Louisiana governor vetoes transgender sports participation ban

Greg Hilburn
Lafayette Daily Advertiser
President Pro Tempore Beth Mizell  during the Senate Select Committee on Women and Children at the Louisiana State Capitol in Baton Rouge, LA.  Thursday, April 8, 2021.

Gov. John Bel Edwards has vetoed a bill that would bar transgender athletes in Louisiana from competing on girls' school sports teams, saying it fosters discrimination against some of the state's "most vulnerable" children.

"As I have said repeatedly when asked about this bill, discrimination is not a Louisiana value and this bill was a solution in search of a problem that simply does not exist in Louisiana," said Edwards, a Democrat, in his veto message. "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.

"We should be looking for more ways to unite rather than divide our citizens."

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But Republican Sen. Beth Mizell of Franklinton said her Senate Bill 156 would have protected girls and young women from facing athletes who would have a biological advantage because of their birth sex.

A bill by Sen. Beth Mizell would ban transgender girls from playing on female sports teams.

"Women have worked too hard for too long to get to the competitive level we have attained to now face an unfair playing field," Mizell told USA Today Network Tuesday. "This was to protect biological girls to compete with biological girls."

Mizell said she hopes lawmakers will come back in for a veto override session.

Although that's exceedingly rare in Louisiana, members of the Republican-controlled Senate and House passed Mizell's bill with veto-proof margins.

Opponents noted the Louisiana High School Athletic Association already has language that says athletes “shall compete in the gender of their birth certificate unless they have undergone sex reassignment."

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Mizell acknowledged there have been no identified incidents in Louisiana of transgender girls competing on girls teams, but said, "We build levees before the flood ever comes. We're trying to be preemptive."

Former Louisiana College women's basketball Coach Sheila Thompson Johnson, a member of the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame, testified Mizell's bill would "preserve and protect fair opportunities guaranteed by federal law," referring to Title IX.

Sarah Guidry of the Forum for Equality said the bill was a "disheartening" effort to discriminate against transgender youth.

Mizell, the second-ranking member of the state Senate, said at least 20 states have adopted similar legislation.

Mizell's legislation would require the makeup of public schools' teams “shall be expressly designated, based upon biological sex.”

Edwards also warned in his veto message that imposing transgender restrictions could threaten the state's hosting of the 2022 NCAA Final Four set in New Orleans.

"... while there is no issue to be solved by this bill, it does present real problems in that it makes it more likely than NCAA and professional championships, like the 2022 Final Four, would not happen in our state," he said.

In April, the NCAA issued a statement saying it "firmly and unequivocally supports the opportunity for transgender student-athletes to compete in college sports."

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"When determining where championships are held, NCAA policy directs that only locations where hosts can commit to providing an environment that is safe, healthy and free of discrimination should be selected," the NCAA said. "We will continue to closely monitor these situations to determine whether NCAA championships can be conducted in ways that are welcoming and respectful of all participants."

Greg Hilburn covers state politics for the USA TODAY Network of Louisiana. Follow him on Twitter @GregHilburn1.