BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — A longtime Republican lawmaker in rural Louisiana is facing a national backlash after his breakthrough vote to kill a bill that would ban gender-affirming medical care for transgender youth in the state.
State Sen. Fred Mills told The Associated Press on Friday that he stands by his decision. But state Attorney General Jeff Landry — who is a GOP gubernatorial candidate — and the Louisiana Republican Party are lobbying lawmakers to resuscitate the bill and pass it.
Mills’ decisive vote on Wednesday makes Louisiana one of the few Southeast states that has not enacted a ban or restrictions on gender-affirming care. Proposals are pending in the North Carolina and South Carolina legislatures, and federal judges have temporarily blocked bans in Arkansas and Alabama.
“While the topic of transgender rights is extremely complicated and socially polarizing, the bill before me was not,” Mills, a pharmacist, said in a written statement Friday. Mills is also chairman of the Senate Health and Welfare Committee, where the bill was debated for nearly three hours. He added that he relied on “science and data and not political or societal pressure”.
With Mills’ vote, the bill — which would have banned hormone treatments, gender-affirming surgery and puberty-blocking drugs for transgender minors in Louisiana — was delayed, 5-4. In the hours that followed, the backlash intensified with anti-transgender activists taking to social media, including conservative political commentator Matt Walsh, who tweeted to his nearly 2 million followers that Mills would “regret” his decision and that it was “the biggest mistake of his political career.”
In recent years, Republicans who have blocked proposed bans on transgender care have faced political fallout.
In Arkansas, former Governor Asa Hutchinson angered fellow Republicans in 2021 when he vetoed a similar ban. The GOP-led legislature moved quickly to override Hutchinson’s veto and enact the ban, which was temporarily blocked by a federal judge. At the time, former President Donald Trump criticized Hutchinson for his veto, calling him a “RINO” or a “Republican in name only.”
Hutchinson, who has enacted other restrictions on transgender youth, argued the medical ban went too far. The Republican said he would have supported a ban that focused only on surgery.
The postponement of Louisiana’s proposed ban marked a rare victory for LGBTQ+ advocates this legislative session, who continue to fight several bills – from a bill that critics are calling “Don’t Say Gay”, to mandates regarding the use of pronouns, to restrictions on access to the library of books deemed “sexually explicit”, which promote fear of targeting the queer community.
But, with two weeks to go until session, the Tories are hastily looking and searching for ways to revive the legislation.
“I don’t think you’re going to see the end of it,” Mills said Friday.
Already, House lawmakers have added a poison pill amendment to Mills’ own bill — related to telehealth — that would block that legislation from becoming law unless the ban on gender-affirming care also becomes law. . Additionally, lawmakers can choose to reject the failed bill from committee, meaning it may receive a vote on the GOP-controlled Senate floor despite failing in committee. This tactic is rare and rarely successful, but there is growing pressure from political forces outside the legislature to do so.
“As Attorney General for 8 years, I worked hard to protect our children. I urge the full Senate to pass and pass HB 648,” Landry tweeted on Friday. “As governor, I would sign this bill into law immediately. Pediatric sexual changes should have no place in our society.
In a press release, the Louisiana Republican Party also urged the Senate to override the committee’s vote and debate it on the floor “where all senators will have the opportunity to weigh in on this essential legislation.” The bill had already passed the House, mostly along party lines, 71-24.
Proponents of the legislation argue that the proposed bans would protect children from life-changing medical procedures until they are “mature enough” to make such serious decisions. Additionally, they fear the state will attract minors from surrounding states — where there are bans — seeking gender-affirming health care.
Opponents of the Louisiana bill argue that gender-affirming care, which is backed by all major medical organizations, can save the life of someone with gender dysphoria – a distress related to gender identity. that does not match a person’s assigned sex. Research suggests that transgender children and adults are prone to stress, depression and suicidal thoughts, and LGBTQ+ community advocates fear that without care, transgender children face particularly heightened risks.
So far, at least 18 states have enacted laws restricting or prohibiting gender-affirming care for minors, and the three states bordering Louisiana have enacted bans or are in the process of doing so.
Associated Press writer Andrew DeMillo in Little Rock, Arkansas, contributed to this report.