Region & State

Executive order bans gender-neutral language in Arkansas government documents

Arkansas Surgeon General Kay Chandler (center) expresses support for an executive order from Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders (third from right) prohibiting gender-neutral language in government documents at a press conference on Thursday, Oct. 19, 2023. | Screenshot via Facebook livestream

Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders signed an executive order eliminating what she called “woke, anti-women words” from Arkansas government documents

By TESS VRBIN | Arkansas Advocate

The order prohibits “exclusionary, sexist language in official state government business,” citing XX chromosomes and the ability to “perform the miracle of birth” as what defines women.

Sanders signed the order after a press conference with several female state legislators and other officials in attendance.

“We are all here to say, frankly, that we’ve had enough,” Sanders said. “Enough trying to erase women and girls, enough denying our biological differences from men, and enough of the craziness that is taking over our country.”

The order lists several “accurate, female-affirming alternatives” to be used instead of gender-neutral language, such as “pregnant woman” or “pregnant mom” instead of “pregnant person.”

Sanders referred to the language in question as “nonsense terms” that erase women’s “voices and experiences.”

Gender-neutral language regarding menstruation, birth and breastfeeding accounts for people assigned female at birth who are transgender, nonbinary or genderfluid, or otherwise do not identify as women.

Sanders is Arkansas’ first female governor. From 2017 to 2019, she was the third woman and first mother to be White House Press Secretary.

“On the left, women have taken a backseat to political correctness,” she said, citing this as the reason behind a 2021 law barring transgender girls from participating in girls’ sports in Arkansas.

The primary sponsors of this law, Sen. Missy Irvin, R-Mountain View, and Rep. Sonia Eubanks Barker, R-Smackover, were present at the press conference. So was Rep. Mary Bentley, R-Perryville, who sponsored several laws earlier this year aimed at transgender people:

Arkansas Surgeon General Kay Chandler, a practicing OB/GYN in Little Rock, expressed support for the executive order, calling it “common sense” and a refusal to “let political correctness get in the way of science.”

When asked by reporters for examples of gender-neutral language in government documents, Sanders said she was “not keeping a running tally” but was aware of a specific example from the state Health Department and “several others that have been reported” to her office.

Sanders shared the executive order with Fox News before the press conference. The conservative news outlet cites a Health Department memo from June that says small amounts of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) “can lead to negative health effects on pregnant people and in developing babies.”

The transgender advocacy group Intransitive’s executive team pointed out in a statement to the Advocate that Sanders’ order “is openly discriminating against her constituents” and ignores the experiences of cisgender women who are not able to menstruate or become pregnant.

“The governor has spent her short time in office spewing hatred and robbing Arkansans of life-saving healthcare, so we aren’t surprised by her most recent attack on the many trans people in our state,” the team said in an email. “Not all people with a uterus are women, and forcing propaganda doesn’t change this fact.”

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