Legislation that would have kept transgender youth from participating in women’s K-12 sports was rejected Tuesday by the Louisiana House Education Committee.

State Rep. Beryl Amedée said her House Bill 542 was aimed at leveling the playing field by forbidding anyone who was not female at birth from participating in organized girls’ sports. The committee voted 5 for and 6 against, refusing to advance the measure to the full House.

Thirty-one state assemblies across the nation are considering similar legislation to exclude transgender youth from school athletics. Three of those bills – in Arkansas, Mississippi, and Tennessee – were signed into law recently. The governor of South Dakota vetoed the measure passed by that state’s legislature.

A Republican from Gray in Terrebonne Parish, Amedée is an ordained minister and assistant pastor at Vision Christian Center, an evangelical congregation. She also is vice chairwoman of the Louisiana Republican Party’s executive committee.

Though not really an issue in Louisiana, Amedée contended that her measure was not against transgender people, but protective of women.

“I don’t see this as discriminating against women, it discriminates against transgender people,” said New Orleans Rep. Aimee Freeman, a Democrat.

Lawmakers noted that major sports organizations had withdrawn their events from other states that have passed similar restrictions. New Orleans is set to receive the NCAA Basketball Final Four tournament in April 2022 and some legislators worried that passing the legislation would provoke the NCAA to move the Final Four, one of the largest and most lucrative sporting events, from Louisiana.

“That’s their loss, not ours,” Amedée said, adding that she felt that protecting the integrity of women’s sports was worth more than any dollar figure.

“Sometimes we have to do the right thing,” Amedee said, “even when we suffer a financial loss.”

Claston Bernard, a 6-foot-4 former Olympian, stood up at the hearing table to show how he towered over women. the former LSU athlete noted that it been years since he had competed. Yet, he still can clear a high jump bar set over 6-feet – high enough to put him among the elite women athletes in that event.

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“This bill is unfair to women,” said Bernard, who ran unsuccessfully as a Republican in the recent 2nd Congressional District race. Amedée touched his arm. “Oh, I’m sorry opposing this bill is unfair to women.”

Her legislation was supported by Louisiana Family Forum, a powerful lobbying group representing conservative Christians, the Louisiana Baptist Convention, which has more than 850,000 congregants, and the Louisiana Republican Party.

Episcopalian priest Tommy Dillon, of Baton Rouge, testified against the legislation, saying the bill would only serve to marginalize transgender youth. “We should respect the dignity all of God’s children,” he told the committee.

Nithya Ravidran, a doctor of osteopathic medicine who works with children and teens in New Orleans, said the result of the legislation would isolate transgender youth and lead to more suicides.

The effort isn’t over yet as Senate Bill 156 – also called “The Fairness in Women’s Sports Act” – cleared the Senate Education committee last week and will be procedurally ready for a vote by the full Senate later this week. With nearly identical wording, SB156 also would require that athletic teams or sporting events for women at public schools be composed only of "biological females," or those who presumably were listed as female on their birth certificates.

Supporters say that transgender girls are born bigger and faster, giving them an unfair advantage in competition. Opponents say the legislation is rooted in fear and may violate federal laws barring sex discrimination.

Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, opposes the legislation and other measures targeting transgender youth.

The Louisiana High School Athletic Association already has taken a position that student athletes "shall compete in the gender of their birth certificate unless they have undergone sex reassignment."

Voting to forbid anyone not female at birth from participating in organized girls’ sports (5): Reps Beryl Amedée, R-Houma; Rick Edmonds, R-Baton Rouge; Chuck Owen, R-Rosepine; Vinney St. Blanc, R-Franklin; and Phillip Tarver, R-Lake Charles.

Voting against HB542 (6): Reps. Ken Brass, D-Vacherie; Aimee Freeman, D-New Orleans; Barbara Freiberg, R-Baton Rouge; Stephanie Hilferty, R-New Orleans; Patrick Jefferson, D-Homer; and Tammy Phelps, D-Shreveport.

Email Mark Ballard at mballard@theadvocate.com.