In pushing a transgender sports ban, Louisiana Republicans manufactured a war and lost it | Jarvis DeBerry

July 23, 2021 8:20 am

Security officials at the Louisiana State Capitol removed members of Real Name Campaign NOLA from the balcony of the Louisiana House Tuesday after they unfurled a banner reading “Protect Trans Youth.” The group was protesting the Louisiana Legislature’s plan to override Gov. Johh Bel Edwards’ veto of a bill banning transgender girls and women from participating in girls’ and women’s sports. (Photo by Rachel Mipro / Louisiana Illuminator)

While it may have been true during Tip O’Neil’s time that “All politics is local,” it’s been 34 years since he served as Speaker of the U.S. House and 27 years since he died.  With the dominance of talk radio and cable news networks and the central role social media plays in our lives, we can say with increasing confidence now that all politics is national.

Louisiana Republicans’ decision to die on the hill of anti-transgender legislation is proof.  The desire to ban transgender girls and women from girls’ sports competition couldn’t possibly have been driven by local politics because, as both opponents and proponents of the legislation acknowledge, there is no known case of any transgender girl or woman competing in Louisiana athletics.

But Republicans decided to host the first veto override session in the state’s history mostly to demonstrate to the Deep South’s only Democratic governor that his veto of the anti-transgender legislation wasn’t enough to protect the transgender youth the governor expressed concern about. They ended the session looking hapless, failing to override that veto — or any of the governor’s other 27.

It’s inconceivable that a transgender girl could compete if she wanted to because the Louisiana High School Athletics Association doesn’t allow students to compete on sports teams that don’t match the sex assigned to them at birth unless they underwent gender affirmation surgery before puberty and then waited two years to apply for competition. Performing such surgeries on prepubescent children is unheard of.

As Rep. Royce Duplessis (D-New Orleans) said from the floor of the House Wednesday, “If this were a real problem, we would have addressed this issue, years ago. But this is nothing but a manufactured wedge issue that is aimed only at dividing us. And that is what it has done.”

It isn’t the only manufactured issue that the state’s Republicans have been describing as an existential threat. The other issues include critical race theory — which they appear to have just heard of — the apparent faultiness of our election apparatus, and the idea that it’s a burden for people who want to carry concealed to have to get a permit.

But the transgender sports ban, even though it would have banned athletes who are already banned, was the most meanspirited.

Duplessis said Thursday he felt transgender youths “were being used somewhat as a scapegoat, used as some bogeyman. And this issue is just so nonexistent ….This is not an issue in our state, and it’s really not even an issue in the country….These are kids that we, we don’t really even know their names or their identities because they’re in the shadows trying to become their true selves. So, this is really an issue about our humanity.”

Duplessis spoke in rebuttal to Rep. Laurie Schlegel, a Metairie Republican, who didn’t even acknowledge the existence of transgender people, didn’t even use the word “transgender” and repeatedly used the term “biological males” who might  “decid[e]” that they’re female and deny others scholarship opportunities and trips to the Olympics. 

“We might not want to accept or understand the challenges that our trans youth face,” Duplessis said to his colleagues Wednesday, “but they are children. And they’re our children, and their lives matter. Our trans children who are suffering from depression and homelessness, suicidal thoughts, violent attacks, they’re not on a mission to dominate sports. They’re on a mission just to survive.”

Several Black Democrats, who depend on religious voters as much if not more than their White Republican counterparts do, were among the yes votes when the bill originally passed through the Legislature, but not one supported the veto override. Duplessis’ district includes the French Quarter, so he said he had no worries about anger from his voters, but he acknowledged that many of his Black colleagues were in a bind.  “What helped many of the Black Democrats… was the fact that this became an R versus D thing, and it was really more of an effort to override a Democratic governor.”

Duplessis said the state and local parties are “all taking their cues from whoever the leader of their party is, and if you’re on the right within the Republican Party, it’s obviously Trump. The nuances that used to exist at the local level… I don’t really see that playing out much around here.”

That’s what made the emphasis on overriding vetoes so shameful.  With all the problems Louisiana does have — poverty, pollution, skyhigh COVID-19 infection rates — Louisiana Republicans launched a losing war over problems that don’t exist.

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Jarvis DeBerry
Jarvis DeBerry

Jarvis DeBerry, former editor of the Louisiana Illuminator, spent 22 years at The Times-Picayune (and later as a crime and courts reporter, an editorial writer, columnist and deputy opinions editor. He was on the team of Times-Picayune journalists awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service after that team’s coverage of Hurricane Katrina and the deadly flood that followed. In addition to the shared Pulitzer, DeBerry has won awards from the Louisiana Bar Association for best trial coverage and awards from the New Orleans Press Club, the Louisiana/ Mississippi Associated Press and the National Association of Black Journalists for his columns. A collection of his Times-Picayune columns, “I Feel to Believe” was published by the University of New Orleans Press in September 2020.