John Bel Edwards opposes bills with transgender restrictions

Louisiana lawmakers have proposed four bills that would restrict transgender people’s access to health care, sports

By: - April 19, 2021 3:13 pm
John Bel Edwards

Gov. John Bel Edwards holds a press conference on the Louisiana Capitol steps Monday (April 19, 2021). (Photo by Julie O’Donoghue/Louisiana Illuminator)

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards opposes four bills introduced by lawmakers that would impose restrictions on transgender people. The governor said he would hope the lawmakers will kill the legislation, and indicated he would likely veto the proposals if they made it to his desk.

“I am really concerned about emotionally fragile people and the idea that the weight of the state would be put behind something that to me is unnecessary and discriminatory and very hurtful for those individuals when there’s not a compelling reason to do it,” Edwards said at a press conference Monday. “I’m hopeful that the legislature will not see fit to advance those bills.” 

Two bills would prohibit transgender girls and women from competing in sports competitions aligned with their gender identity. Two other bills would either make it more difficult or outright ban health care for transgender children and teenagers. If passed, those bills would impact transgender minors’ ability to access counseling, surgery and medication that affirmed their gender identity.

The governor said Louisiana doesn’t have challenges with transgender women and children competing in sports competitions. The Louisiana High School Athletic Association makes it nearly impossible for transgender students — men and women — to join any sports team already through an existing policy.

“We don’t have a problem in Louisiana today in the sense that we have individuals out there who are trans females trying to participate in sports,” Edwards said. 

The governor also said he is concerned that the bills would have an economic impact on the state. New Orleans tourism leaders have said that conventions and major sporting events might relocate from Louisiana if the state were to adopt transgender restrictions.

The NCAA has already indicated it would not look favorably on such laws. Louisiana is scheduled to hold the NCAA’s Final Four basketball tournament next year. New Orleans tourism officials are especially concerned that any new transgender restrictions could cause the college sports league to pull the event.

“If you’re a conservative who believes that the market should drive our decisions, the market is speaking and it’s speaking very clearly,” said Walt Leger, vice president and general counsel of New Orleans & Company, the city’s largest tourism organization, in an interview last week. “If you claim to care about the economy of the state, then you should pay attention to what the market is telling you.”

But two of the four lawmakers sponsoring the transgender restrictions have already said they intend to move the bills forward, even if sports leagues and corporate interests threaten to boycott Louisiana.

“That’s kind of extortion don’t you think?” said Sen. Beth Mizell, R-Franklinton, who is carrying one of the bills to prohibit trasngender women and girls from participating in women-only sports competitions. “We should not let the NCAA or any other special interest group tell us what to do.”

When states have restricted the LGBTQ community in recent years, the backlash from corporations and sports leagues has been swift.

After Indiana passed a law that allowed people to deny the LGBTQ community business services in 2015, the NCAA threatened to move its headquarters from the state and said it would no longer host the Final Four tournament there. Indiana eventually tweaked the measure to address the NCAA’s concerns.

The NCAA also refused to hold events in North Carolina after that state passed a law restricting which bathrooms transgender people could use in 2016. That law was also overhauled, after several large corporations started pulling out of the state. In that case, Louisiana actually benefited from the anger at North Carolina. The NBA ended up moving its 2016 All-Star game from Charlotte to New Orleans because of North Carolina’s bathroom restriction, which has since been changed.

More recently, a number of corporate interests, artists and sports leagues have said they intend to boycott Georgia because of the aggressive voting restrictions enacted by state lawmakers there. Major League Baseball has pulled its All-Star game from the Atlanta area. A film starring Will Smith is moving its production from Georgia to New Orleans for the same reason, according to The Times-Picayune.

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Julie O'Donoghue
Julie O'Donoghue

Julie O’Donoghue is a senior reporter for the Louisiana Illuminator and producer of the Louisiana Illuminator podcast. She’s received awards from the Virginia Press Association and Louisiana-Mississippi Associated Press.