Peyton Rose Michelle, executive director of Louisiana Trans Advocates, was in New Orleans the night that Jeff Landry won Louisiana’s gubernatorial election. Normally based in Lafayette, she came into town for an election night party for Pearl Ricks, who was running for the District 23 seat in the state House of Representatives.
Like most election night watch parties, the mood was celebratory, Michelle said. It was filled with people in the local LGBTQIA+ community who were hoping that Ricks, who is transgender and intersex, would become the first LGBTQIA+ person elected to statewide office in Louisiana. (Ricks finished in third place that night.)
But then it was announced that Landry won the gubernatorial election outright, avoiding a runoff.
“And I think we all kind of really quickly got deflated by seeing that,” she said. She said she felt abandoned, ashamed, embarrassed and inferior. “It was really upsetting.”
In the days that followed, several transgender residents of New Orleans echoed Michelle’s sentiments at the election of Landry, who has been an outspoken opponent of LGBTQIA+ rights and pushed for a ban on youth access to gender-affirming healthcare while he was attorney general.
They said they fear that Landry as governor and a likely Republican supermajority in both houses of the state Legislature will mount unprecedented attacks on transgender and other LGBTQIA+ rights, following the lead of states like Texas and Florida. That would be “absolutely devastating,” Michelle said.
Devastated and angry
Molly Frayle was one of a handful of young people standing on the neutral ground on Elysian Fields Avenue next to Washington Square Park on Sunday (Oct. 22). She held a sign that said “no pride for some of us without liberation for all of us,” a famous quote from transgender activist Marsha P. Johnson. The group was there for a demonstration organized by the local trans rights organization Real Name Campaign to begin rallying opposition to the incoming Landry administration.
“I feel devastated at times,” she said about Landry’s election before the rally began. “But mostly I feel angry because I know what we’re going to face. And I know especially what trans kids are going to be facing in the coming years.”
Attacks on LGBTQIA+ rights have already started in Louisiana. In 2022, the state became the 18th in the country to pass a law banning transgender youth athletes from participating in sports that correspond with their gender identity. Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards declined to veto the bill, as he had with a similar one in 2021. And this year, the legislature overrode Edwards’ veto of a bill banning youth access to gender-affirming care. That bill goes into effect January 1, 2024.
The legislature failed to override two other Edwards vetoes in the July override session. One bill — often called the “Don’t Say Gay” bill — would have banned discourse about sexual orientation or gender identity in public schools. The other would have required school employees to refer to students by the names listed on their birth certificates (known as “deadnaming”) and pronouns that align with the gender they were assigned at birth, regardless of their gender identities, unless their parents give permission to do otherwise.
Trans activists and advocates predict that both bills will be reintroduced in the 2024 legislative session, which will begin in March, and be passed and signed into law by Landry.
Lucas Harrell, who recently moved from Mandeville to New Orleans, said he was at work when he found out that the gender-affirming care for youth ban, House Bill 648, was being reintroduced in the statehouse after being defeated once before. When it takes effect, the bill will apply to anyone under 18. Harrell was 17 and planning to start hormone replacement therapy when the bill passed. He has since turned 18.
“I couldn’t function that day,” said Harrell, who was also at the protest on Sunday. “I can only imagine how it feels for people who are even younger than me … but I can’t imagine that they’re feeling great about it.”
Frayle and Harrell are organizers with the Real Name Campaign, one of the groups that organized the protest. The organization pushed state courts to lower the cost of a legal name change. It is one of several groups in New Orleans that provide social support for the local transgender community and advocate for the protection and expansion of trans rights throughout the state. Organizers with the group have pledged to actively oppose any legislation that targets transgender or other LGBTQIA+ people.
“I have confidence that we’ll be able to at least make it as painful as possible for these people, and make sure they really regret their actions,” Harrell said, “and make sure they know that we’re here and we’re not going anywhere.”
Preparing for a fight
Serena Sojic-Borne banged on a table in Tulane University conference room as she watched Laura Rodriguez speak on Monday (Oct. 23). Rodriguez, a Florida-based political activist who was arrested protesting a ban on funding for diversity programs in the state, was telling the people in the room about resisting oppressive laws and political repression.
That state may provide a glimpse of what’s to come in Louisiana. The Florida legislature is already controlled by a Republican supermajority and a far-right firebrand governor — Ron DeSantis, who is also a candidate in the 2024 presidential election.
Sojic-Borne was hosting Rodriguez during her trip to New Orleans on behalf of the local chapter of the Freedom Road Socialist Organization. The two of them visited local colleges on Monday and Rodriguez spoke to students, faculty and staff about resisting discriminatory legislation that targets LGBTQIA+ people and communities of color.
“We know that police will continue to harass and target LGBTQ people and their rights. We see it in Florida, where it is now a felony to help your kid get medical care for being trans,” Rodriguez said.
Measures like the ones that have left trans Louisianians worried about the incoming governor and statehouse have already passed in states all around the country. It’s part of a nationwide attack by conservative groups on transgender people, said Courtney Sharp, a member of the LGBTQIA+ support group PFLAG New Orleans.
“Louisiana’s just following the wave of GOP,” she said. Sharp, who’s in her 70s, said she’s seen what’s happening now with trans issues before with lesbian and gay issues. “Politicians shifted and now use the trans community for political objectives to get people to the polls and whatnot.”
Prior to the passage of HB 648, Louisiana, in particular New Orleans, was as close to a safe haven as transgender people could find in a sea of Deep South states outlawing gender-affirming care. But Landry’s election could result in the state become just as unwelcoming, at least in its laws, as some of the most anti-trans states in the country.
Sojic-Borne knows this and said that Rodriguez has given her a sense of what’s to come with Landry as governor.
“The ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill … medical ban, sports ban, all of that stuff is being taken right out of Florida’s playbook,” she said.
She and her colleagues at the Real Name Campaign, Sharp, Michelle and other advocates said they’ll continue to lobby legislators and use protests to try to limit the amount of harm the Landry administration can cause. Some of them have also said that they will push for noncompliance with anti-trans state legislation on the local level, as has happened in other states.
Landry’s outright win came as a surprise to some election-watchers around the state. Though he was expected to win, many believed that Democratic frontrunner Shawn Wilson would at least force a November runoff.
But Sojic-Borne said the Real Name Campaign had a flyer for the Sunday protest ready in the case Landry won on Oct. 13. When the group posted it to social media, people questioned why they would have a protest after the election, she said.
“Before, during and after the election you should be fighting and keeping the movement alive,” she said, “because it’s not which politician is in office that counts. It’s which people are pressuring those politicians …. We’re just getting warmed up. We’re ready to keep fighting.”
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