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Arizona bill would ban transgender girls, women from teams

PHOENIX (AP) — Transgender girls and women would be barred from participating in sports on the team that aligns with their gender identity under a proposed Arizona law.

The proposal announced by GOP Rep. Nancy Barto on Friday is co-sponsored by 22 other Republican House members and is the latest on a growing list of more than a dozen states with bills that focus on transgender young people.

The Arizona legislation allows only biological women or girls to play on female teams, and requires a doctor’s note to prove a person is female if their birth sex is disputed. It allows lawsuits by students who believe they’ve missed opportunities because a transgender person is on a school team.

The measure is intended to prevent female athletes from being forced to compete against biological males, Barto said in a statement. It would apply to K-12 schools, community colleges and state universities but only to female teams.

She said most people view the issue as one of basic fairness.

“When this is allowed, it discourages female participation in athletics and, worse, it can result in women and girls being denied crucial educational and financial opportunities,” Barto’s statement said.

Republicans make up the majority in the state House and Senate.

Similar legislation has been proposed in Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, Missouri, New Hampshire, Tennessee and Washington state, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.

The measures are part of a national campaign backed by the Scottsdale-based Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative religious freedom group.

Barto said she is working with the ADF and the Center for Arizona Policy, a powerful group at the state Capitol that lobbies for religious freedom and anti-abortion legislation, to push the proposal,

Several national women’s rights and sports organizations are pushing back, saying in a letter distributed by the American Civil Liberties Union that barring transgender people from sports teams aligning with their gender identity often means they are “excluded from participating altogether.”

The Alliance Defending Freedom has filed a federal discrimination complaint on behalf of Connecticut girls who competed in track-and-field. The girls say the state’s inclusive policy on transgender athletes has cost them top finishes and possibly college scholarships.

“Forcing female athletes to compete against biological males isn’t fair and destroys their athletic opportunities,” attorney Matt Sharp, the ADF’s state government relations director told The Associated Press in an interview for a recent news report. “Likewise, every child deserves a childhood that allows them to experience puberty and other natural changes that shape who they will become.”

Conservative groups are also pushing bills that would bar doctors from providing them certain gender-related medical treatment.

The proposed laws, if enacted, “would bring devastating harms to the transgender community,” Chase Strangio, a transgender-rights lawyer with the ACLU.

“It is hard to imagine why state legislators have decided to prioritize barring transgender young people from sharing in the benefit of secondary school athletics or disrupting medical treatment consistent with prevailing standards of care,” Strangio said. “But here we are, the start of the session, a time to fight.”

The measure doesn’t apply to males, Barto said, because they are “biologically different from females in terms of bone density, lung capacity, strength, and other respects, are not disadvantaged by females in boys’ sports.”

She had no Arizona examples of girls or young women impacted but pointed to issues in Connecticut and the ADF lawsuit.

Associated Press reporters David Crary in New York and Lindsay Whitehurst in Salt Lake City contributed.

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Hamilton County’s ‘Wellness Unit’ part of nationwide effort to improve mental health among officers

NOBLESVILLE, Ind. (WISH) — An initiative to improve employee well-being at the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office is among a spate of efforts across the nation to address mental health concerns among officers.

Sheriff Dennis Quakenbush announced the department’s new “Wellness Unit”  — devoted to the physical, mental and spiritual health of its deputies, correctional officers and civilian employees — Friday in a Facebook post.

“Our guys really care about the public,” he said Monday in an interview with News 8. “When you see somebody who’s injured or victimized, it really impacts us… We’re only human.”

The Wellness Unit launched in January with funding approved by county council members and commissioners.

Appointments are held off-site at undisclosed locations to protect the privacy of employees. Supervisors are not briefed on which employees seek counseling or what they discuss during sessions.

Information gathered during counseling sessions will not be used to demote or discipline employees, and will only be disclosed if required by law, including when somebody poses an immediate danger to themselves or others.

The department’s entire staff will receive training related to suicide prevention, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, critical incidents, addiction, mindfulness and officer wellness, the sheriff said.

Nearly 1 in 4 police officers has thoughts of suicide at some point in their life, according to the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI); the suicide rate for police officers is four times higher than the rate for firefighters.

Years of daily exposure to stress, trauma and tragedy can have other devastating consequences if appropriate coping skills are not developed, according to Susan Sherer-Vincent, a licensed clinical social worker, certified alcoholism counselor and licensed marriage and family therapist involved in launching the Wellness Unit.

“Think of the hurricanes that come in, in Florida, and think of the palm trees where they bend,” she explained. “But then, what happens afterwards? They go back up. That’s called resilience. We want our officers to bend, not break.”

Until approximately 3 to 5 years ago, officers were often conditioned to “pull [themselves] up by the bootstraps and go to the next call” instead of addressing personal struggles, Sherer-Vincent said.

Cultivating resiliency can be difficult within a law enforcement culture that equates mental health challenges with “weakness,” she said.

“[Officers] are trained to have the warrior mentality,” Sherer-Vincent told News 8. “Truly, they would have been made fun of [in the past for seeking counseling].”

She compared strong, silent officers with underdeveloped coping skills to California’s famed redwood trees.

“They’re pretty sturdy. But what would happen if you took an ax and hit those every single day, day after day, for years? They would eventually fall,” she said.

Quakenbush credits his wife, church and non-law enforcement friends with providing “a really good support system.”

“But sometimes, you need a professional,” he said, urging employees to “talk through” negative emotions instead of turning to alcohol and other substances for temporary relief.

Several internal cases that resulted in disciplinary action during his year-long tenure as sheriff may have been prevented with wellness-focused intervention, Quakenbush said.

He was unable to comment on personnel matters. 

Sources within the department indicated some of the cases involved employees with substance abuse issues that had escalated over time, possibly as a result of work-related stress that had gone unaddressed. 

“I wouldn’t say that [disciplinary action] was happening often,” Quakenbush told News 8. “But seeing it happen and knowing that we probably could have done something about it made it impactful and something that we wanted to make a priority.”

Hamilton County announced its Wellness Unit days after New York City police officials revealed plans to hire a team of psychologists to combat a spike in officer suicides.

On Feb. 13, Indianapolis police officials said they planned to swear in the department’s first full-time therapy dog by the end of March.

  • FIND SUPPORT: Learn more about supporting law enforcement wellness on NAMI.org

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