Jon Stewart pokes holes in Arkansas' plan to "protect" minors from their own gender identity

On “The Problem with Jon Stewart,” AG Leslie Rutledge says "care" but offers contrarian legislation to trans youth

By Kelly McClure

Nights & Weekends Editor

Published October 7, 2022 8:46PM (EDT)

Jon Stewart on the set of “The Problem With Jon Stewart" (Apple TV+)
Jon Stewart on the set of “The Problem With Jon Stewart" (Apple TV+)

In the season two premiere of "The Problem with Jon Stewart," Stewart devotes an entire episode to discussing America's "war on gender." 

Using video clips, audience plants and a panel discussion to demonstrate the importance — both mentally and physically — of supporting the gender identities of minors, Stewart capped off the episode with a quick trip to Arkansas to speak with Attorney General Leslie Rutledge (R), a woman working against that being a possibility in her state.

Rutledge worked to pass the Save Adolescents from Experimentation (SAFE) Act in Arkansas a few years ago, which she says will "protect" minors from moving forward with what she refers to as dangerous and irreversible gender correction procedures, but Stewart is quick to remind her that nothing is more irreversible than a child's death.

Describing the ins and outs of the SAFE Act, Rutledge says "essentially what it does is prevent young people from going through experimental procedures to transition their gender from male to female and female to male."

When prompted by Stewart to explain these "experimental procedures," Rutledge does so saying "Well, all of these drugs we're talking about have not been approved, and these are experimental procedures to transition these young people . . . what we passed in Arkansas was to simply say, you can't do that."

When Rutledge specifies that the law only applies to trans youth under the age of 18, Stewart asks her to put a number on how many so-called "experiments" of this nature have been performed in Arkansas in the past five years. When she's unable to provide the answer, he does so for her. None.

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"It's surprising that the state would say 'we wanna 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. 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?"

From here, Rutledge conflates the importance of "protecting" children with the prevention of them getting the care they actually need. Unable to provide any backing or documented evidence for her claims, her argument fizzles into a generalized "because we said so."

"I know that there are doctors, and we've had plenty of people come and testify before our legislature, who said that we have 98% of the young people who had gender dysphoria that they are able to move past that. And once they had the help they need, no longer suffer from gender dysphoria. 98%"

"Wow. That's an incredibly made up figure," Stewart said. 

"Parents with children who have gender dysphoria have lost children to suicide," Stewart said, driving home the severity of what the SAFE Act is interfering with. "These mainstream medical organizations have developed guidelines through peer review data and studies, and through those guidelines they've improved mental health outcomes. So I'm confused why you follow AMA guidelines, AAAP guidelines for all other health issues in Arkansas, but not for this."

Watch a clip from the segment with Rutledge here:

By Kelly McClure

Kelly McClure is Salon's Nights and Weekends Editor covering daily news, politics and culture. Her work has been featured in Vulture, The A.V. Club, Vanity Fair, Cosmopolitan, Nylon, Vice, and elsewhere. She is the author of Something is Always Happening Somewhere.

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Arkansas Jon Stewart Leslie Rutledge The Problem With Jon Stewart Transgender Care Transgender Rights