Sen. Mike Fesi, R-Houma, pulled his legislation Wednesday that would have restricted health care access for transgender children and teenagers by requiring people under 18 years old to get written permission from both their parents before pursuing medical care and mental health services based on their gender identity.
This means that Fesi’s proposal is no longer in play for the session, but three other bills that would impose restrictions on transgender people remain under consideration during the Louisiana Legislature’s session. The other three bills have not come up for a vote yet.
Health care professionals and transgender advocates told lawmakers on the Senate Health and Welfare Committee that Fesi’s bill would make it harder for transgender children and teens to get health care if they didn’t have total family support. Parents who are not an active part of a child’s life would have been able to block care for children if they didn’t accept their gender identity, under Fesi’s bill.
The bill was opposed by a range of health groups, including some of the state’s largest hospitals and health care systems. Senate Health Committee Chairman Fred Mills, R-Parks, said 400 organizations and people had submitted cards officially opposing the legislation. Mills, a lawmaker for several years, said he had never seen such overwhelming opposition for a bill.
A handful of doctors, social workers, and therapists showed up in the Louisiana Capitol to publicly testify against the bill — saying it would criminalize their services.
Ryan Pasternak, a New Orleans doctor who treats transgender people, said he has been been forced to have conversations with families of transgender children and teens over the last several weeks about the impact of the legislation.
He said some of his patients and their families had sobbed uncontrollably when he told them that Fesi’s legislation could interfere with their treatment. He said transgender children with single parents or grandparents overseeing their care were worried, since the legislation required that both parents be on board with treatment.
“They are distraught that lawmakers would put a barrier in place to their health care and support,” Pasternak said.
For Audrey Ligier, the issue was very personal. Ligier is a 17 year-old transgender teenager and a junior in high school. She said she became distraught when she hit puberty, as her body became more masculine. Receiving treatment that helped her body reflect her gender has helped her both mentally and physically.
“This gender therapy is necessary for me to survive,” she said.
But Ligier only has the support of her father. Her mother — who isn’t involved in her life — doesn’t recognize her identity, she said. Under Fesi’s bill, Ligier’s mother could have halted her treatment over the objections of her father, who is her full-time parent.
Ligier’s brother, Donovan, confirmed that their mother is not supportive of his sister. He said his mother left the family several years ago and hasn’t been active in their lives.
“Ever since she was little, I knew [my sister] was a girl,” he told lawmakers. “[My mother] has never really accepted my sister for who she really is.”
Ligier’s father, J.D., said his daughter’s gender hasn’t always been easy for him to understand. As a military veteran, he wasn’t familiar with gender dysphoria, but he also knew his daughter was a girl from the time she was very young.
“Since she could first walk, she was making clothes into dresses,” he said.
Even though the bill was shelved, the Senate hearing included some tense interactions. At one point, New Orleans resident Cathleen Hyde got in a testy exchange with Sen. Beth Mizell, R-Franklinton, about Hyde’s nonbinary child.
Hyde said her 10-year-old child uses they/them pronouns because the child doesn’t align with either gender. Mizell continued to refer to the child as “she,” offending Hyde.
Mizell is also the sponsor of one of the other bills that impose restrictions on transgender people. Her legislation would prohibit transgender girls and women from participating in women’s sports competitions.
But Mizell, visibly upset, was frustrated that Hyde and others thought that she was being intentionally disrespectful.
“Help me understand,” Mizell told transgender advocates. “I would never want to hurt a child.”
In addition to causing health problems for transgender youth, New Orleans tourism leaders have also said the legislation could have had a negative impact on the state’s economy.
Several artists, sports leagues and other business leaders might refuse to hold events or travel to Louisiana if any transgender restrictions are approved. Many groups — including the NBA and NCAA — have been willing to boycott states that have imposed limitations on the transgender and gay communities in recent years.
Gov. John Bel Edwards has already said he will veto any bill that impose transgender restrictions if it reaches his desk.