BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Bucking the trend of other reliably red states adopting restrictions on young transgender people, a Republican-controlled Louisiana legislative committee voted Wednesday to a kill a bill that would have banned gender-affirming medical care for transgender minors.
Proponents of Louisiana’s failed bill, which would have prohibited hormone treatments, gender-affirming surgery or puberty-blocking drugs for any transgender minor, say they fear that the state could draw minors from surrounding states — where there are bans — seeking gender-affirming health care. Those in Louisiana’s LGBTQ+ community say gender-affirming care in the state is not as easily accessible as conservatives make it seem.
The tie-breaking 5-4 vote to kill the bill Wednesday came down to Republican state Sen. Fred Mills, the chairman of the Senate’s Health and Welfare Committee. After nearly three hours of public testimony and debate, Mills joined Democrats in opposition to the legislation.
“Always in my heart of hearts have I believed that a decision should be made by a patient and a physician. I believe in the physicians in Louisiana,” Mills, a pharmacist, said. “I believe in the scope of practice. I believe in the standard of care.”
In a year when LGBTQ+ advocates argue that Republican lawmakers are targeting nearly every facet of transgender rights — from health care to athletics to bathroom access to pronoun usage — lawmakers in Louisiana are among dozens of other state legislatures taking up debate over barring gender-affirming medical care to young people. Proponents argue that the proposed bans would protect children from life-altering medical procedures until they are “mature enough” to make such serious decisions.
So far, at least 18 states have enacted laws restricting or prohibiting gender-affirming care for minors, and all three of Louisiana's bordering states have enacted bans or are poised to. The ban in Arkansas, the first state to prohibit such care, has been temporarily blocked by a federal judge. Mississippi’s governor signed a ban into law in February. Texas’ governor has said he’ll sign a ban that lawmakers have sent him.
“We are surrounded by states that took action to protect minors from these medical procedures,” Jill Hines, co-director of the conservative Health Freedom Louisiana group, said earlier this month to lawmakers. “(This bill) will prevent Louisiana from becoming a sanctuary state, here minors come from across the Midwest and southeastern regions of the country to travel to receive harmful medical care.”
Opponents of Louisiana's bill argue that gender-affirming care, which is supported by every major medical organization, can be lifesaving for someone with gender dysphoria — distress over gender identity that doesn’t match a person’s assigned sex. Research suggests transgender children and adults are prone to stress, depression and suicidal thoughts, and advocates for the LGBTQ+ community fear that without the care, transgender children could face especially heightened risks.
“We are trying to allow transgender kids to grow up and become trans adults by improving their quality of life and preventing premature death by suicide,” Clifton Mixon, a pediatric psychologist in Louisiana who works in a gender clinic, said to lawmakers Wednesday.
Members of the transgender community also testified that finding and gaining timely access to gender-affirming medical care is already a struggle.
According to a report by the Louisiana Department of Health, just a few dozen minors received gender-affirming care, including hormone therapy and puberty blockers, between 2017 and 2021. This data only factored Medicaid-enrolled youths. Additionally, the report found that there have been zero gender-affirming surgeries performed on Medicaid-enrolled minors during that timeframe.
Currently, children in Louisiana need parental permission to receive any gender-affirming health care before they turn 18.
LGBTQ+ community members held hands, hugged and shed tears as the vote to reject the bill succeeded. The vote marked a rare victory for Louisiana's LGBTQ+ advocates this session, who frequent committees testifying against bills that they say target transgender existence.
Bills that have advanced and are still being debated include Louisiana's version of a bill critics call “Don't Say Gay” that prohibits school employees from teaching sexual orientation or gender identity in the classroom, legislation requiring teachers to use the pronouns of students that align with their sex assigned at birth, and a policy that would restrict children's access to library books deemed “sexually explicit," which advocates fear will target LGBTQ+-related content.