(The Hill) — Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey responded to backlash Friday after refusing to answer two questions from reporters about whether transgender people exist.

Ducey was taking questions Thursday after signing bills that restrict access to gender-affirming care in his state and bar transgender girls from playing on school sports teams that reflect their gender identity when he was asked if he believes there “are really transgender people.”

“I’m going to ask you to read the legislation and to see that the legislation that we passed was in the spirit of fairness to protect girls sports in competitive situations,” the governor said in response to the latter bill. “That’s what the legislation is intended to do, and that’s what it does.”

Ducey was soon pressed on the question again.

“I … am going to respect everyone, and I’m going to respect everyone’s rights. And I’m going to protect female sports. And that’s what the legislation does,” he said.

The Republican governor’s remarks sparked immediate criticism, including from the Human Rights Campaign’s Arizona director, who told the The Associated Press that they were “appalling.”

“It’s quite shocking that he can’t even address trans people or even say that he thinks they exist,” Bridget Sharpe said.

“The media is once again attempting to divide people. Yesterday I was asked an absurd and offensive question: Do transgender individuals exist? Of course they do,” Ducey wrote, proceeding to highlight a line in the signing letter that says his legislation aims to address “specific issues” while ensuring transgender people “continue to receive the same dignity, respect and kindness as every individual in our society.”

In addition to the two transgender bills, the Arizona governor also signed a bill this week that bans abortions after 15 weeks, putting him in step with Republican lawmakers across the country who have taken similar action on both issues.