Arizona Republican Gov. Doug Ducey refused to answer reporters’ questions about whether transgender people actually exist after signing two laws dealing with transgender rights into law on March 29.
The first measure bars transgender athletes at the middle, high school, and collegiate levels, from competing on sports teams that match their gender identity, requiring all students in public or private schools to play only on teams that align with their assigned sex at birth.
The second measure prohibits transgender youth from undergoing surgery to treat gender dysphoria before the age of 18. However, unlike similar restrictions floated in other states, it does not explicitly restrict the ability of trans youth to access puberty blockers or hormone therapy.
Ducey called both bills “common-sense and narrowly targeted to address these two specific issues while ensuring that transgender individuals continue to receive the same dignity, respect, and kindness as every individual in our society.”
At a press conference on March 30, Ducey defended the bills, but refrained from answering a reporter’s question of whether transgender people actually exist, reports NBC News.
“I’m going to ask you to read the legislation and to see that the legislation that we passed was in the spirit of fairness to protect girls’ sports in competitive situations,” Ducey said, referring to the transgender sports ban. “That’s what the legislation is intended to do, and that’s what it does.”
Reporters then asked the governor if he believed there are “actual transgender people,” to which he responded, “I…am going to respect everyone, and I’m going to respect everyone’s rights. And I’m going to protect female sports. And that’s what the legislation does.”
Bridget Sharpe, the Arizona state director for the Human Rights Campaign, which had testified against the bills when they were considered by the Legislature, called Ducey’s reply “appalling.”
“It’s quite shocking that he can’t even address trans people or even say that he thinks they exist,” Sharpe said.
Ducey has previously claimed that the ban on surgery is necessary to prevent minors from making decisions that they may later regret, such as undergoing irreversible surgery that could affect an individual’s ability “to become a biological parent later in life.”
Ducey signed the two transgender bills along with other legislation favored by Arizona Republicans, including a measure that bans abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy.
The American Civil Liberties Union has raised the possibility of lawsuits challenging the surgery ban on the grounds that it imposes a one-size-fits-all solution, instead of being based on an individual’s own needs or development. LGBTQ advocates have previously sued over nearly identical bans on transgender athletes in other states, with judges in Idaho and West Virginia blocking those state’s bans from taking effect.
“A vast majority of Arizonans believe in the right to abortion and want to ensure trans youth have every opportunity to thrive,” Darrell Hill, the policy director for the ACLU of Arizona, said in a statement. “The legislators who supported these bills know that their transphobic, anti-choice agenda is misaligned with the will of their constituents. Simultaneously passing voting restrictions is an easy solution to carry on without answering to the people they are supposed to represent.”