United States

Arkansas Governor Defies Federal Transgender Protection Rules

Arkansas Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders has declared that the state will not comply with federal regulations aimed at safeguarding transgender students' rights.

Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders speaks at a news conference next to former Kentucky swimmer Riley Gaines at the state Capitol in Little Rock, Ark., Thursday, May 2, 2024. Photo: AP

In a defiant move against federal regulation aimed at safeguarding transgender students' rights, Arkansas Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders declared on Thursday that the state would not adhere to the new rules. This decision aligns Arkansas with other Republican-led states that are choosing to defy the recently implemented regulations.

Sanders solidified her stance by signing an executive order, asserting that Arkansas schools will maintain existing restrictions on transgender students' access to bathrooms and pronoun usage, measures that could potentially conflict with the new guidelines concerning Title IX enforcement.

Addressing reporters at a news conference held at the state Capitol, Sanders delivered a clear message to President Joe Biden and the federal government: "We will not comply."

The federal regulation, finalized last month, aims to clarify Title IX, a significant 1972 law originally enacted to address gender discrimination, particularly in educational institutions receiving federal funding. The new rules explicitly prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, which Sanders denounced as a fundamental reinterpretation of the law.

Arkansas' decision to defy the federal regulation mirrors similar actions taken by several other states, including Texas and Oklahoma, instructing schools not to adhere to the new rules. Legal challenges have also emerged, with lawsuits filed in federal courts across Texas, Alabama, Louisiana, and Kentucky contesting the regulation. This multipronged approach increases the likelihood of one of these states securing a nationwide halt to the rule.

Sanders' executive order adds to Arkansas' recent efforts to limit the rights of transgender youth. The state is currently appealing a judge's ruling that struck down its pioneering ban on gender-affirming care for minors. Additionally, a group of transgender, nonbinary, and intersex residents has filed a lawsuit against the state for discontinuing the option to select "X" instead of male or female on state-issued driver's licenses and identification cards.

Critics, including Megan Bailey, spokesperson for the American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas, condemn Sanders' order as a blatant defiance of anti-discrimination laws and an aggressive attack on LGBTQ rights in the state.

Sanders' order instructs the state education department to provide schools with specific guidance, emphasizing that Arkansas law must be upheld at all times. Beyond regulations concerning bathrooms and pronouns, the order references Arkansas' legislation governing transgender athletes' participation in sports. Notably, the Biden administration's new rules offer broad protection against sex-based discrimination but do not address transgender athletes specifically.

Brandon Wolf, senior director of political communications and national press secretary for the LGBTQ advocacy group Human Rights Campaign, warned of potential repercussions, including a significant loss in funding, resulting from the state's refusal to comply.

In response, Sanders asserted that Arkansas would pursue legal action to mitigate any financial consequences arising from the new regulations, signaling a determination to stand firm against federal mandates.