Metro Weekly

Tennessee anti-trans “bathroom bill” will not move forward

House committee unanimously votes to pass by measure targeting transgender schoolchildren

Tennessee State Capitol, Credit - Wikimedia
Tennessee State Capitol, Credit – Wikimedia

A Tennessee bill that would mandate that transgender students be forced to use only the bathroom or locker room that aligns with their biological sex at birth was effectively tabled using a procedural move on Tuesday.

After pushback from some of the House’s more conservative Republicans, the House Committee on Education Administration & Planning voted unanimously to “send the bill to summer study,” meaning it will likely not be brought up for consideration for the rest of the session.

Chris Sanders, the director of the Tennessee Equality Project, cites two factors in the bill’s defeat. First, the fiscal notes on the bill gave some in the Republican-dominated House pause, particularly the threat of losing federal funding under Title IX, which prohibits discrimination based on sex. The Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights has previously ruled in a case out of Illinois that it interprets Title IX’s prohibitions on sex discrimination as applicable to cases where a student is discriminated against based on their gender identity. A spokeswoman for Gov. Bill Haslam (R) previously stated that the governor was reticent to sign the proposed bill into law due to concerns over the loss of Title IX funds, saying that Haslam prefers to have the issue of restroom use by transgender students handled at the local level.

Secondly, Sanders cites opposition from House lawmakers, particularly Rep. Rick Womick (R-Rockvale), one of the more conservative members of the Republican caucus, as the turning point that prompted other Republicans to reject the bill. Sanders said that he believes the unanimous vote by the committee took the bill’s chief sponsor, Rep. Susan Lynn (R-Mount Juliet), by surprise. 

“It’s good that the bill will not become law anytime soon,” Sanders says. “And if the legislature would conduct a real study of the issue, they would find that all our claims are borne out. Trans people are not bothering others in the restroom; in fact, it’s a matter of their own safety, which restroom they go to. So we’d welcome a study.”

The bill’s defeat is significant because of the threat that the legislation posed to transgender students. For instance, even if a student had undergone transition-related surgery, under Tennessee law, a person is prohibited from changing the gender listed on their birth certificate, meaning that student would still have to use the bathroom inconsistent with their gender identity.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which also opposed the bill, issued a statement crediting the testimony of local transgender individuals, particularly children, as influencing even the most conservative of Republicans to stop the bill from moving forward.

“Once again we saw today how meeting with trans young people changed hearts and minds,” ACLU Staff Attorney Chase Strangio said in a statement. “Our common humanity can unite us and we can push back against these costly and discriminatory impulses if we center those most affected. It is an exciting day in Tennessee and I am thankful for the brave young people who are making the world a better place for us all.”

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John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at jriley@metroweekly.com

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