep them safe from the mental harm without it.