In a clash of ideologies and efforts to discern whether the “Fairness in Women’s Sports Act” would promote discrimination or protect against reverse discrimination, the Louisiana House of Representatives failed to override the Governor’s veto, sending SB 156 to the dust bin.
The measure, authored by Senator Beth Mizell, would have had the effect of prohibiting transgender females, those assigned as male at birth, from competing in traditional women’s sports.
In the 2021 regular legislative session, SB 156 easily passed both the Senate (29–6–4) and the House (78–19–8).
But on June 22, Gov. Edwards announced he had vetoed the bill, stating “… discrimination is not a Louisiana value, and this bill was a solution in search of a problem that simply does not exist in Louisiana.” And, “Further, it would make life more difficult for transgender children, who are some of the most vulnerable Louisianans when it comes to issues of mental health.”
On July 20 the Legislature convened a veto override session for the first time since the 1974 constitution. Sources report a primarily reason for the session was to override the veto on Mizell’s SB 156.
The Senate narrowly overcame the veto with a 26–12–1vote. However, the House vote, 68–30-6, fell two votes short of the super majority needed to override the Governor’s veto.
Mizell’s bill highlights the crossroads of transgender individuals’ rights and the rights of biological female athletes. The issue has galvanized both the political left and right across the country.
The conflict is likely in response to the national level legislation, H.R. 5, “Equality Act,” submitted in the US Congress and passed at the federal level by the House. The Equality Act would allow those assigned at birth as males to compete as females following gender reassignment. H.R. 5 is waiting a vote in the US Senate.
Idaho was the first state to react, passing a “Fairness in Women’s Sports Act,” in 2020, which requires transgender student-athletes to compete based on their gender assigned at birth. The American Civil Liberties Union has sued to block the law’s enforcement, but a number of states have followed Idaho’s example. These include Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Mississippi, Montana, Tennessee, and West Virginia. According to the data from the Progressive Action Fund, 25 similar bills have been introduced at last count.
The American Psychological Association opposes these measures, stating, “Transgender children vary in athletic ability, just as other youth do. There is no evidence to support claims that allowing transgender student athletes to play on the team that fits their gender identity would affect the nature of the sport or competition.”
The Louisiana Psychological Association opposed SB 156 and the Louisiana School Psychological Association labeled the bill as discriminatory saying, “SB 156 runs counter to our obligation to support all students’ dignity and privacy, particularly those with transgender and gender diverse backgrounds.”
The two sides presented their ideas in the committee. In the original Senate Committee hearing, during the spring legislative session, Senator Mizell opened her arguments by highlighting the advancements made by female athletes since Title IX and the 70s.
“The strides that have been made for women athletes to reach the pinnacle of where they are now is something that we should not take for granted and allow that to be lost.”
Mizell gave the example of Chelsea Mitchell from Connecticut, where transgender athletes have captured 15 titles that previously belonged to nine different girls. Chelsea Mitchell reported it to be a “devastating experience” that impacted her college scholarship opportunities.
Sheila Thompson Johnson, high school and college player, coach and Athletic Director at Louisiana College said she was a product of Title IX and would never have gone to college without her scholarship. She said there are very few spots for girls at the top and she wants to
“…preserve the fair and equal opportunities guaranteed to them by federal law…”
Glason Bernard, LSU graduate and track and field athlete also spoke. Both he and Johnson said they feel strongly that there are biological differences between men and women that cannot be dismissed.
Also speaking in support of Mizell’s bill was a representative from Louisiana Association of Superintendents, and a football coach and member of Louisiana High School Athletic Association (LHSAA).
The Executive Director for the LHSAA spoke and stated that the Association has a policy and position paper regarding this situation and the association is in support of the bill.
Senator Katrina Jackson asked if the policy includes those males who go through gender therapy and become trans females. “Can they then qualify to compete in the females group?”
He answered yes, “That’s in the position paper.” Jackson pointed out that LHSAA has a conflicting statement between the bylaws and the policy and Sen. Mizell’s bill would clear that up. He agreed.
Sen. Jackson referenced a study noting that the transgender individual still has a 9% advantage over their biological female counterparts. “I’ve looked for studies, talked to physicians, and when I looked at this bill. I looked at affirming hormone therapy and would that change the athletic ability, […] to basically level out the playing field. And what the journals are telling me is–no. That’s where I get a concern.”
Testifying in opposition to the bill was Dr. Clifton Mixon, member of the Louisiana Psychological Association’s legislative committee, Sarah Jane Guidry, executive director of Forum for Equality, Dr. Melissa Flournoy, chair of Louisiana Progress Action, Dylan Wagues back from True Colors United, Alexis Canfield from STAR, and Chris Kaiser from the ACLU of Louisiana.
Dr. Mixon said, “I want to clarify some of the misstatements. First of all, this bill is about discrimination. It is about something that is not a problem currently. And I want to highlight a couple of statements I heard that evidences what underlies this bill. ‘You don’t get to play God.’ I think is a direct attack against transgender persons,” he said.
“Also, calling people biological males instead of identifying them as females inherently identifies your opposition and the authenticity of them being who they are.” Dr. Mixon talked about the impact that this bill will have on the psychological development of all girls, not just transgender girls. He indicated that he worked closely with endocrinologists and encouraged Senator Mizel and others to “… continue to listen and learn.”
Sarah Jane Guidry, Executive Director for Forum for Equality, Louisiana’s LGBTQ human rights organization, also spoke in opposition. She cited statistics on how difficult and how much harassment transgender individuals experience in school.
Dr. Melissa Flournoy, chair of the Louisiana Progress Action, said that she does not feel that the legislation is necessary, that there has been no issues in Louisiana.
Dylan Waguespack, Director at Cindy Lauper‘s nonprofit True Colors United, said the bill goes too far on these issues and needs further work.
Alexis Canfield, from STAR, discussed the psychological impact on transgender individuals and Chris Kaiser, with the ACLU of Louisiana, spoke on the potential for discrimination against transgender individuals.
During the testimony, Sen. Katrina Jackson suggested that Dr. Mixon had inferred that anyone who votes for this bill was “transphobic.” Jackson said she did not want anyone thinking she was transphobic, that this was about protecting women’s athletics, and that people of certain faiths may see the issue differently.
Ultimately Jackson voted against overriding the Governor’s veto. In a July 21 press release, she explained that she and others voted to sustain the governors veto “… based on a technicality that undermined the existing policy from the Louisiana High School Athletic Association. In the announcement, Senators Barrow and Jackson, and Representatives Johnson, Brown, Cormier, and Moore, jointly stated that, “The current LHSAA policy is more restrictive and allowing this bill to move forward would have undermined the current rules.”