After Arizonans elected Gov. Katie Hobbs, Democrats in the statehouse had high hopes for the new session, but their proposals to support the LGBTQ community have been repeatedly thwarted by a Republican majority well into its second year of championing measures that take direct aim at LGBTQ Arizonans.
“Clearly, they’re not adjusting to a new day in our state — one where Katie Hobbs is our governor and any bill targeting our queer community will be vetoed,” promised Minority Leader Andrés Cano at a Feb. 9 press conference, eliciting cheers from LGBTQ Arizonans and advocates in attendance.
Cano lamented that Republican lawmakers continue to introduce discriminatory legislation. No less than four bills target and criminalize drag performances, and several others bar trans students from using school facilities that best match their gender identity, prohibit doctors from helping trans minors access hormone therapy, and restrict preferred pronoun use in schools.
Democrats, meanwhile, have sponsored legislation to repeal the transgender sports ban passed last year, outlaw conversion therapy, enshrine same-sex marriage protections in the Arizona Constitution and expand gender options on government documents. But Republicans, who have a one-vote majority in each legislative chamber and determine which bills get heard, have refused to put any of them up for a vote.
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Cano has introduced House Bill 2703, which would add sexual orientation and gender identity to the list of characteristics Arizonans can’t be discriminated against in housing, employment and other public accommodations. Last month, Hobbs issued an executive order to that effect for state employees, which prompted immediate backlash and threats of a lawsuit from Republican lawmakers.
Cano doesn’t expect his bill will get a much warmer welcome — this time.
“This legislation is likely to not move in the Republican legislature,” he told the Arizona Mirror. “But in 2024, when we flip this place (and win the majority), and we send a strong message that humanity and dignity will prevail, I hope to be having a different conversation.”
Despite its likely doomed fate, the measure inspired LGBTQ Arizonans to gather at the state Capitol on Feb. 9 in support and urge lawmakers to take action.
Daniel Trujillo, a 15-year-old transgender advocate who has become a fixture at legislative hearings of anti-trans proposals, lauded the bill as a step in the right direction.
“I’ve been advocating against anti-trans legislation since I was nine years old,” he said. “It’s refreshing to talk about legislation that would actually protect me and actually include me as a citizen of this state and nation.”
Without non-discrimination protections, we are not safe here. We do not want to stay here in the future if this is the future that Arizona promises.
– Dawn Shim
Dawn Shim, a Chandler High School student who uses “they” and “she” pronouns, said that increasing protections for LGBTQ Arizonans is imperative for students across the state who fear for their safety.
“Without non-discrimination protections, we are not safe here. We do not want to stay here in the future if this is the future that Arizona promises,” Shim warned.
The 17-year-old founded the student-led organization Support Equality Arizona Schools in response to anti-LGBTQ rhetoric in the statehouse, and has organized mass walkouts and protests. The group has lobbied unsuccessfully for the city of Chandler to adopt a more inclusive non-discrimination policy, and Shim said a statewide version would go a long way to repairing some of the damage the legislature has wrought.
“We really hope to see a future Arizona where we are protected, where we are affirmed and where we are allowed to be children,” they said.
“The government of Arizona has a special responsibility to protect our kids,” added Hayden Nguyen, a fellow leader of Support Equality Arizona Schools.
Abigail Jensen, the legal director of Southern Arizona Gender Alliance and a trans woman, said that while Hobbs’ veto pen means LGBTQ Arizonans can breathe a sigh of relief, the future remains unclear. Jensen hopes Democrats are able to secure a legislative majority in 2024, which would allow them to begin repealing the harmful policies passed by their counterparts and give them the necessary votes to begin moving their own measures forward.
But if Republicans maintain their majority and recapture the Governor’s Office in 2026, the outcome could be devastating, as the party shows no signs of scaling back its vitriol. Instead, local anti-trans sentiment has moved to the federal level.
“That would be a dreadful time,” Jensen said. “Republicans seem to have come to the conclusion that hating trans people and hating drag queens is the way to get themselves elected.”
For now, Cano said he and fellow Democrats will continue to speak out against extremism and advocate for proposals, like HB2703, that protect the LGBTQ community.
“It makes no sense for Arizonans to be denied public accommodations or lose their job or lose their home solely for who they are or who they love,” he said.
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