LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KTHV) – On Monday, advocates for the LGBT community gathered on the State Capitol steps to denounce anti-LGBT legislation in both the Arkansas House and Senate.
House Bill 1986 and Senate Bill 774 are among the bills that target transgender Arkansans by establishing strict bathroom guidelines.
HB 1986, sponsored by state representative Bob Ballinger from Berryville, amends language in the indecent exposure statue that LGBT activists claim target transgender individuals. The Republican bill would bar individuals from “knowingly exposing his or her sex organs to a person of the opposite biological sex” in public place or in public view. Currently, Arkansas law bars a person from exposing his or her sex organs “with the purpose to arouse or gratify a sexual desire.” While the bill expands the definition of “indecent exposure,” the bill does not clarify how one’s biological sex should be determined.
The National Center for Transgender Equality, the Human Rights Campaign, and the American Civil Liberties Union have stated there is no statistical evidence of violence to justify such a law.
“Let us set aside this unnecessary, divisive, and discriminatory attempt to target transgender Americans and Arkansans and work together to move Arkansas forward for a change,” said Rita Sklar, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas.
The Arkansas House passed HB1986 by a 65 – 3 margin on March 17. The bill now awaits a hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee.
SB 774, or the Arkansas Physical Privacy and Safety Act, also awaits a vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee. Republican state senator Linda Collins-Smith’s bill would restrict bathroom or changing room access to individuals whose gender matches the sign on the facility.
Verizon Arena and the Little Rock Convention and Visitors Bureau recently announced their opposition to the bill, claiming that it would negatively impact tourism, as a House Bill 2, a similar “bathroom bill,” did in North Carolina.
The bill states that an individual’s gender refers to “immutable biological sex as objectively determined by anatomy and genetics existing at the time of birth.”
The bill clarifies that the individual’s birth certificate could be used to establish his or her gender.
However, House Bill 1894 would prohibit Arkansans from altering their birth certificates to amend their gender. Current law allows those who underwent gender reassignment surgery and changed their name to amend their birth certificate to reflect their gender.
State representative Mickey Gates defended his proposed bill, claiming that birth certificates should remain permanent, warning simple gender alterations on the documents would throw society "into chaos.”
"Just because you have the right to identify doesn't mean the state is obligated to recognize the way you feel,” said Gates, a Republican from Hot Springs. "So, what happens if you have a guy? He’s 24-years-old, and he decides he wants to be a 14-year-old guy," Gates theorized, "so that he can have sex with a 14-year-old girl? Will that not be rape?”
However, Gates’ bill does not address altering the age listed on a birth certificate, only an individual’s gender. In further defense, he incorrectly stated that currently a teacher could change his or her gender “overnight” and therefore threaten students.
HB 1894 originally failed in the House Committee on Public Health, Welfare, and Labor, but was reintroduced for consideration on Monday.
Thus, if SB 774 and HB1894 both become law, transgender Arkansans would be forced to use the bathroom corresponding to the now unalterable gender listed on their birth certificate, even if they no longer possess those sexual organs. If HB 1986 were also to become law, those same transgender Arkansans could be prosecuted if the bathroom they would now be forced to use does not provide adequate privacy, and their sexual organs were exposed to a member of the opposite gender.
LGBT activists in Arkansas also suffered another blow Monday, when the Senate Judiciary Committee rejected Senate Bill 580.
State senator Joyce Elliott, a Democrat from Little Rock, proposed the bill, which would allow married same-sex couples to list the names of both spouses on their children's birth certificates without a court order. Elliot’s bill would have only changed the presumption of parentage, using the word “spouse” instead of a gendered pronoun.
In 2016, the Arkansas Supreme Court ruled that Pulaski County Circuit Court Judge Tim Fox should not have found Arkansas’s birth certificate law unconstitutional. Fox originally ruled that the current law violates the legality of same-sex marriage affirmed by the United States Supreme Court’s ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges. Arkansas’s highest court said that "to acknowledge basic biological truths" does not violate the Equal Protection clause.
In a dissent, Justice Paul Danielson wrote that listing a parent's name on a birth certificate is a right, which should be extended to same-sex couples.
The attorneys in the case have petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court reconsider the ruling.