‘Goal Is to Protect Children,’ Lead Sponsor of Arkansas’ Transgender Bill Says

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Arkansas has just become the first state in the country to pass legislation protecting minors from being prescribed puberty blockers or gender-hormone treatments, or from receiving gender-change surgery.

Arkansas state Rep. Robin Lundstrum, the lead sponsor for the bill, joins the “Problematic Women” podcast to explain why the passage of the legislation is a victory for children and families. Lundstrum also explains why she thinks the bill has faced so much opposition from the political left. 

Also on today’s show, we talk with Heritage Foundation senior adviser and spokesperson Genevieve Wood about Major League Baseball’s decision to move the All-Star Game from Atlanta after the passage of the new election integrity law in Georgia. Wood also discusses a now-deleted Easter tweet from Sen. Raphael Warnock, D-Ga., and why the grocery store chain Publix is speaking out against “60 Minutes.” 

And as always, we’ll be crowning our “Problematic Woman of the Week.”

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Listen to the podcast below or read the lightly edited transcript. 

Virginia Allen: I am so pleased to be joined by Arkansas state Rep. Robin Lundstrum. Rep. Lundstrum, thank you so much for being here.

State Rep. Robin Lundstrum: Thank you for having me.

Allen: You are the lead sponsor of the Save Adolescents From Experimentation, or SAFE, Act. And over the past week or so, we have heard a lot in the news about this act and we’re going to get into the politics of it in just a moment. But first, could you just tell us a little bit about what this bill will do?

Lundstrum: What this bill will do is it will protect adolescents from experimentation when it comes to sex-change procedures, both chemically and surgically, and that’s all the bill does.

It doesn’t take away any health care. It doesn’t take away counseling. It just stops cross-sex hormones from being given to children and then when they’re 18, they can make those decisions. And that’s very important to give them time to make good decisions when it comes to their health.

Allen: This bill has been through quite the political process. The Arkansas State House and Senate passed the legislation at the end of March, then Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, he vetoed the bill. But on Tuesday, the Arkansas Legislature overrode the governor’s veto and passed the bill, making Arkansas the first state to pass and implement this kind of legislation.

What was the process like for you and why was it important to override the governor’s veto?

Lundstrum: First of all, I didn’t know the veto was coming until the governor called me Monday and I never would have imagined seven or eight months ago when this started that it would be the roller coaster ride that it has turned out to be.

I knew it would be difficult. I had no illusions there. But never did I think it would make this type of twist and turn because the whole goal is to protect children. It’s not anti-anyone. It’s simply saying, “Let’s pump the brakes. Let’s not do anything to adolescents during puberty that would harm them, harm their growth, harm them.”

Cardiovascular disease is an issue. Obviously, this will stunt growth and obviously, this impacts their brain development. So to me, protecting adolescents is the whole goal.

When it passed the House, it passed the House with 70 votes—and, actually, a couple of the co-sponsors couldn’t be there that day, so it would have been a little bit higher—and had 22 “no” votes and eight that were not in voting that just either couldn’t be there for some reason or another, just didn’t vote. And then when it went to the Senate, it had 28 Senate votes.

So, it was pretty overwhelming. That’s a really good indication that a lot of people in Arkansas are concerned about adolescents.

So when it landed on the governor’s desk, he has time to look at all the bills and to contemplate and that’s good. And he chose to veto. And once the governor issues a letter of veto, then there’s a very specific orchestrated process of overriding a veto because that is very serious and it’s something that’s not taken lightly.

You go to the, well, once the governor’s letter is read and you present your case to the body, and then the body decides whether or not to override the veto. And that usually happens pretty quickly. And we actually had 72 votes to override the veto, 24 no’s, and then it immediately went to the Senate floor where it received 25 votes. And the veto was overridden.

Allen: That is such a large majority for both of the votes that took place in the state House and the Senate. Do you think that that support that we’ve seen in the Arkansas Legislature is representative of how the people of your state feel about this bill?

Lundstrum: Yes, I do. People want to protect children and I think that’s people on both sides of the aisle.

I know people have made this a political agenda. It’s not. Children deserve to be protected and we protect children from the moment they’re born. You can’t take a child home from the hospital without a car seat.

And in Arkansas, we don’t allow the child to drink until 21. And you can’t have a tattoo. You can’t rent an apartment, can’t open a bank account, can’t buy cough syrup or a can of spray paint. And you can’t even change your name.

Why would we allow them to alter their body chemically or surgically in such a drastic fashion that you can’t take back? I think someday we’re going to have some children looking back and wondering where all the adults were. So there we are.

Allen: Gov. Hutchinson, he said he vetoed the bill because it constitutes a legislative overreach. Why do you disagree with the governor?

Lundstrum: Well, we make decisions all the time in the Legislature to put down markers about what we want to do as far as protecting children, health care, schools. We make decisions all the time, whether it’s a speed limit or something much more substantive as protecting children.

I don’t think it’s a legislative overreach for us to say, “No, you can’t harm a child,” because this is not a [Food and Drug Administration]-approved drug.

When you give a puberty blocker to a 13- or 14-year-old, and then you give cross-sex hormones to that 13- or 14-year-old, you are altering that child’s body and it has long-term implications. And these drugs aren’t approved to do that with the child.

So, we need to put down something and say, “No, you can’t do that to a child.” Because this impacts the rest of their life. This isn’t something small, this is something large. And I think that’s something that we need a very serious thought process in protecting children.

People run into a burning building for one child. Why would we not have a serious debate for 200? And I think they’re worth it.

Allen: Right after the Arkansas state Legislature overrode the governor’s veto of the bill, the American Civil Liberties Union tweeted. They said, “The Arkansas legislature overrode Governor Hutchinson’s veto on HB 1570, a bill that would ban health care for trans youth. We are preparing litigation as we speak.”

What kind of legal battles do you expect moving forward around this legislation and maybe similar pieces of legislation?

Lundstrum: Well, they’re certainly entitled to do everything that they want to do. I would argue that we didn’t ban health care for anyone. I think that’s a lie. I think that’s a bold-faced lie that shows me they haven’t read the bill.

We haven’t taken away health care from anyone. We haven’t taken away counseling from anyone.

This isn’t health care to alter a child’s body and use an experimental process on a child’s body. There are going to be children someday that are going to turn around as adults and sue doctors for experimenting on them. And they’re going to wonder where the doctors, where the adults, and where their parents were.

My heart goes out to parents. They’re being put in a terrible situation. They’re being told that their child is suicidal if they don’t do that and that is simply not true. There are children that need counseling. Gender dysphoria and gender distress is a truly medical situation. They need counseling and care, not experimentation.

Allen: So what would you say to someone who would argue that this bill is cruel to minors who are struggling with gender dysphoria, who are struggling with their own gender?

Lundstrum: This bill doesn’t take away their health care. … I want them to go get counseling. They need counseling. Most kids that struggle with gender distress, about 85% to 95% if left alone will come out of that on their own, but with counseling, their outcomes improved tremendously.

So why would we not give them counseling and let them work through the process and give them counseling skills and skills to overcome this and skills to work through the process? Why in the world would we give them medications that aren’t meant for that?

And transgender children have a 19 times higher suicide rate than their peers. That should be alarming. And one of the reasons that they do is because of the drugs that we put in these children. That’s scary to me.

I think that as an American and as a mom, that’s horrifying. We should see these kids as precious and as valuable, not as something to experiment on.

Allen: Are there other states that are considering similar legislation?

Lundstrum: Yes. There are about 18 other states that are also looking at this legislation or running this legislation. We just happened to be the first one to say that children are important enough to stand up [for] and take the slings and arrows and stand up for children.

I think that’s something to be proud of. I think that’s something to let those kids know that you’re worth standing up for.

Allen: Representative, before we let you go, I just want to give you the final word. You are the lead sponsor of the Save Adolescents From Experimentation, or SAFE, Act. Why was this an issue that was so important for you?

Lundstrum: I think standing by and watching children be harmed and not doing something is wrong. And I think as legislators when we see something wrong and we don’t act, it’s on us.

And I want to encourage those parents and those children out there that we see you, we care about you. And hopefully, this will help and someday these children can grow up and make their own decisions and they’ll have healthy bodies to make those decisions with.

Allen: Excellent. Representative, thank you for your time.

Lundstrum: Oh, thank you. Thank you for having me and thank you for doing your research and including me.

It’s been really disheartening to see people like the ACLU put out that we’ve closed off health care or removed health care and counseling. That’s the last thing I want to see for this group of kids, just needs a lot of love and needs real health care, and it’s just disheartening when they put stuff like that out.

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