Transgender athletes would be barred from participating in girls' or women's sports at public schools under a proposal filed last week by a group of GOP state lawmakers, adding Louisiana to a growing list of legislatures considering restrictions on transgender rights.
The law as proposed mirrors dozens of other laws introduced across the country in recent months and would require that athletics teams for women at public institutions be composed of "biological females," or those who presumably were listed as female at birth. It would exclude transgender women and girls — those whose internal psychological gender identity is female but were assigned male at birth.
State Rep. Beryl Amedée, R-Houma, the lead sponsor of House Bill 542, said it "isn't fair to let people who are biologically male compete against females on women's teams." When pressed, Amedée couldn't cite a single example in Louisiana where transgender participation in sports had created a problem.
"I’m sure we’ve had some instance of transgender students playing on teams, but apparently it hasn’t risen to the point where it's caused a problem," Amedée said, adding that the legislation is a proactive measure.
Dylan Waguespack, president of Louisiana Trans Advocates, described the measure as a "solution in search of a problem," part of a broader political campaign to denigrate a minority group that already faces heightened levels of stigma, bullying and discrimination.
The bill will be considered during the legislative session beginning April 12 along with another proposal that requires transgender minors first receive written consent from both parental guardians before receiving gender-confirming health care like puberty blockers or hormone therapy.
A third bill would ban such treatments for minors outright, and tack penalties of up to two years imprisonment or $10,000 in fines for health care providers that go against the law. A similar proposal was vetoed on Monday by Arkansas' GOP governor.
"These bills aren't being introduced to solve a real problem," Waguespack said. "If they're not good-faith solutions to real problems, I can only guess we're having this conversation to make it harder to be a trans young person in Louisiana."
The text of the legislation, versions of which were introduced in both the House and Senate, argues that transgender girls, because they were born male, are naturally stronger, faster and bigger than those born female. It has no qualms with transgender boys participating on girls teams. Sen. Beth Mizell, R-Franklinton, the sponsor of Senate Bill 156, did not return requests for comment.
It's unclear how many transgender athletes would be impacted if the bill succeeds. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that as many as one in 50 high school students identify as transgender.
The Louisiana High School Athletics Association requires transgender athletes to undergo sterilization or surgery if they want to compete, restrictions that have resulted in zero trans players at that level, Waguespack said. He noted that such surgical interventions are rarely recommended for minors. LHSAA did not return a request for comment.
The legislation would more likely impact children in kindergarten through eighth grade, Waguespack said, adding that "sports is a way to get exercise, to stay healthy, to develop the sort of characteristics we hope to see in leaders," and that transgender children deserve those opportunities just as much as any other child.
Another bill, proposed by state Sen. Mike Fesi, R-Houma, would require transgender youth receive written consent from both parents to receive hormones, puberty blockers or other gender-affirming therapy, including "counseling or psychotherapy."
Waguespack said access to puberty blockers and hormone therapies have been shown to reduce suicidality in transgender youth and in many cases are "life saving" treatments. Puberty blockers, which are reversible, delay the onset of puberty, giving minors who are questioning their gender time to explore their identity before undergoing the irreversible effects of puberty, Waguespack said.
A final bill, sponsored by Michael "Gabe" Firment, R-Pollock, takes the extra step of adding criminal penalties for providers that offer such treatments and surgeries, except in cases where one is born with ambiguous genitals, irregular chromosomes or testicular or ovarian issues. Firment declined to comment.
Chris Kaiser, the advocacy director at the ACLU of Louisiana, said it's unlikely any of the legislation would survive legal challenges, noting that federal courts have been consistent and clear that federal law protects transgender people. The only law implemented banning transgender women in sports, in Idaho, was struck down by a federal judge in August.
"These are not coming from organizations that specialize with working with transgender people in education or health care systems, or with women in sports," Kaiser said. "These are political attacks and they’re brazenly discriminatory."
Editor's Note: An earlier version of this story said that only cisgendered women could play on female athletics teams. The story has been updated to reflect that transgender boys will also be able to play on such teams.