"It’s not the choice of the government. It is the choice of my child who he wants to be."
When Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson vetoed a bill denying gender-affirming medical care to trans youth on April 5, George and Emily Spurrier finally felt like they were able to breathe. Their 17-year-old son, Cas, had started hormone therapy just months earlier. After he began taking testosterone, his confidence “skyrocketed,” the Spurriers said, and he became both “happier” and more outspoken.
“The Cas before the transition was anxious, reserved, and not very expressive,” George says over the phone. Emily, prone to completing her husband’s thoughts after decades spent together, later chimes in: “The quick wit that I had not seen in a while has been coming back.” But that sigh of relief was a brief one. Within hours, the state’s Republican-controlled legislature overturned Hutchinson’s veto on House Bill 1570, sending the Spurriers into a tailspin. Cas spent hours crying in the car that day as his parents were gripped with terror about what might happen if the care he had been receiving were suddenly ripped away. Among the many objectionable aspects of HB 1570 is a provision that blocks referrals from out-of-state physicians, meaning they wouldn’t even be able to drive to see a doctor in neighboring Missouri or Oklahoma. George and Emily were so desperate to make sure that Cas could continue treatment that they discussed getting testosterone illegally through friends. “We didn't want to do that,” George says, but he notes they were being forced to contemplate the unfathomable with HB 1570 looming on the horizon. “It would have meant another year of our son not feeling like himself — more depression, more anxiety, more of all of the negative things that the transition had managed to ease for him.” Instead the Spurriers landed on another nuclear option. That night, George and Emily came to the conclusion that Arkansas was no longer a safe place for their son, and they made the choice to move out of state. While the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has announced the filing of a lawsuit to prevent HB 1570 from going into effect, striking down the law wouldn’t change the fact that the Arkansas legislature had declared open season on their son. The bill was one of several targeting trans people in 2021, including legislation restricting trans participation school sports and allowing doctors to deny medical care on religious grounds. Searching for the words to describe their plight, George says it didn’t quite feel as if Cas “was being sent to a firing squad,” but claims that the onslaught of anti-trans legislation could have ended “with potentially the same results.” “Necessary medical care would be withheld,” he says. “Necessary mental care would be difficult, and what could he face in public restrooms? Walking through a mall? Or going to college? What dangers would be waiting around the corner?”
Moving wasn’t a decision that came easily to their family after spending 16 years in the only home Cas had ever known, and yet it is one that many families have been made to consider following 2021’s record number of anti-trans bills. In the wake of HB 1570’s passage, them. spoke to families across Arkansas who were being forced to choose between their children and their states.
Parents in Texas and North Carolina, among the two dozen other states that have considered bills blocking medical care and sports access for trans youth, told NBC News they were also in the early stages of relocating to avoid potential discrimination.
Within a year, Cas will be headed off to college where he hopes to study ornithology or paleontology. Ultimately, that decision is his to make, and Emily believes that there’s an important lesson there, if Arkansas lawmakers happen to be paying attention: “It’s not the choice of the government. It’s not the choice of the schools. It is the choice of my child who he wants to be.” “That's one of the things that was impressed upon him, ever since he was teeny tiny,” George adds. “We are here to help guide him into becoming an adult, but that adult that he grows into is his choice. Who he becomes, who he loves, all of that is his choice, not ours.”