A soft-spoken Republican state lawmaker in Louisiana shot down a bill that would ban affirming healthcare for transgender youth in the state, the sole southern state that has not outlawed gender-affirming care amid a wave of restrictive measures targeting LGBT+ people across the country.
State Senator Fred Mills, the chair of the Senate Health and Welfare Committee, cast the committee’s tie-breaking 5-4 vote to block the bill’s progress in the GOP-dominated state legislature on 23 May.
Following the vote, Mr Mills has faced a barrage of attacks from anti-trans far-right activists on social media, his businesses have received harassing messages, and the Louisiana Republican Party is pressuring state lawmakers to sidestep the committee process and put the bill on the Senate floor for a vote.
Louisiana’s House Republicans also plan to sabotage other legislation to send a message to the state Senate.
Mr Mills, who is not seeking re-election and delivered congenial farewell remarks to his Senate colleagues on 25 May, appears unfazed.
“Anytime you have to break a tie vote, no matter which way you vote, there’s going to be backlash, and this is a national topic,” Mr Mills told the USA Today Network. “I did like I always do. I listened to the debate and made the vote I thought was right. Why would I want to handcuff a doctor and his or her decision? I think they know more about this than politicians.”
Anti-trans self-described fascist pundit Matt Walsh issued a threat to his nearly 2 million Twitter followers and claimed that Mr Mills “sided with the butchers and the groomers,” using the transphobic smear to falsely suggest that the St Martin Parish state lawmaker supports pedophilia.
“He will regret it,” Walsh said. “This is the biggest mistake of his political career, and also the end of his career. He’s going to be infamous and disgraced by his own base. We’ll make sure of that.”
Far-right activist Greg Price with the State Freedom Caucus Network told his followers to “let Senator Mills know how you feel about him single-handedly killing this bill to ban sex changes for kids.”
Louisiana is the only state in the US South that has not banned gender-affirming care for trans youth.
Nineteen states have enacted legislation to ban gender-affirming care for trans youth, and at least eight other states are considering similar legislation, against the guidance of major medical organisations, including the Americans Medical Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics, that recommend affirming treatment for trans youth experiencing gender dysphoria.
House Bill 648, authored by Republican state Rep Gabe Firment, would ban health providers in the state from administering affirming care to patients younger than 18, or face the revocation of their professional licence.
That care can include hormone replacement therapy and puberty blockers, which are also often prescribed for cisgender or nontransgender youth, as well as social transitioning measures, mental healthcare, and affirming surgeries, which are not recommended under major medical guidelines.
A statewide report from the Louisiana Department of Health found that no affirming surgeries were performed on Medicaid-enrolled minors in the state between 2017 and 2021, and the prescription of affirming medications for trans youth within that same time period was also exceedingly rare.
Mr Mills said the witness testimony and reporting from the health department persuaded him to vote against the bill.
“All the testimony I heard by the proponents that children are getting mutilated, I didn’t see it in the statistics,” he told the Louisiana Illuminator.
“Always in my heart of hearts have I believed that a decision should be made by a patient and a physician. I believe in the physicians in Louisiana,” he added. “I believe in the scope of practice. I believe in the standard of care.”
After national backlash from far-right groups, the Louisiana Republican Party issued a statement calling for “procedural action that will result in a Senate floor vote” on House Bill 648 to give “all senators” a “chance to weigh in on this pivotal piece of legislation.”
“The Republican Party of Louisiana is deeply disappointed in Senator Fred Mills’ tie-breaking vote” to kill the legislation in committee, according to a statement from the party.
The bill passed through the state’s House of Representatives by a vote of 71-24.
Louisina Trans Advocates said the GOP’s strategy “would be a complete disrespect of the process and would be undemocratic.”
The onslaught of legislation and volatile political debate surrounding the bills have also negatively impacted the mental health of an overwhelming majority of young trans and nonbinary people, according to polling from The Trevor Project and Morning Consult. A separate survey from The Trevor Project found that 41 per cent of trans and nonbinary youth have seriously considered attempting suicide over the last year.
“When you prescribe hormone therapies to these kids, they get better,” Louisiana psychologist Clifton Mixon told the state Senate health committee this week. “They want to live. They go to school. They get better grades. Their relationships improve, and they can begin to live a more normal teenage life.”