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Louisiana's transgender 'bathroom bill' clears first hurdle

The bill, which passed out of bipartisan committee without objection, will head to the GOP-dominated House floor next week for debate.
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The Louisiana Capitol in Baton Rouge on Thursday. A bill that that would effectively bar transgender people from using public spaces that correspond with their gender identities advanced out of a state legislative committee Monday.Stephen Smith / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

BATON ROUGE, La. — A bill that that would effectively bar transgender people in Louisiana from using restrooms, locker rooms and sleeping quarters that correspond with their gender identity — in public schools, jails and domestic violence shelters — advanced out of a state legislative committee Monday.

While a handful of other GOP-controlled states have recently passed legislation dubbed "bathroom bills." LGBTQ+ advocates say Louisiana’s bill is among the more expansive and restrictive in the country. Opponents say the bill would further harm an already vulnerable population and put them at increased risk of harassment. Proponents of the measure, which has been titled the Women’s Safety Protection Act, say it was created to protect cisgender women and girls from sexual assault and harassment.

The bill, which passed out of bipartisan committee without objection, will head to the GOP-dominated House floor next week for debate. If the bill receives approval in the lower chamber, it will move to the Senate.

Louisiana’s bill would require public schools to designate each restroom or changing room for “the exclusive use of either females, males, or members of the same family.” Similar rules would apply to bathrooms and sleeping quarters in state prisons, juvenile detention centers and state-managed domestic violence shelters.

The bill defines female and male according to one’s biological reproductive system rather than one’s gender identity.

“I’m standing for the basic understanding that there are biological difference between females and males that create the need for separate privacy spaces,” said GOP Rep. Roger Wilder III, who sponsored the measure. “This bill’s goal is to put women first by affording them confidence in their privacy and safety.”

Opponents say if the goal is to protect women, it should also seek to protect transgender women. They argue that the measure would marginalize, discriminate against, and “deny the humanity and dignity” of Louisiana’s nonbinary and transgender population. LGBTQ+ advocates fear if a transgender person is forced to use bathrooms or changing rooms that don’t align with their gender identity, they will be subject to bullying, intimidation and sexual assault.

“I get that everyone is worried about kids. I’m also worried about kids. I’m just asking that we also worry about trans kids, because they are very scared,” said Britain Forsyth, a transgender man who testified against the bill.

Louisiana’s bill comes amidst a local and national flood of bills targeting transgender people and increasingly hostile rhetoric against trans people in statehouses. So far this year, at least 155 bills targeting trans people’s rights have been introduced across the country, according to data collected by the Human Rights Campaign, an LGBTQ+ advocacy organization.

Last year, Louisiana’s GOP-controlled Legislature passed several bills described by opponents as anti-LGBTQ+ measures. At the time, then-Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards vetoed the bills, effectively stopping most of the measures from becoming law during his final months in office.

But with new Republican Gov. Jeff Landry in office, lawmakers are once again considering a package of bills this session that take aim at the LGBTQ+ community, including a “Don’t Say Gay” bill that broadly bars teachers from discussing gender identity and sexual orientation in public school classrooms and a measure requiring public school teachers to use the pronouns and names that align with those students were assigned at birth.

The state currently has laws in place that prohibit transgender athletes from competing on sports teams that match their gender identity and a ban on gender-affirming medical care for transgender minors.