Anti-LGBTQ bill barring preferred pronouns in Arizona schools inches closer to a veto

Gov. Hobbs has said she’ll ‘swiftly veto’ all anti-LGBTQ bills, and singled this one out on Twitter

By: - April 4, 2023 10:05 am

Indaya Spivey, 16, is bisexual, and she joined the walkout protest anti-LGBTQ legislation in Arizona because “I don’t think it’s fair that LGBTQ people should be discriminated against just because of their sexual orientation.” Spivey marched with her pride flag from Chandler High School, where she is a student, to Dr. A.J. Chandler Park on Sept. 29, 2022. Photo by Gloria Rebecca Gomez | Arizona Mirror

LGBTQ youth overwhelmingly feel more supported at school than at home, but Arizona Republicans want to eliminate that resource. 

“I was one of those children growing up that did not have the support of my parents, existing as a queer person,” Levi Bevis told lawmakers on Monday. “School was the only safe place that I felt comfortable being myself and knowing that I was supported. If my parents (found out), I knew I would go home to potential physical violence, emotional threats.”

When Bevis did come out, his father disowned him and his mother refused to speak to him for three years. He warned lawmakers on the House Appropriations Committee that many LGBTQ youth don’t have supportive families, and urged them to reject Senate Bill 1001, which would require written parental permission if students want to use preferred pronouns or a different name that doesn’t align with their biological sex or given name at school. Even then, however, a school employee with a “religious or moral conviction” would be allowed to override that request. 


Jeanne Woodbury, a lobbyist for pro-LGBTQ advocacy organization Equality Arizona, worried the measure would dissuade students from confiding in teachers, who often serve as a less hostile sounding board for children navigating complex questions about who they are. 

Rep. Matt Gress, a Phoenix Republican who is openly gay, rebutted that the bill doesn’t bar students from discussing issues with their teachers, it just regulates how they’re referred to in class. 

Woodbury conceded that the bill doesn’t explicitly deter conversations between students and their teachers, but said such a literal interpretation leaves out the chilling effect that happens once a student realizes the only way they can receive affirmation and respect from their teachers is by being outed. 

“You’re hoping…that you’ll find support from a teacher,” she explained. “(But) if you know that the only way you can get that support is if they notify your parents, then you’re not going to actually go to your teacher at all.”  

The restrictions in the bill, Woodbury added, mean that only students with affirming families would be allowed to be themselves at school. 

“Either all of the adults in your life are affirming and supporting — which would be ideal — or you don’t have any affirming and supporting adults in your life at all,” she said. “And that’s a very, very scary and unsafe place for a student to be.”

Rates of suicide and depression among LGBTQ youth is disproportionately high. In Arizona alone, 49% of LGBTQ youth and 54% of transgender and nonbinary youth considered suicide last year. Studies show that a sense of belonging at school, the presence of supportive adults, and gender-affirming care, which often includes preferred pronoun use, significantly decreases that risk

Sen. John Kavanagh, who sponsored the bill, bristled at the accusation that non-affirming households are hostile. 

“If my child came in and said that to me, I would not affirm that,” he said. “I would not be happy. I would not want to see my child in a situation where they’re going to face a lot of difficulties in their life.” 

Simply disagreeing with a student’s gender identity doesn’t make their parents dangerous, the Fountain Hills Republican argued. And for those few who are, the school has the power to step in and mediate or call Child Protective Services. Ultimately, schools and teachers should defer to parents, Kavanagh said. 

“Bottom line: if your kid wants to go on a school trip, they need permission from the parents. If your child wants to be on a sports team, they need permission from the parents,” he said. “To keep parents willfully blind of something as significant as this in their child’s life, which could deprive their child of necessary support at home and treatment, is unconscionable.”

Republicans on the panel agreed, approving the measure on a 9-6 party-line vote and touting it as a defense of parental rights. 

“The child belongs to the parents, not the government,” said Rep. Teresa Martinez.

Teachers, the Casa Grande Republican said, aren’t equipped to guide students through questions of identity, and it isn’t a part of their duties. Dealing with emotional dilemmas should be left up to school counselors or psychiatrists. 

“A teacher is there to teach you a subject: math, science, biology, history,” she said. “They’re not supposed to be a friend, they’re not supposed to be your confidant.” 

Gress noted that, even as a member of the LGBTQ community, he was unable to fathom living a separate life at home and at school. 

“I understand that is the tragic reality that many members of the LGBT community face. I just can’t get to the point where I’m willing to allow government employees to have additional information on a child. The children belong to the parents,” he said. 

Democrats on the panel focused on the potential harm to the students, rebuking comments from Republican lawmakers that ignored the autonomy of the children. 

“Ultimately, the child belongs to her or himself,” Rep. Judy Schwiebert, D-Phoenix, rebutted. “And there are times when it is not safe (to disclose).” 

Freshman lawmaker Lorena Austin, the first nonbinary and gender nonconforming Arizona legislator, condemned the measure as yet another discriminatory bill in a nationwide trend. Last year, more than 200 anti-LGBTQ bills were considered across the country but this year has far outstripped that record, at nearly 450. Austin, who uses the pronouns she and they, said Kavanagh’s bill would have devastated her growing up, because school was critical to her well-being. 

“I cannot imagine being 14 again, and having a bill like this come through, because I grew up in a community where I knew I would not be accepted. I knew I would not be supported in my home or in public,” she said. “School was literally the one place where I knew I could at least breathe, and the reason I never came out was for fear of retribution. I was one of those students that considered suicide, because I knew I could not be my authentic self.” 

Austin promised the bill will be rejected by Gov. Katie Hobbs, who has repeatedly vowed to veto anti-LGBTQ measures, and said the legislature has no place intervening in the lives of children figuring out who they are. 

“Children are learning who they are, learning how they fit in this world, and it’s not up to us to deny them how they see fit to do that,” Austin said, her voice shaking with emotion. 

The bill was condemned as dead on arrival in its first legislative hearing in January, but Republicans, who hold a one-vote majority in each chamber, have continued to advance it. It goes next before the entire House of Representatives before being sent to the governor. But it will inevitably meet its death there, with Hobbs reiterating her promise to veto it on Monday. 

“The entire LGBTQ+ community can trust that this bill will be swiftly vetoed,” she tweeted.


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Gloria Rebecca Gomez
Gloria Rebecca Gomez

Gloria Gomez joined the Arizona Mirror in August 2022. She graduated in 2022 with bachelor's degrees in journalism and political science, with a Spanish minor.