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Commentary: Transgender movement beats Louisiana’s 4 bigoted bills

Commentary by Serena Sojic-Borne |
June 28, 2021
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TGNC people and allies rally at the state capitol’s front steps.
TGNC people and allies rally at the state capitol’s front steps. (David Eden Abraham)

Baton Rouge, LA - On June 22, Governor John Bell Edwards vetoed Louisiana’s transgender sports ban, the state’s last anti-transgender bill. The legislation was Louisiana’s second attempted sports ban this year, on top of two failed healthcare bans.

But the courageous and relentless trans and gender non-conforming (TGNC) movement beat all four of Louisiana’s anti-trans bills. TGNC Louisianans’ story reminds us of what LGBT+ Pride looks like: fighting for our dignity and winning.

How the evangelical Republicans launched their attack

TGNC people are suffering a historic crisis. States passed more anti-trans laws this year than ever.

On March 30, on the eve of Trans Day of Visibility, Republican State Senator Michael Fesi drafted his medical ban, Senate Bill 104. The bill threatened to restrict transgender children from getting gender-affirming healthcare without both parents’ consent, mental health included. On April 2, collaborators in the House followed suit with the nearly identical House Bill 575.

A medical ban would prohibit life-saving treatment and jail the healthcare providers who disobey. TGNC kids often lose their housing or take their own lives after their family rejects them. By requiring parents to speak on their kids’ genders, Fesi could have legalized parental abuse.

Two days later, Republican State Senator Beth Mizell introduced a sports ban, and House ultra-conservatives followed in lockstep. Senate Bill 156 and House Bill 542 would have banned TGNC kids from participating in sports from pre-K through college. These bills targeted trans girls specifically. Ultra-conservatives pushed the bill while knowing that the Olympics, the National Collegiate Athletic Association, and other athletic authorities oppose this discrimination.

A sports ban would humiliate TGNC kids, and could out them to their parents or allow genital inspections. This would green-light sexual assault of minors.

These attacks are national and coordinated. Hate groups like the Alliance Defending Freedom and the Family Research Council collaborated to write the bans and spread them to every state. The “Promise to America’s Children” coalition has full drafts of bigoted bills on its website. This arch-transphobic network includes ‘respected’ policy groups like the Heritage Foundation and local foot soldiers like the Louisiana Family Forum.

Why did they do this? Surveys show that bills like these are extremely unpopular in the U.S., even in the rural South. Our mis-representatives authored them as a political stunt to save themselves. The Black Lives Matter uprising shook the U.S. and Trump lost his election. This came after he let hundreds of thousands die in the pandemic. Instead of acknowledging failure, evangelical Republicans want to scapegoat trans kids.

But they will lose.

The medical ban died before getting a floor vote in either the House or the Senate. The sports ban passed both chambers, but the governor vetoed it. So far in Louisiana, we’re already winning.

How the TGNC people’s movement beat the right-wing reactionaries

In the face of billionaire-backed evangelical Republicans, the TGNC people’s movement and its supporters deserve full credit for defeating these four bills.

Two days after Fesi’s medical ban and on the day of Mizell’s sports ban, 200 people marched against them in New Orleans. They chanted “Transphobes are what? Paper tigers!” and “Hands off trans kids!”

Real Name Campaign, the trans rights organization that called the march, also organized phone and email zaps of legislators’ offices. As the session went on, another group dropped a banner at a street corner in New Orleans reading “Protect trans youth!”

As the session continued, more people throughout the state joined the fight. Even though ordinary TGNC people often feel alienated and boxed out of politics, dozens traveled across the state to tell politicians to reject these bans. They learned to lobby through the community training of Louisiana Trans Advocates.

Louisiana Trans Advocates also brought people out to speak at hearings. On April 28, two hours of heartfelt TGNC testimonials hammered the nail in the medical ban’s coffin. The House version cropped back up in mid-May, but only lasted a few hours before getting removed from the schedule.

Also in May, community testimonials against the House sports ban killed that version of the bill in the Education Committee. But the committee flip-flopped to approve the Senate copy just one week after promising not to.

Later that month, Real Name Campaign held a rally and soccer game in Baton Rouge to defy the ban. Protesters kicked the ball and demanded: “Let us play!”

This popular pressure deprioritized the bill, even for the more hardline Republicans. The movement delayed the ban enough for the governor to veto it after the legislative session ended.

Other important movement groups included Women With A Vision, Freedom Road Socialist Organization - New Orleans, House of Tulip, Southerners on New Ground, the Trans Resource Network of Louisiana, the Flaming Flaguettes, and the ACLU of Louisiana.

What the Democrats didn’t do to help

Louisiana’s Republicans were aggressive and our movement was even stronger, but Democrats were meek and divided.

Democratic Governor Edwards benefited the movement by vetoing the sports ban. But his justification called the ban a non-issue because there were no trans girls in sports. This message concedes to the right wing by saying that trans girl athletes could one day become a “problem.” Even if hundreds of trans girls started playing sports in the state, they would deserve just as much of a spot on the team.

Beyond Edwards’ response, which at least opposed the bill, Democratic legislators across the board joined the conservative attack. Four out of 12 Democrats voted for the sports ban in the Senate, and two abstained. Ten of 35 House Democrats supported the ban, and another ten refused to take a stand. Louisiana Democratic Party Vice-Chair C. Travis Johnson was among those who cheered the ban along.

A handful of reporters helped raise this issue, but the media was often silent as well. Augustina Johnson of the Real Name Campaign expressed frustration and hope: “Our state let us down, professional media let us down, When we needed not only allies but accomplices, few heard the call and fewer still responded. We are proud of those who did. At the end of the day, however, it was only through the strength of the trans, non-binary and gender diverse community were we, at great expense to our bodies, minds, and souls, able to hold off this uncalled for, gratuitous assault on our marginalized community for just one year.”

The TGNC rights movement stays strong

Overall, hundreds of people marched in the streets, crammed legislators’ phone lines, jammed their inboxes, confronted them in their halls and rallied on their front steps.

As Elliot Wade of Louisiana Trans Advocates put it, “We’ve been ready for this fight for some time,” and “I'm very pleased and ecstatic that we were all able to come together like this, and that’s what made the difference, we leaned heavily on the people doing the work.”

Some far-right voices want a special session just to override the veto. This has never happened in Louisiana’s history, which shows how desperate they are.

But the TGNC rights movement is prepared to go at it again. We know this can happen next year. We’ll push back, and we won’t stop there. The fight continues until we win full respect for the rights and dignity of TGNC people.

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