Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ recent ban on the use of the gender-neutral term Latinx by most state agencies in Arkansas has sparked a heated debate and controversy among critics and supporters alike. Sanders, who recently took office as the governor of Arkansas, called the word “culturally insensitive” in an executive order that has prompted complaints from some who view it as another attack by Republicans on the LGBTQ community. However, Sanders’ move may have limited impact, given that the word does not appear to be widely used in Arkansas government.
The Latinx prohibition is one of several orders that Sanders signed within hours of taking office that were cheered by conservatives, including restrictions on teaching critical race theory in public schools and banning TikTok on state devices. The order gives agencies 60 days to revise written materials to comply.
Critics have argued that just because the term isn’t universal among Spanish speakers, that doesn’t mean it’s insensitive to use. The debate over the term Latinx has found little widespread support among Latinos and even prompted backlash from some Democrats. It comes as Republicans have sought to rally around culture war issues and make inroads with Latino voters, but fell short of the major shifts some in the party were hoping for in last year’s elections.
The League of United Latin American Citizens, the oldest Latino civil rights group in the U.S., announced in 2021 that it would no longer use the term Latinx. Democratic U.S. Rep. Ruben Gallego from Arizona also said that year that his staff was not allowed to use the term in official communications. The Log Cabin Republicans, which represents LGBT members of the party, praised Sanders’ order.
It should be noted that Sanders’ order doesn’t apply to the state’s institutes of higher education or other state agencies considered constitutionally independent, such as the Arkansas Department of Transportation. It also allows the governor to grant exemptions for the word’s use. Several state agencies said they were reviewing their forms to make sure they would comply with the order.
This move by Sanders’ is not the first time that a governor has banned or restricted the use of certain words. Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul last year signed a bill in New York removing from state education law the word “incorrigible,” a term that critics had called sexist and racist. In 2015, then-Florida Gov. Rick Scott was criticized after former officials said they were instructed to not use the terms “climate change” and “global warming.”