A Louisiana bill barring transgender athletes from competing on sports teams that match their gender identity has become law after the state’s Democratic governor declined to veto or sign the measure.
The law, dubbed “The Fairness in Women’s Sports Act,” requires Louisiana K-12 schools, as well as universities, to designate all sports teams as for males or females, as determined by a person’s assigned sex at birth. Its passage into law makes Louisiana the 18th state to explicitly pass such restrictions into law, although Georgia effectively has a ban in place, having handed off responsibility to the Georgia High School Association, which implemented a restoration of its own.
Under the Louisiana bill, coeducational, or mixed, teams will be open to both males and females, as long as a school does not disband a female-designated team for the purpose of creating a coed team, which the new law says would place cisgender females at an athletic disadvantage. The gender-specific restrictions do not apply to intramural sports teams.
Gov. John Bel Edwards vetoed a nearly identical bill last year. But after the regular legislative session ended on Monday evening, he told reporters it was obvious this year’s measure — which passed with the votes of more than two-thirds of lawmakers — was going to pass, especially after lawmakers rolled back the scope of the bill to exclude intramural sports.
Edwards noted that there has not been a single instance of an openly transgender girl participating in sports in the state, just as there had not been when he issued his veto a year ago, reports The Hill.
“In the year since that bill was first put on my desk, there still hasn’t been a single instance in Louisiana of a trans-girl participating in sports,” he said. “However, it was obvious to me, after two years, when both the House and the Senate passed it by more than a two-thirds vote and with conversations I had with legislators, especially this year because the scope of the bill was reduced at least slightly when they took out intramural sports, that Senate Bill 44 was going to become law whether or not I signed it or vetoed it.”
He said his position on the measure has not changed, and worries about the message that a ban on trans athletes sends to transgender youth.
“Whether it’s intended or not, the effect is to send a strong message to at least some of these young people that they shouldn’t be who they think they are, who they believe they are, who they know they are, and I find that very distressing,” he said at a news conference.
“I think it’s unfortunate, but it’s where we are. And I hope we can all get to a point soon where we realize that these young people are doing the very best that they can to survive. I just think we can be better than that bill,” he added.
Trans advocates were outraged at Edwards’ refusal to veto the measure, noting that some Republican governors vetoed similar measures in their states, despite knowing lawmakers had the votes to override a veto, calling the governor’s decision not to fight a “betrayal.”
“We worked extensively to provide resources to the governor’s office to lay out the impact that this has on trans kids in Louisiana. We know that he vetoed it last year and that his reasons for vetoing last year stand this year,” Corrine Green, the policy and legislative strategist for the Equality Federation, told New Orleans-based Fox affiliate WVUE.
Green echoed Edwards’ concern that the passage of the bill into law could exacerbate feelings of loneliness, isolation, or even depression among youth, but noted that the law could always be challenged in court. Similar bans in Idaho and West Virginia, which are currently being challenged in the courts, have been halted by federal judges from taking effect or being enforced by state officials.
“Several states have challenged these types of laws with lawsuits. I think that we as trans advocates have a lot to do internally, in terms of providing resources for our trans youth, to make them feel safe and accepted,” Green said.
Peyton Rose Michelle, the board secretary and Lafayette chapter representative of Louisiana Trans Advocates, called Edwards’ decision not to veto the bill “hurtful.”
“It sends a message to your LGBTQ people across the state that [the governor’s] allyship is not as strong as we thought it would be,” Michelle told WVUE. She also had a message for transgender youth who may be discouraged or disheartened by the new restrictions placed on them.
“It’s really hard to see this information. It’s not fun but my advice would be: do not make any rash decisions because of what you’re reading in the news today,” she said. “The fight will continue.”