Legislation to require transgender student athletes to compete on teams that correspond to their biological gender moved out of committee this week, reviving an issue that ended with a failed veto override in the last legislative session.
The Senate Education Committee unanimously approved Senate Bill 44, sponsored by Sen. Beth Mizell, R-Franklinton, "to provide that teams designated for females are not open to participation by biological males."
The bill is virtually identical to legislation approved by lawmakers during the last legislative session that was later vetoed by Gov. John Bel Edwards because he said it "unfairly discriminated against transgender youth."
Edwards alleged in his veto message that the so-called Fairness in Women’s Sports Act "unfairly targets children who are going through unique challenges and offers solutions to an issue that does not exist in Louisiana."
The bill gained the two-thirds majority to override Edwards’ veto in the Senate, but fell short in the House.
Mizell highlighted developments on the transgender sports issue over the last year for the Senate Education Committee on Thursday, pointing to University of Pennsylvania swimmer Lia Thomas, who became the first transgender athlete to win an NCAA Division I title last month.
Mizell highlighted the NCAA’s empty threat to pull events from state’s that prohibit transgender athletes from competing, and cited a recent survey that found "over 80% of the citizens throughout Louisiana support fairness in women’s sports, meaning biological females competing with biological females."
"My bill is strictly a protection of what women have worked for, even before my generation," she said.
"The point is, we have an opportunity to say to women you will not be displaced," Mizell said. "And this bill puts in writing that the Louisiana Legislature stands behind women’s athletic competition as a fairness opportunity for women to compete with each other."
Patricia Landaiche, the longtime girls’ basketball coach at Ponchatoula High School, testified in support of SB 44, citing Title IX federal protections against discrimination based on sex.
"I believe 1,000% that this bill should pass because it does provide a fair playing field for the female athlete, the biological female athlete," she said. "Where are their rights and where will this stop?"
Landaiche also suggested the possibility of creating separate sports for transgender students.
The Louisiana Family Forum and a former female college athlete also testified in favor of the bill.
Sen. Katrina Jackson, D-Monroe, said she supports SB 44 because it’s "not a bill about whether someone has the right to be transgender or not, it’s just a bill about whether females have a right to compete at the level of expectancy that they’ve practiced their whole life for," she said.
Several LGBTQ rights activists testified in opposition.
Sarah Jane Guidry, executive director for Forum for Equality, said there are currently no transgender athletes competing in high school sports in Louisiana because the Louisiana High School Athletic Association already restricts student athletes to competing on teams that correlate to their biological gender.
"Please realize this is an instance in which one or two students is in a school, maybe a school district," she said. "There is no third option for inclusivity, there’s only one option."
Guidry said "no one has spoken to the transgender community about this bill."
SB 44 ultimately cleared the committee without objection and now moves to the full Senate for debate.
Edwards has not signaled whether he would again veto the bill, but did address the issue after lawmakers voted to override his veto of new congressional districts last month.
"I would hope it doesn’t reach my desk," he said. "It’s pretty sad because it’s theoretically a bill about unfairness, but … that unfairness, it isn’t happening in Louisiana. But what is happening is we have some young people who have pretty severe mental illness in some cases, or I should say emotional issues and it just seems this is piling on, to me."