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Louisiana governor opts not to veto transgender athlete ban

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Jennifer Marusak holds up her Northeast Louisiana University letterman’s jacket during a Senate committee hearing Thursday, April 7, 2022, Marusak supports Sen. Beth Mizell’s proposal to ban transgender athletes from women’s and girls’ sports. (Greg LaRose/Louisiana Illuminator)

Gov. John Bel Edwards chose not to block a new law banning transgender athletes from participating in women and girls sports competitions in Louisiana, although he successfully vetoed a similar measure last year.

“That bill was going to become law regardless of what I did,” Edwards said Monday at a press conference. “Acknowledging that reality is important, but what I feel about the bill hasn’t changed.”

Starting Aug. 1, transgender athletes who have their sex listed as male on their birth certificate will be prohibited from participating in girls and women’s sports. The exclusion will also apply to transgender girls and women who alter their birth certificate later in life to reflect their gender identity.

Senate Bill 44, sponsored by Senate President Pro Tempore Beth Mizell, R-Franklinton, also prohibits schools from disbanding women and girls sports programs in favor of mixed-gender teams in order to avoid excluding transgender athletes. It also bans lawsuits brought against schools that keep sports programs divided by sex, thereby excluding transgender athletes.

Mizell’s bill does create an avenue for cisgender girls and women forced to compete against transgender athletes to sue an educational institution for damages.

The new law will also allow teachers, students and others who are retaliated against for reporting that a transgender athlete is participating in a girls sports program to file a lawsuit. This provision will make it harder for schools and sports leagues — public or private — to intimidate athletes, parents and community members who might want to bring a transgender athlete’s participation in a women or girls sports program to light.

Mizell has said she brought the legislation to protect girls and women from having to compete people assigned the male sex at birth that she considers athletically superior. She believes transgender women and girls have an advantage over cisgender athletes when it comes to sports. 

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There have been a few high-profile cases of transgender women competing in women’s collegiate sports, but supporters of the legislation haven’t been able to point to any cases of transgender athletes dominating women or girls sports in Louisiana. The Louisiana High School Athletic Association already has strict rules that make it virtually impossible for transgender girls to participate in high school sports.

Edwards said he opposes the ban on transgender athlete participation, but he’s also confident lawmakers would have overruled his veto of Mizell’s bill. He registered his objection to the new law by refusing to sign the bill, though it will still become law.

“I hope we all get to a point soon where we realize that these young people are doing the very best that they can to survive,” Edwards said Thursday.

“Whether it’s intended or not, the effect is to send a strong message to these young people that they shouldn’t be who they think they are, who they know they are, who they believe they are,” he said. “I find that very distressing. I do believe we can be better than that.”

Peyton Rose Michelle, a spokeswoman for Louisiana Trans Advocates, was disappointed with the governor’s decision not to veto the legislation.

“I got to speak to the governor personally a couple of weeks ago, and I told him our community wanted him to veto this bill,” she said. “I completely think there is a lot of value in vetoing the bill, even if there is an override.”

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“We have such a high suicide rate [among transgender children], we certainly don’t need any legislation pushing youth farther down that road,” Michelle said Thursday.

Governors in other conservative states vetoed transgender sports bans earlier this year.

Utah Gov. Spencer Cox and Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb, both Republicans, as well Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear, a Democrat, rejected similar transgender sports bans, citing concerns about lawsuits and already high suicide rates among transgender children. The legislatures in those respective states overrode their governors and put the laws into effect anyway.

Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly, a Democrat, also vetoed transgender sports ban legislation in 2021 and 2022, but Kansas lawmakers were not able to override her either year.

Correction: This article initially said Kansas lawmakers had overruled their governor’s veto of a transgender sports ban. They did not.

The Louisiana Illuminator is an independent, nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization with a mission to cast light on how decisions in Baton Rouge are made and how they affect the lives of everyday Louisianians.

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This story was originally published by Louisiana Illuminator and is republished under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0.

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. Julie covered state government and politics for NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune for six years. She’s also covered government and politics in Missouri, Virginia and Washington D.C. Julie is a proud D.C. native and Washington Capitals hockey fan. She and her partner, Jed, live in Baton Rouge. She has two stepchildren, Quinn and Steven.

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