Louisiana ban on transgender women in women sports competitions looks more likely to pass

Gov. John Bel Edwards says he will veto the legislation

By: - April 29, 2021 2:59 pm
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Ted Eytan via Flickr

A ban on letting transgender women and girls participate in women and girls sports looks more likely to gain approval of the full Louisiana Legislature, after it passed out of the state Senate Education Committee controlled by a Democrat Thursday. 

“What I’m hearing is there are young women athletes who fear their opportunities are going to be taken away,” said Sen. Beth Mizell, R-Franklinton, the sponsor of the legislation.

The legislation has some powerful allies, including the Louisiana Family Forum, a conservative Christian advocacy organization, and the Louisiana High School Athletic Association, which governs high school sports in the state. Both Democrats and Republicans on the Senate committee supported the bill. The Louisiana House also has essentially a copy of the legislation, sponsored by Rep. Beryl Amedee, which hasn’t come up for a vote yet.

Transgender advocates said the legislation will not just prohibit transgender women and girls from participating in sporting events, but also block transgender men and boys from being able to participate in sports as well. 

Those who are fighting the legislation said this week that they see no probable way of halting the bill during the legislative session. They hope the proposal won’t eventually become law because Gov. John Bel Edwards has said publicly that he intends to veto the proposal.

New Orleans tourism leaders have raised alarms that the law could damage Louisiana’s economy. Tourism, particularly in the New Orleans area, is a major driver of the entire state’s economy. If Louisiana enacts any transgender restriction, sports leagues, conferences and business groups may start boycotting the state, said several New Orleans tourism leaders in interviews earlier this month

In spite of those dire predictions, those tourism leaders also did not show up to publicly testify in front of lawmakers and oppose the legislation Thursday.

Nevertheless, the NCAA has already implied that such a law might push them to pull events. The NCAA Men’s Final Four college basketball tournament is supposed to come to New Orleans next year. New Orleans also regularly hosts the Allstate Sugar Bowl and is supposed to host the Super Bowl in 2025.

Supporters of the legislation have not been able to point to a current problem with transgender girls and women participating in sports competitions in Louisiana.

Sen. Cleo Fields, D-Baton Rouge, asked Mizell if she knew of any transgender women and girls who were causing problems for women and girls sports.

“I’m not aware of any,” Mizell responded.

Mizell said it is important to take pre-emptive action because there have been problems in other states regarding transgender women athletes.

The Louisiana High School Athletic Association has strict laws in place regarding transgender high school students — boys and girls — such that it is impossible for them to join a sports team, according to transgender advocates. The organization has seen no cases of transgender girls trying to compete in high school girls sports, said Eddie Bonine, executive director for the organization, in an interview Thursday.

Sports leagues and businesses have also boycotted states over transgender and other LGBTQ restrictions previously.

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 moved 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 Georgia Republicans  following President Joe Biden’s 2020 win in the state. 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.

Mizell said she won’t be pressured into pulling her bill by corporate interests or sports leagues.

“I think we are in a scary place when the NCAA dictates how we treat our athletes,” Mizell said.

While Mizell’s bill likely has the support of the majority of lawmakers, it’s unclear if it has enough votes to make a gubernatorial veto override possible. Two-thirds of lawmakers in both the House and the Senate would have to vote to overturn the governor’s wishes. 

Veto overrides are exceedingly rare in Louisiana. Lawmakers have only overturned a gubernatorial veto twice in the last 40 years, but that doesn’t mean one won’t occur. Edwards is a Democrat and Republicans control the Legislature. The partisan divide could make a veto override more likely.

The Senate Education Committee’s support of the legislation came the day after another bill imposing transgender restrictions in the health care committee was pulled from consideration. In total, Louisiana lawmakers have filed four bills with transgender restrictions this year.

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Julie O'Donoghue
Julie O'Donoghue

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