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Louisiana Governor Vetoes Anti-Trans Sports Bill

John Bel Edwards

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards has vetoed a bill that would have banned transgender girls and women from competing in school sports designated for females.

“As I have said repeatedly when asked about this bill, discrimination is not a Louisiana value, and this bill was a solution in search of a problem that simply does not exist in Louisiana,” Edwards, a moderate Democrat, said in an online statement Tuesday. “Even the author of the bill acknowledged throughout the legislative session that there wasn’t a single case where this was an issue.

“Further, it would make life more difficult for transgender children, who are some of the most vulnerable Louisianans when it comes to issues of mental health. We should be looking for more ways to unite rather than divide our citizens. And while there is no issue to be solved by this bill, it does present real problems in that it makes it more likely that NCAA and professional championships, like the 2022 Final Four, would not happen in our state. For these and for other reasons, I have vetoed the bill."

Edwards, the only Democratic governor in the Deep South, is the third governor to veto such legislation this year. Vetoes have also come from Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly, a Democrat, and North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, a Republican. In Utah, legislators decided against passing a similar bill after Republican Gov. Spencer Cox expressed his opposition to it.

The Louisiana legislation, numbered Senate Bill 156 and titled the Fairness in Women’s Sports Act, passed both the state’s House and Senate with veto-proof majorities, the Associated Press reports. But the regular legislative session is over, and lawmakers would have to call a veto override session to take an override vote — something they have never done under the state’s current constitution, in place since 1974.

While the bill would have barred trans boys and men from competing under their gender identity as well, most of the debate centered on girls and women, as trans females are perceived to have an inherent and unfair advantage over their cisgender counterparts. Scientists and activists say this perception is wrong, discriminatory, and sexist.

Also, as in Louisiana, in most states the legislators behind such bills have not been able to name a single instance in which trans athletes’ participation in school sports caused a problem in their state.

The Louisiana High School Athletic Association has already effectively barred trans athletes from competing under their gender identity as that level, as it requires athletes to compete “in the gender of their birth certificate unless they have undergone sex reassignment.” Transgender high-schoolers may have taken hormones or puberty blockers, but doctors do not recommend genital surgery for anyone under 18. But SB 156 would have affected middle school, college, and university sports as well, in both public institutions and any private ones that receive state funds.

Similar bills have been passed and signed into law last year in Idaho and this year in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Mississippi, Montana, Tennessee, and West Virginia, and executive orders with the same effect issued in South Dakota. The Idaho and West Virginia laws are being challenged in court.

The Human Rights Campaign praised Edwards's action. “Gov. Bel Edwards’ veto of this discriminatory bill will prevent further discrimination towards transgender children in Louisiana,” HRC President Alphonso David said in a press release. “SB 156 was nothing more than a politically motivated bill that seeks to dehumanize transgender children. By vetoing this bill, Gov. Bel Edwards reminded legislators that any attempts to discriminate against transgender children is intolerable and will be defeated.”

"The governor did the right thing for Louisiana and particularly transgender Louisianans by vetoing this cruel and discriminatory legislation and now it is up to the Legislature not to attempt to override this veto," added Ryan Wilson, HRC associate regional campaign director. “Transgender children are children. They deserve the ability to play organized sports and be part of a team, without fear of discrimination or exclusion. Lawmakers should focus on protecting the people of Louisiana, not targeting transgender children.” 

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