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Gov. Landry signs contentious ‘bathroom bill’ into law

Garrett Hazelwood

Gov. Jeff Landry has signed a bill into law that updates the state’s definition of male and female and blocks transgender residents’ access to restrooms that align with their gender identities in schools, jails, domestic violence shelters and other government buildings.

“I am proud to sign House Bill 608, which protects women’s safety and reinforces the very definition of what it means to be a woman,” Landry said in a written statement following the signing. “We want women across the country to know that your privacy, safety, and opportunities are valued and will always be protected in Louisiana.”

Opponents, chiefly LGBTQ advocates, dubbed the measure a “bathroom bill” due to its similarity to measures in other conservative states designed to criminalize the use of restrooms by trans people in government-operated buildings. Many argue the laws harm trans people and do little to improve public safety.

The law, which sponsors labeled the “Women’s Safety and Protection Act,” requires that men’s and women’s bathrooms and locker rooms be used only by people who fit the state’s definition of those two genders. According to the law, the distinction between male and female hinges on whether a person's reproductive system, "but for a developmental or genetic anomaly or historical accident," produces ova or sperm.

Anyone who violates the law could be subject to lawsuits and held liable for “actual damages," according to the bill text.

“Louisiana leaders have voted in favor of unfair treatment of LGBTQ+ kids and teachers,” said Petyton Rose Michelle, executive director of Trans Advocates of Louisiana. “Their actions are appalling, and kids and our communities will bear the brunt.”

The bill received pushback from transgender advocates throughout the session, which ended on June 3. Its requirements also conflict with new federal Title IX rules, which protect transgender students’ rights. Leaders of domestic violence shelters also objected to the law due to potential conflicts with federal protections around housing transgender people.

Republican Rep. Roger Wilder III, the bill’s key sponsor, said the law was designed to “protect women and girls.”

“This bill ensures that women have their privacy respected in locker rooms, restrooms, and changing facilities in schools, shelters, and correctional facilities,” Wilder said in a statement. “A woman entering into these vulnerable spaces should not have to fear that a man will be mere feet away from them and violate their privacy.”

Lawmakers passed two other bills this session that critics argue also erode the rights of LGBTQ residents in Louisiana. One bill restricts students’ ability to use preferred pronouns in class. Another, dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, clamps down on discussions of sexual orientation in schools. Gov. Landry is expected to sign both measures.