Jon Stewart interviews Arkansas attorney general on anti-trans law

Jon Stewart received mountains of praise Friday for his interview with Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, who supported state legislation denying anyone under 18 years old access to gender-affirming treatments.

Arkansas’ Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson vetoed the bill, Act 626, last year, calling it a “vast government overreach.”

But lawmakers, who dubbed the bill “Save Adolescents from Experimentation (SAFE) Act.”

The American Civil Liberties Union has sued Arkansas, and the law has been temporarily blocked.

A trial on whether to permanently block the legislation is scheduled for later this month in a federal appeals court.

Confronting Arkansas attorney general

In the interview on the Apple TV series “The Problem With Jon Stewart,” the TV host points out to Ruthledge that the Arkansas law overrides guidelines from major medical associations.

For example, the American Medical Association says that gender-affirming care is key to improving health outcomes for transgender people. That care is related to dramatically reduced rates of suicide, depression, anxiety, and substance use.

“It’s surprising that the state would say, We want to make a decision for your family and your child, to protect them, even though the American Medical Association, the American Association of Pediatrics, the Endocrine Society, the American Association of Psychiatrists all recommend a certain set of guidelines for children that are expressing gender dysphoria,” Stewart says. “So I guess my surprise is why would the state of Arkansas step in to override parents, physicians, psychiatrists, endocrinologists who have developed guidelines. Why would you override those guidelines?”

Rutledge claims that for every expert who supports gender-affirming care, “there’s another expert to say we don’t need to allow children to take those medications.”

“But you know that’s not true,” Stewart says. “You know it’s not ‘for every one, there’s one.’”

And that exchange happens at the beginning of the interview.

For the remainder of the six-minute interview, Stewart calls out Rutledge’s mistruths with facts and asks follow-up questions.

Separately, Stewart interviews an endocrinologist; two parents of trans children; and Chase Strangio, a trans attorney with the ACLU, to help him understand the anti-trans movement.

Stewart’s past offenses

“The War Over Gender,” is the first episode for season two of “The Problem with Jon Stewart.”

“We are in a new dawn of gender and sex complexity, where those who don’t fit in a simple binary are meant to be seen with humanity,” Stewart says during the segment. “It wasn’t always like this, people. As recently as, let’s say, the 1990s, early 2000s, people were making shitty, reductive jokes about the subject.”

Stewart laughs uncomfortably as an old photo of him from “The Daily Show” appears on screen beside him. “What can I say, the joke rhymed,” he adds. “Shitty and reductive jokes are kind of my brand.”

Stewart doesn’t show any videos of his offenses.

However, a petition from 2013 calling on Stewart and his Comedy Central partner Stephen Colbert to “reject transphobia” on their respective shows cites a couple of examples.

During this segment describing protests in China over a new universal I.D. system, Stewart says:

“But Cow and Chipmunk are not alone! They are joined by Transvestite, who worries that her true gender will be revealed by this new system.”

(Camera shows a person implied by Stewart to be a “transvestite”)

(Voiceover with fake translation) “I am afraid that when I lumber out of my apartment in a tight dress with my scrotum taped back and my large hands covering my adams apple, somewhere, some bureaucrat will know I am a dude.”

Stewart’s interview with Rutledge shows he has come a long way from “making shitty, reductive jokes about the subject.”

About the author

Phillip Zonkel

Award-winning journalist Phillip Zonkel spent 17 years at Long Beach's Press-Telegram, where he was the first reporter in the paper's history to have a beat covering the city's vibrant LGBTQ. He also created and ran the popular and innovative LGBTQ news blog, Out in the 562.

He won two awards and received a nomination for his reporting on the local LGBTQ community, including a two-part investigation that exposed anti-gay bullying of local high school students and the school districts' failure to implement state mandated protections for LGBTQ students.

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