Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry, squaring against Gov. John Bel Edwards once again, says the state doesn't have to comply with an executive order protecting LGBT state workers and contractors from discrimination. Landry filed his opinion the same day the Louisiana Senate failed to pass LGBT nondiscrimination laws in the workplace - by a vote of a mere 8 yeas to 25 nays.
Edwards' order, the first statewide measure protecting transgender people in the state, prohibits discrimination on the "basis of race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin, political affiliation, disability, or age," and extends that protection in services provided by state agencies.
Landry's opinion says "there is no constitutional or statutory provision in Louisiana banning discrimination on the basis of 'gender identity'" and that Edwards has overstepped his constitutional authority "by attempting to create new legislation in violation of the separation of powers."
The opinion also follows a letter from Louisiana House Republicans following a directive from the U.S. Departments of Education and Justice outlining anti-discrimination efforts on campuses. "This guidance further clarifies what we’ve said repeatedly - that gender identity is protected under Title IX," U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch said May 13. "We must ensure that our young people know that whoever they are or wherever they come from, they have the opportunity to get a great education in an environment free from discrimination, harassment and violence."
House Republicans, echoing nationwide backlash against efforts to expand basic rights to transgender people, said "keeping the sexes separate for the purposes of bathroom and locker room access, for example, is important for the privacy and safety of the children and adults in our state." Both the letter and Landry's opinion question whether transgender people even exist - Landry said "'gender identity' is not and has never been a legally protected class in our state," and the letter questions "the concept of 'gender identity'." ("Transgender" also is written in quotes.) The letter asks, and Landry's opinion repeats, "Does this mean that all state agencies, offices, commissions, boards and entities of the state must allow persons to use public restrooms of the gender with which they 'identify' regardless of their biological sex?"
In a statement, Edwards said Landry has "overstepped his authority" and is "attempting to erode the constitutionally granted executive order power of the governor and is disrupting the work of state agencies."
"My executive order, as has been the case with previous executive orders, is a fully constitutional, good faith effort by the state to eliminate employment discrimination of any kind," Edwards said. "More importantly, this executive order, for the first time, was written in a way that respects the religious beliefs of every single person in Louisiana. Discrimination, of any kind, is not a Louisiana value, and I will do everything in my power, including enforcing this order, to foster a productive and welcoming work environment in Louisiana’s state government."
Today, Landry announced that Louisiana has joined 10 other states (Alabama, Alaska, Georgia, Maine, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Wisconsin, West Virginia and Utah) in a federal lawsuit opposing the "transgender mandate." The suit filed in U.S. District Court opposes the U.S. Departments of Education and Justice "and other federal agencies and officials issuing directives that require Louisiana public schools open up all intimate areas (restrooms, locker rooms, etc.) to both sexes." The order doesn't "open up all intimate areas to both sexes" - it allows transgender people to access their respective areas without discrimination. But Landry argues being transgender is a mental illness, citing anti-LGBT groups on the conservative Christian lobbying group Family Research Council's Washington Watch with Tony Perkins: "The good Lord doesn’t build us in that particular way."
The legislative side of the battle comes from state Rep. Mike Johnson, R-Bossier City. Last year, Johnson failed to pass a "Marriage and Conscience Act" as the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of same-sex marriage. Johnson's bill, he said, allowed for a "shield" of protection for people with a "moral objection" to same-sex marriage without losing state licenses, funding or tax exempt status (though churches and religious organizations already have those protections).
"Rep. Johnson, it seems, is taking a sudden interest in the constitutionality of language with which he had no objection prior to his current political pursuits." - Gov. John Bel Edwards
After its failure, then-Gov. Bobby Jindal issued his ownexecutive order
- which Johnson supported.
Edwards' office says Johnsonsent a note
to legislators requesting they co-sign the letter to Landry, prompting his objection to Edwards' executive order.
This session, Johnson has steamrolled through Legislature sponsoring bills blocking abortion and "sanctuary cities," eating hours of debate, andhis "Pastor Protection Act"
attempted to pick up where his failed "Marriage and Conscience Act" left off.
Yesterday, Johnson failed to plead his case in front of two Senate Judiciary committees, happening simultaneously. His Pastor Protection Act - which attempted to protect members of any "religious organization" from having to provide "services" to anyone they believe "violate[s] a sincerely held religious belief" - was killed by the Senate Judiciary B Committee on May 24. House Bill 1148 from state Rep. Valarie Hodges, R-Denham Springs, would've allowed the state attorney general to determine if cities have "sanctuary policies" for immigrants and cut them off from certain funding. Landry also supported the bill and testified on its behalf May 17 to the Senate Judiciary A Committee.
Johnson supported Hodges on the House floor May 4, and, after the Pastor Protection Act failed, supported her at the Senate Judiciary A Committee - where Hodges' bill also died.
“Rep. Johnson, it seems, is taking a sudden interest in the constitutionality of language with which he had no objection prior to his current political pursuits,” Edwards said. “Discrimination isn’t welcome in Louisiana, but as is the case often, folks running for office seem to forget that we have an obligation to protect all of our citizens."