Lawmakers in the state of Louisiana are working to alienate vulnerable LGBTQ+ children with two bills this week. House Bill 81 allows school employees to forcibly out and intentionally misgender transgender and non-binary students. The bill requires school employees to use certain names and pronouns for students unless parents have provided written permission to do otherwise. The language, say advocates, informs parents of their child’s preferred identity before the youth is independent and free of potential consequences. The same bill also provides that school employees are not required to refer to any person by certain pronouns if it runs contrary to the employee's religious or moral bigotry, regardless of parental preferences.
A second anti-LGBTQ+ education bill, H.B. 466, is another “don’t say gay”-style bill similar to legislation in Florida and other states. Like those other bills, House Bill 466 restricts the instruction or discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity in K-12 schools. The new law would also apply to covering topics of “sexual orientation or gender identity during any extracurricular, academic, athletic, or social activity under the jurisdiction of the school or school governing authority. Additionally, it restricts a teacher or employee from discussing his or her own sexual orientation or gender identity, even when asked.
New Orleans resident Tahmina Wells, who is transgender, said bigots want to use H.B. 81 and H.B. 466 to push LGBTQ+ youth back into the closet by discouraging conduct that helps acclimate their existence.
“How does a politician try to put me back in a closet in a state with New Orleans in it? They act like this city doesn’t give their state an identity,” said Wells. “Do you know what Louisiana would be without New Orleans? It would be a swamp. No revenue. No face. No style.”
Human Rights Campaign volunteers were in New Orleans this week, drumming up awareness of the legislation and seeking support among tourists. Volunteers said they could not speak for the organization when asked, but they said opposition to the legislation was strong among New Orleans tourists and residents.
New Orleans, like the Mississippi city of Jackson and Texas municipalities Dallas and Houston, represent population dense blue regions in largely red states. Presidential election loser Donald Trump won Louisiana with 58% of the vote, compared to Joe Biden's 40%. However, Biden won New Orleans with 83% of the vote. New Orleans’ population is nearly 384k, which contains almost 10 percent of Louisiana’s 4.5 million people.
Another transgender New Orleans resident, who claims the name of “Lucid,” says she is growing to resent the bigoted political majority from Louisiana’s rural territories. “It took me until I moved out of my house to find myself and know who I am. I have never been happier. These people are never going to put me back in the shadows.”
The Human Rights Campaign of Louisiana released a statement arguing that the two bills block teachers from discussing important issues or prominent people. Worse, they stigmatize LGBTQ+ people and isolate LGBTQ+ kids, who are extremely vulnerable to abuse from school peers.
The claim has plenty of support. The National Child Traumatic Stress Network argues that lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer or questioning (LGBTQ) youth “experience trauma at higher rates than their straight peers.” The organization says typical trauma plaguing LGBTQ+ youth includes “bullying, harassment, traumatic loss, intimate partner violence, physical and sexual abuse, and traumatic forms of societal stigma, bias, and rejection.” The organization added that school professionals have historically failed to recognize and intervene in much of this damage, which perpetuates the trauma.
It’s no surprise, then, that surveys uncover nearly half of LGBTQ youth seriously considering suicide at some point in their childhood and teen years. One particular survey, conducted by LGBTQ crisis support organization The Trevor Project, found rising rates of suicidal thoughts as recently as last year, despite LGBTQ+ presence in the media at record levels. The same survey discovered even more pronounced vulnerability among trans youth and LGBTQ youth of color. Twelve percent of white youth surveyed had attempted suicide within the last year, but that figure expanded to almost 20% of Black youth and youth of Middle Eastern or North African origin, where a LGBTQ+ behavior is largely outlawed and could easily result in murder.
The organization discovered, however, that LGBTQ youth “who found their school to be LGBTQ-affirming reported lower rates of attempting suicide.” Critics say Louisiana legislators cruelly want to roll back these life-saving advances.
Human Rights Campaign Legislative Counsel Courtney Avant, said school policy “should focus on education, not discrimination.”
“Honoring a student’s chosen name and pronouns is essential to affirming their identity and is one of the most important things that can be done to improve their health and well-being,” Avant said. “All children deserve safe and affirming spaces in school, and teachers should feel empowered to provide them. The Human Rights Campaign strongly condemns the Louisiana House’s actions today and urges the Senate to do the right thing and oppose this discriminatory bill."