How trans kids and their families shut down an anti-trans bill

In an attempt to humanize the community to Republicans, families of trans students met with lawmakers. It helped influence the outcome of one bill.

How trans kids and their families shut down an anti-trans bill
Members of the Arizona State Senate vote and debate on bills during crossover week in February. (Screenshot from ACTV)

During this past legislative session, lawmakers introduced 21 bills in both the House and Senate that impact LGBTQ+ people. Of those, Republicans pushed 14 bills directly limiting queer Arizonans’ rights in schools or other public places.  

While none of the Democrat-sponsored bills were heard in a committee or brought to a vote, six of the 14 Republican-sponsored anti-LGBTQ+ bills passed out of their original chambers and are now headed to the other. 

One that was expected to sail through the Senate last week, SCR1013, is now dead. The Senate resolution, drafted by Sen. John Kavanagh (R-Fountain Hills), was a way to bypass a governor veto and send culture war topics—like trans bathroom access in schools, or how students identify—to voters in November. (Kavanagh has attempted to restrict bathroom access to trans people since 2013, when he was the first state lawmaker in the country to propose such a law. His bills have consistently either been voted down or vetoed.)

But last week, in a shocking about-face to his party, Sen. Ken Bennett (R-Prescott) cast a vote against the resolution, essentially shutting down far-right attempts to get LGBTQ+ issues on the ballot. 

Earlier in the year, Bennett voted the bill out of committee. When he explained his vote at the time, he choked up while talking about how the bill would effect at least two of his own family members. He said that he couldn’t vote affirmatively on the Senate floor with the bill as it was written, and asked that Kavanagh changed the resolution’s language.

In between that meeting and the vote last week, the national conversation on trans students in bathrooms hit a flashpoint: Two teenaged girls assaulted an Oklahoma nonbinary teen, Nex Benedict, in a school bathroom. Benedict died a day later. Oklahoma’s legislature passed a bathroom ban that Kavanagh’s resolution would mirror. 

Members in an Arizona-wide network of LGBTQ+ advocates gathered families of student-aged kids and their caregivers to meet with both Kavanagh and Bennett. They wanted to explain the impacts the resolution would have on their families. 

But an interview with at least one family—Tucson residents Diana and her 14-year-old daughter Mya—shows how vastly different the two interactions were.

Diana described her and Mya's meeting with Bennett as respectful and illuminating, while Mya described her interaction with Kavanagh as aggressive, transphobic, and dismissive. (We are withholding last names for privacy and safety concerns.)

Mya transitioned in second grade, Diana said, and has always used the women’s restroom. But in the time since conservative politicians like Kavanagh have attempted to criminalize and disparage trans and nonbinary youth and adults in the state, Mya said she has had anxiety about using the restroom. 

She remembered that at one point, she didn’t use the restroom all day and waited to get home.

“I just didn’t want to even get into it,” Mya said, adding that her friends at school tried to joke that it’s not that serious of an issue. 

“This is serious,” Mya said. “This isn't something that should go on. This is not a joke.”

In 2017, The American Academy of Pediatrics released a statement in opposition to legislative rollbacks that made it harder for trans youth to use bathrooms of their gender. Two years later, the American Medical Association released a brief that explained how anti-trans policies could result in students avoiding using the restroom for hours, such as in Mya's situation. They said those actions can lead to infections and other medical issues.

The experience for Mya and Diana at the Capitol was telling, they said, on how much lawmakers are willing to listen to the citizens they represent.

“We kept saying to them that this is a problem you are making,” Mya said.

But only one of the lawmakers, she said, appeared to listen. Bennett, she said, took notes, asked thoughtful questions and seemed to lean in when Mya described how she could only be part of a co-ed cheerleading team because of the state’s law that bans her from playing on other sports. 

“I could tell he wasn't a mean person,” Mya said. “I was really happy that he wrote down our names, because it kind of felt like he actually cared. And he really took the time to actually meet with us.”

In contrast, she said, Kavanagh was aggressive. In their meeting, the senator pushed Mya to explain what her biological sex was, and Mya had to continuously defend herself, she said.

“I’m a girl, period,” she remembers telling Kavanagh.

Parents in the meeting allegedly also had to continually protect their kids from Kavanagh misgendering them.  

“When we left, he said to us, ‘Well, we'll leave it up to the voters,’” Mya remembers Kavanagh saying. “I honestly just think he's homophobic and transphobic and doesn't like the LGBTQ community.”

The group left the Capitol that day discouraged. But last week, after Bennett voted against the resolution, Mya called her mother immediately. 

“I just felt really happy and excited,” Mya said. “And I felt that I saved a lot, or helped a lot of people in Arizona and I felt very empowered.”

Bennett told The Arizona Agenda, a daily political newsletter, that meeting with students such as Mya was "impactful," and was one of many factors that influenced his vote.

On the Senate floor, he explained his vote: "I am very concerned about putting this bill to a vote of the people," Bennett said. "These bills combined are roughly a third of the entire U.S. Constitution. When we put things on the ballot for people to vote on them, if something goes awry, if there are unintended consequences, we have to go back to the people to fix it."

Diana remembers that Mya left home and entered into the Capitol on a rainy day, with storm clouds overhead. And while talking to Mya about the experience, afterwards there was a moment of hope: “Maya had said ‘Oh, look the sun's coming out.’ So that really like touched her. It's a moment where the sun's actually shining for a little bit.”

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