A lawsuit filed by a group of parents claims the law is discriminatory against their trans daughters by prohibiting them from certain activities based on their gender.
Arizona’s new attorney general has quickly made a name for herself in her defense of reproductive rights, consumer protections, and securing the state’s water reserves.
But there is one legal battle Kris Mayes has made clear she won’t take on: Defending Arizona’s new anti-trans sporting law.
Doug Ducey’s Legacy
Senate Bill 1165, passed by a Republican-led state legislature and signed by former Republican Gov. Doug Ducey in 2022, bans transgender girls from competing against biological females in school sports.
Republicans in favor of the law, such as Gilbert Republican and Arizona Sen. Warren Petersen, who co-sponsored the bill, were quick to defend it as a way to keep women’s sports competitive. But their language when discussing the proposal revealed a clear anti-trans sentiment.
“This bill is not about personhood. If somebody wants to identify as something that they aren’t, they’re still free to do that,” Petersen said. “This bill is about whether a male should play in female sports.”
No Evidence of Athletic Advantage
Studies have shown transgender athletes have no competitive advantage over their cisgender counterparts. In Sports Medicine, researchers found no conclusive evidence that transgender persons have any athletic advantage “at any stage of their transition (e.g. cross-sex hormones, gender-confirming surgery).” They did, however, find that state policies banning transgender people from playing sports are discriminatory and are more often rooted in misconceptions than evidence-based rationale.
Courts are now being asked to decide whether Arizona’s new anti-trans sports bill isn’t just discriminatory but unconstitutional, too. Shortly after SB 1165 went into effect, a lawsuit challenging the law was filed last by two transgender girls and their families, who argue the law violates their rights under the 14th Amendment, Title IX, and the Americans with Disabilities Act.
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The lawsuit names Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne as the defendant, who has come out in support of the law.
“This is not an LGBT issue. When I was in the Arizona legislature, I voted for every bill to extend civil rights to LGBT people,” Horne said in a statement. “But permitting biological boys to compete in girls’ sports is extremely unfair.”
Mayes Declines to Defend
Mayes has declined to represent Horne in the lawsuit, stating that her views do not align with his. Instead, state Sen. Petersen and House Speaker Ben Toma said they are “best situated” to defend the law in court.
“In the absence of the Attorney General defending Arizona’s law, we’re looking forward to fighting for the rights of female athletes across Arizona,” Petersen said in a statement.
Part of a Growing Anti-LGBTQ Backlash
The onslaught of anti-trans sports bills nationwide has been part of a larger effort by elected Republicans and right-wing activists to attempt to restrict the rights of LGBTQ people living in the United States. While over 70% of Americans are in favor of laws that prohibit discrimination against trans people, a November 2022 poll by Washington Post-KFF found that nearly two-thirds of people support restrictions specifically around sports.
Republican lawmakers have been able to use this nuance to their advantage to propose ever-more aggressive legislation targeting LGBTQ people. Since the initial introduction of sports-related anti-trans bills, Republicans have also tried to restrict which bathrooms trans students can use, prohibit educators from referring to students by their preferred pronouns, limit which books are allowed at schools, and deny transgender youth from obtaining gender-affirming medical care.
The polling on these various issues varies greatly—reflecting the nuanced and shifting views many people hold on gender and sexuality—but even among those who favor banning transgender girls from participating in girls’ youth sports, 54% were concerned that such bans would negatively affect the mental health of trans girls. The lawsuit against Arizona’s anti-trans sports law mirrors this sentiment and claims that the ban unfairly puts additional mental health strains on trans students strictly because they are transgender.
“The Ban’s exclusion of Plaintiffs from participating in school sports because they are transgender denies them equal treatment under the law,” the lawsuit states. “Excludes them from a critical school activity, causes them to experience shame and stigma, denies them well-known physical and mental health benefits that arise from playing school sports, and directly contributes to negative physical and emotional health consequences.”
The lawsuit in Arizona is still in its early stages, and it is unclear how the court will rule. However, the case could have implications for other states that have passed similar laws.