Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards speaks at a press conference following the close of the 2023 legislative session on June 8, 2023. (Photo credit: Wes Muller/Louisiana Illuminator)
As promised, Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, has vetoed three anti-LGBTQ+ bills the state’s Republican-majority legislature approved.
In his veto messages, Edwards called out the bills as harmful for youth, discriminatory and extremist.
“The effects of this bill may be to simply give legislative blessing for sanctioned bullying of LGBTQ children in schools under the guise of religious freedom,” Edwards wrote of one bill.
Acting in line with an unprecedented nationwide barrage of state-level legislation, the Louisiana Legislature passed three anti-LGBTQ+ bills targeting young queer and transgender people. While anti-LGBTQ+ legislation has been introduced before in Louisiana, it advanced much further this year than last year when the only two bills filed did not make it out of committee.
House Bill 81 by Rep. Raymond Crews, R-Bossier City, would have forbidden school employees from using transgender students’ preferred names or pronouns unless they have parental approval.
“At its core, this bill is yet another example of a string of discriminatory bills being pushed by extreme groups around the country under the guise of religious freedom,” Edwards said in his veto message on House Bill 81. “But even if you accept the proponents’ religious freedom argument, this bill is still fraught with serious, practical implementation issues.”
House Bill 466 by Rep. Dodie Horton, R-Haughton, would have prohibited discussion of gender identity and sexual orientation in public schools.
House Bill 648 by Rep. Gabe Firment, R-Pollock, would have banned gender-affirming healthcare for trans youth. Edwards detailed his reasons for rejecting Firment’s proposal in a six-page letter, an extreme departure from his usually brief veto messages.
The vetoes put the governor on a crash course with the Republican-dominated legislature, which has a supermajority in both chambers.
Only the ban on gender affirming care was originally passed from the House on a veto-proof majority, although all three were sent back to the House for concurrence on Senate amendments. The vote to approve the amendments occurred with a veto-proof majority.
All three passed the Senate with veto-proof majorities, but lawmakers in both chambers would have to override the veto to enact the bills against Edwards’ wishes.
A veto session automatically occurs 40 days after the regular session adjourns, or July 18, unless a majority of members in either chamber vote to cancel it. Ballots are due July 13.
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Horton’s bill is similar to a Florida law referred to by critics as a “Don’t Say Gay” law. Her proposal is much broader and would have applied to K-12 grades, whereas Florida’s law applies only through the eighth grade.
Horton’s legislation applies to any school employee or volunteer, and it covers discussions in the classroom and during any extracurricular activity, meaning it would have effectively outlawed Gay Straight Alliance clubs.
“This bill unfairly places vulnerable children at the front lines of a vicious culture war,” Edwards wrote in his veto message.
“Further, the language would lead to absurd consequences,” he continued, pointing out that even mentioning a same-sex spouse could violate the proposal.
While proponents of Crews’ proposal argued the bill prioritizes parental rights, teachers with religious or moral objections could have opted to override parental consent to use a student’s given name, also called a deadname, as well as pronouns associated with their sex assigned at birth. Referencing a person by pronouns other than what they identify as is referred to as misgendering.
The bill would not have provided recourse for educators who have a religious or moral objection to deadnaming or misgendering their students.
At the core of Crews’ proposal is his belief that parents have the right to know whether their kids are transgender.
“I don’t think it’s ever good for the parents to not to know what’s going on in school, and it ensures the rights of parents as primary caregivers to know what’s occurring in their children’s lives,” Crews said when the bill came up in the Senate Education Committee.
Advocates have raised concerns about what happens when parents find out — and don’t approve.
A survey from the Trevor Project found that 38% of transgender women, 39% of transgender men and 35% of nonbinary youth experienced homelessness as a result of parental rejection.
“I believe this legislation is rooted in discrimination,” Edwards wrote of Crews’ bill in his veto message. “But even considering the argument of religious freedom, the drafting of this bill is so flawed it leaves the read with so many questions that it will not become law.”
Firment’s proposal is similar to proposals filed in at least 17 other states, including every other state on the Gulf Coast. An Associated Press analysis found most of these bills have strong similarities to model legislation right-wing organizations have put forward.
Edwards rebuke of Firment’s bill was the most harsh of all, sending 6-page letter on why the bill is harmful.
“This bill is entitled the “Stop Harming Our Kids Act,” which is ironic because that is precisely what it does,” Edwards wrote in his veto message.
Edwards goes on to say that because his first act of governor was to expand Medicaid and he has prioritized legislation that expanded medical access to adults and children, it is unfathomable to think he would sign a bill in his final months in office that would denies healthcare to children.
Six similar bans have been blocked by federal courts so far, with judges saying they violate the constitutional rights of patients, families and doctors.
Gender-affirming care is a catch-all term for medical treatments given to people to align their physical bodies with their identified gender. Gender-affirming care is used by transgender people, who identify as a gender different from their sex assigned at birth, as well as cisgender people, who identify as their assigned sex.
Gender-affirming procedures, such as top surgery, which adds or removes breast tissue, or bottom surgery, which constructs a vagina or penis, are not recommended for minors, according to Dr. Kathryn Lowe, a pediatrician who represents the American Academy of Pediatrics section on LGBT health and wellness.
Treatments are individualized to the patient. Some young patients will be prescribed fully reversible puberty blockers, giving the patient time to consider their options.
Later, a patient may be given hormone treatments that can help young people go through puberty in a way that allows their body to change in ways that align with their gender identity. These treatments are partially reversible.
Firment’s bill would have required any youth currently receiving gender-affirming healthcare be taken off the course of treatment by the end of 2024. Providers who specialize in gender-affirming healthcare say that there is no length of time that would make discontinuing care safe, pointing to the risk of suicide.
Studies approximate 80% of transgender youth have considered suicide, and 40% report at least one suicide attempt. Research also indicates gender-affirming healthcare leads to improved mental health outcomes.
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