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Reports on Louisiana politics, government and the people shaping state policy

Gov. Edwards says he won’t veto legislation banning transgender athletes

Gov. John Bel Edwards addresses the media moments after Louisiana lawmakers adjourned their 2022 Regular Session. June 6, 2022.
Alex Tirado
Gov. John Bel Edwards addresses the media moments after Louisiana lawmakers adjourned their 2022 Regular Session. June 6, 2022.

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards announced Monday that he will allow legislation that would ban transgender girls from participating in school sports to become law without his signature, avoiding a potential veto override battle that the second-term Democrat expected to lose.

Senate Bill 44 by Sen. Beth Mizell (R-Franklinton) bans transgender girls from K-12 interscholastic and intercollegiate athletic competition by prohibiting athletes who were assigned male at birth from competing in girl’s and women’s sports, even if their gender identity is female.

Edwards vetoed nearly identical legislation passed overwhelmingly by Louisiana lawmakers last year, saying that the effort was “unnecessary” and “just plain mean,” and marshaled enough support among the state’s Democratic and Independent lawmakers to fend off a veto override.

But Edwards said slight changes to the legislation, which would not extend the ban of transgender girls to intramural sports, would likely have won the support of enough Democratic state lawmakers to give Republican legislative leaders enough votes to override a potential gubernatorial veto.

“Senate Bill 44 was going to become law whether I signed it or not,” Edwards said in a press conference marking the end of the Louisiana Legislature’s 2022 Regular Session. “I think that’s unfortunate, but that it is where we are, and I hope we can all get to a point soon where we realize that these young people are doing the very best that they can to survive.”

The bill’s backers argue that transgender women and girls have an unfair physical advantage over cisgender women and girls in athletic competition, but Edwards characterized the bill as a “solution in search of a problem” that further ostracized transgender children.

“Whether it’s intended or not, the effect is to send a strong message to at least some of these young people that they shouldn’t be who they think they are, who they believe they are, who they know they are, and I find that very distressing,” Edwards said.

In the two years that the proposal has been considered in the legislature, no known transgender student-athletes have participated in Louisiana school sports.

“We shouldn’t pretend that there is unfairness when there’s not,” Edwards said. “It’s not happening in Louisiana.”

That’s due in large part to the Louisiana High School Athletic Association’s (LHSAA) gender policy, which requires transgender student athletes to compete as the gender they were assigned at birth unless they undergo gender reassignment surgery — a procedure that is not performed on minors. The policy amounts to a de facto ban on transgender student-athletes in Louisiana.

With the legislatures’ action and Edwards’ decision not to veto, the policy will be affirmed in state law starting August 1, 2022.

The LHSAA policy and new state law stand at odds with policies adopted by the NCAA and International Olympic Committee, which allow transgender women to compete in the division that matches their gender identity as long as they are taking medication to suppress testosterone.

Paul Braun was WRKF's Capitol Access reporter, from 2019 through 2023.