For many Arizonans, Gov. Doug Ducey’s State of the State address on January 11 suggested that with the new year, we would be seeing a new, more compassionate course of action from the state’s executive branch. His address before a joint legislative session had the boilerplate promises of a conservative stump speech, including deregulation and lower taxes, but he also promised funding for a backlog of untested rape kits and improved access to Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. It was hardly a 180-degree turn, but it was a gesture of even-handedness.
If Arizona’s governor won’t fight for LGBTQ rights, it’s time for citizens to put pressure on their legislators.
Hopes, though, were quickly dashed. Two weeks later, Gov. Ducey gave dismissive responses to the media about Arizona’s legal protections for members of the LGBTQ community. Questions were prompted by Ducey’s comments at a kickoff event for college basketball’s NCAA Men’s Final Four tournament, which Glendale will host in April. Last year, the NCAA withdrew events from North Carolina in response the state’s notorious “bathroom bill,” which required transgender people at government facilities to use bathrooms that correspond to their sex ascribed at birth, not the sex with which they identify. The law, House Bill 2, also blocked cities and other jurisdictions from passing anti-discrimination laws that exceed the protections offered by the state.
While Arizona has never passed a law modeled quite like North Carolina’s House Bill 2, the state has had its own controversial bills that were hostile to LGBTQ rights. In 2013, the Arizona Legislature considered a bathroom bill of its own — one that ultimately didn’t pass — which would have granted businesses the power to deny bathroom access to people based on their gender identity or expression. In 2014, Gov. Jan Brewer responded to pressure and vetoed a bill that would have allowed businesses to discriminate against LGBTQ customers, as long as they claimed their actions were motivated by religious beliefs. The Human Rights Campaign gives Arizona a mixed review on its scorecard, noting support for same-sex marriage licenses and gender changes on government-issued identification, but not for transgender health care and other important policy matters. In fact, a bill currently under consideration, House Bill 2294, would remove coverage for gender-affirming medical procedures from AHCCCS, Arizona’s Medicaid program.
At the January 25 event, Ducey said he did not believe the state’s lack of protections for LGBTQ people would cost the state any opportunities to host major national events. That may well be true. Dan Gavitt, an executive at the NCAA, noted that Arizona’s protections against race-, religion-, and sex-based discrimination did not extend to sexual or gender identity. However, he did not explain why the shortcomings in Arizona’s protections didn’t pose a deal-breaking conflict with the NCAA’s commitment to equality and inclusion.
It should go without saying, though, that the issue of discrimination has a relevance far beyond a state’s candidacy as a venue for sporting or cultural events. Discrimination itself is more than just an obstacle, inconvenience, or injustice in the lives of those it affects. It has an effect on their own health and well-being. Studies in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence and the American Journal of Public Health found a greater risk of mood disorders, anxiety, and symptoms of depression among LGBTQ people who resided in states where legislation was unsupportive or hostile to their rights. Likewise, the American Psychological Association has reported higher stress levels and poorer health among LGBTQ adults who experience discrimination.
Gov. Ducey commented, “Everyone knows I’m against discrimination in any form.” If that’s the case, now is the time for greater vigilance, as the election of a far-right president — with many noted ties to the white nationalist movement — has brought discrimination, harassment, and hate activity to the fore. Hundreds of incidents were reported to the Southern Poverty Law Center within the first 10 days of last year’s election. A hate message that was found on a car in North Carolina made the connection to the election clear: “Can’t wait until your ‘marriage’ is overturned by a real president.” On the night of the election itself, emboldened Trump supporters at a bar in Santa Monica, California, yelled homophobic slurs at Chris Ball, a Canadian film producer from Calgary. After the altercation, Ball was jumped and hit with a beer bottle while attempting to go to his car.
Vigilance, however, was not the theme of Ducey’s comments; instead, he added, “I’m not in the habit of telling the Legislature and other elected officials what they should be doing.’’ It’s time, then, for Arizona’s voters and activists to provide the leadership that their governor won’t.
An action Arizonans can take now is supporting SB 1320 and HB 2364, which Sen. Katie Hobbs and Rep. Rebecca Rios introduced to extend civil rights protections to veterans and LGBTQ Arizonans in employment, housing, and public accommodations. Readers can write, call, or tweet their state representatives and senator to support SB 1320 (the only bill to be assigned to committee at this time) and call Sen. Steve Smith at 602-926-5685 to ask that SB 1320 be scheduled for a hearing. Readers can also contact their representatives and senator to oppose HB 2294, the bill that bans AHCCCS coverage for gender confirmation surgeries.