A firestorm of criticism has erupted around State Sen. Fred Mills, a longtime Republican lawmaker from rural Louisiana, after he cast a tie-breaking vote to kill a bill that aimed to ban gender-affirming medical care for transgender youths in the state. This move has drawn national attention and sparked intense backlash from conservatives who see the legislation as crucial to protecting children.
Despite the mounting pressure, Mills stands by his decision. However, state Attorney General Jeff Landry, who is a GOP gubernatorial candidate, and the Republican Party of Louisiana are pushing for lawmakers to revive and pass the bill.
Mills' decisive vote leaves Louisiana as one of the few southeastern states that have not enacted a ban or restrictions on gender-affirming care. Similar proposals are pending in North Carolina and South Carolina, while federal judges have temporarily blocked bans in Arkansas and Alabama.
In a written statement, Mills, who is a pharmacist and also serves as the chairman of the Senate's Health and Welfare Committee, defended his position, saying, "While the topic of transgender rights is immensely complicated and socially polarizing, the bill before me was not." He emphasized that he relied on "science and data and not political or societal pressure."
The bill, which would have prohibited hormone treatments, gender-affirming surgery, and puberty-blocking drugs for transgender minors in Louisiana, was deferred by a 5-4 vote with Mills' support. The aftermath of his decision witnessed a surge of backlash, with anti-transgender activists taking to social media to voice their discontent. Conservative political commentator Matt Walsh, with nearly 2 million followers on Twitter, criticized Mills, stating that he would "regret" his decision, deeming it "the biggest mistake of his political career."
In recent years, Republicans who have opposed proposed bans on transgender care have faced political consequences. Former Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson faced backlash from fellow Republicans in 2021 when he vetoed a similar ban. The GOP-led Legislature swiftly overrode Hutchinson's veto, enacting the ban that has been temporarily blocked by a federal judge. Former President Donald Trump criticized Hutchinson for the veto, labeling him a "RINO" (Republican in Name Only).
Hutchinson, who signed other restrictions on transgender youth into law, argued that the medical ban went too far. He stated that he would have supported a prohibition focused solely on surgery.
The deferral of the proposed ban in Louisiana is a rare victory for LGBTQ+ advocates during this legislative session. They continue to oppose multiple bills that they argue target the queer community, such as the so-called "Don't Say Gay" bill, mandates on pronoun usage, and restrictions on access to library books deemed "sexually explicit."
Despite this victory, conservatives are actively seeking ways to revive the legislation, as the session enters its final two weeks. House lawmakers have added a poison pill amendment to Mills' own bill related to telehealth, stating that it can only become law if the ban on gender-affirming care is also enacted. Additionally, lawmakers can attempt to discharge the failed bill from committee, allowing it to be voted upon on the GOP-controlled Senate floor, despite its failure in committee. Although this tactic is uncommon and rarely successful, there is mounting pressure from political forces outside the Legislature to pursue it.
Attorney General Jeff Landry, in a tweet, called on the full Senate to take up and pass the bill, emphasizing that "pediatric sex changes should have no place in our society." The Republican Party of Louisiana also issued a press release urging the Senate to override the committee vote and debate the bill on the floor, giving all senators the opportunity to weigh in on this crucial legislation. The bill had already passed in the House, largely along party lines, with a vote of 71-24.
Supporters of the legislation argue that the proposed ban is necessary to protect children from life-altering medical procedures until they are deemed "mature enough" to make such significant decisions. They also express concerns that without the ban, minors from surrounding states with similar bans could flock to Louisiana in search of gender-affirming healthcare.
Opponents of the bill contend that gender-affirming care, supported by major medical organizations, can be life-saving for individuals with gender dysphoria. They argue that research indicates transgender children and adults are more likely to experience stress, depression, and suicidal thoughts, and worry that without access to this care, transgender children will face even higher risks.
While 18 states have already enacted laws restricting or prohibiting gender-affirming care for minors, Louisiana remains at a crossroads. With neighboring states implementing bans or being on the verge of doing so, the fate of the legislation in Louisiana hangs in the balance, and conservatives are determined to push it forward, emphasizing the need to protect the well-being of children in the state.