Transgender Athletes-Montana

FILE - In this March 15, 2021, file photo demonstrators gather on the steps of the Montana State Capitol protesting anti-LGBTQ+ legislation in Helena, Mont. The Montana Senate advanced Tuesday, March 30, 2021, a bill that would ban transgender athletes from participating in school and college sports according to the gender with which they identify, but amended it to be voided if the federal government withholds federal funding from the state due to the measure. (Thom Bridge/Independent Record via AP, File)

A law that would bar transgender athletes from participating on sports teams that match their gender identity advanced out of the Senate Committee on Education Thursday, though its author couldn't cite an example locally of the problem it purports to solve. 

Senate Bill 156, sponsored by Sen. Beth Mizell, R-Franklinton, would require that athletic teams or sporting events for women at public institutions be composed only of "biological females," or those who presumably were listed as female on their birth certificates.

Mizell said the bill is aimed at maintaining a level playing field for female athletes, arguing that if transgender girls are permitted to compete, there will "no longer be women's sports."

When asked by Sen. Cleo Fields, D-Baton Rouge, whether there was an instance in Louisiana where there was a problem with K-12 students wanting to play on the sports team of the opposite sex, Mizell said she was not aware of any. 

“So it’s not a problem in Louisiana, now?” Fields said. 

“Not in Louisiana,” Mizell said, adding that the measure is "preemptive."

SB156 is one of several measures seeking to limit transgender rights that lawmakers are mulling this legislative session. Another, Senate Bill 104, was shelved on Wednesday amid immense opposition. It would prohibit gender therapy — including certain counseling and hormone treatments — for minors unless both parents gave written consent.

Opponents say SB156 and others like it are rooted in discrimination and fear, and may violate federal laws barring sex discrimination. 

Supporters say that transgender girls are born bigger and faster, giving them an unfair advantage in competition. 

Sheila Thompson-Johnson, a Louisiana Hall of Fame basketball player married to GOP state Rep. Mike Johnson, asked lawmakers to envision a hypothetical girl in small-town Louisiana who might lose out on a college education because a transgender girl is chosen instead for an athletic scholarship.

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“I don’t see a pathway where there’s not an unfair advantage, physically,” said state Sen. Katrina Jackson, D-Monroe, who voted for the bill. “I don’t know the answer, but the answer is not taking away someone else’s opportunity.”

Dr. Clifton S. Mixon, a child psychologist at Ochsner, said the bill "solves a problem that doesn't exist" and "approaches a very complex issue with a mallet that’s going to hurt a lot of people.” He noted that transgender youth already face heightened levels of bullying and said this legislation will only further harassment and self-loathing.

"We're overly focused on competitiveness and not humanity," Mixon added. 

There are no transgender athletes currently competing on high school sports matching their gender identity in Louisiana. That's because the rules promulgated by the Louisiana High School Athletics Association require transgender athletes to undergo sex reassignment surgery — interventions that aren't typical recommended for minors, according to Dylan Waguespack, president of Louisiana Trans Advocates. 

Melissa Flournoy, a former state legislator who now chairs the board of Louisiana Progress Action, said if the bill ultimately becomes law, the state could end up forfeiting economic opportunities like the Sugar Bowl. 

The NCAA Board of Governors said recently it will only host championship events in states that are “safe, healthy and free of discrimination.” The board didn’t spell out what it meant specifically, but the Final Four is slated to be held in New Orleans in 2022, prompting some to worry the bills could thwart that if they become law. 

Mizell said it's "scary" to think that lawmakers would make a decision based on the threat of an economic sanction. 

Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, has indicated he'd veto the bill if it makes it to his desk. 

“I am really concerned about emotionally fragile people and the idea that the weight of the state would be put behind something that to me is unnecessary and discriminatory and very hurtful for those individuals when there’s not a compelling reason to do it,” Edwards said in April.

The bill passed out of committee with unanimous support and now heads to the Senate floor for a full debate. There were no objections from the committee’s members, which includes Sens. Bodi White, R-Central; Cleo Fields, D-Baton Rouge; Katrina Jackson, D-Monroe; Mark Abraham, R-Lake Charles; Robert Mills, R-Minden; and Kirk Talbot, R-River Ridge.

Email Blake Paterson at bpaterson@theadvocate.com and follow him on Twitter @blakepater