Metro Weekly

Tennessee AG expresses concern over resurrected bathroom bill

Bill governing transgender people's restroom usage could risk Title IX education funds

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

Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery (R) has expressed concern over the impact of a resurrected “bathroom bill” that would require transgender students in educational institutions to use only bathrooms or changing facilities that match their biological sex at birth. According to an opinion released Monday afternoon by Slatery’s office, the bill could threaten the state’s access to federal Title IX funding from the U.S. Department of Education (DOE), The Tennesseean reports.

“In sum, if a transgender student is required by a school district in Tennessee to use a restroom or locker room facility that is consistent with his or her anatomical gender rather than his or her gender expression or gender identity, and if that student files a complaint, DOE, applying its current interpretation of Title IX, will almost certainly require the school district to permit the student access to the facility consistent with his or her gender expression, and refusal to do so could very well result in loss of federal funding — at least until DOE’s interpretation is overrules by authoritative and binding judicial decision,” Slatery wrote in the opinion.

The bill was previously tabled in March by a House committee, with even socially conservative members of the General Assembly balking at the prospect of passing the bill without more study on its impact, including how it would affect Title IX funding. But last week, legislators revived the bill, voting to pass it out of committee by an 8-4 margin. Meanwhile, the Senate version of the bill also advanced by a 7-2 margin. Both versions of bills were sent to the chambers’ respective Finance committees.

But Gov. Bill Haslam (R) has previously expressed reticence to sign the proposed bill into law, largely due to the prospect of losing Title IX funds. Democrats and LGBT advocates have separately lobbed onto those claims to justify their opposition to the proposed law. But religious conservatives, including the Alliance for Defending Freedom or the Family Action Council of Tennessee, have argued that the law’s passage is essential to protecting students’ privacy in personal spaces. And they argued that transgender students can always be provided the chance to use a unisex or single-stall facility or other arrangement to ensure privacy when using the restroom or changing.

LGBT advocates have also cited a possible economic backlash as a reason to oppose the bill. The states of North Carolina and Mississippi have both been threatened with consequences — including the loss of conferences, cancelled appearances by musicians slated to perform in the state, and squashed plans for relocation or expansion by major businesses — after passing bills perceived as hostile to LGBT people. Both Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero and Nashville Mayor Megan Barry have come out in opposition to the bill, saying they worry about the bill’s repercussions, Knoxville-based NBC affiliate WBIR reports. Barry’s office added that at least 12 groups planning to hold conventions in Nashville have raised the possibility of canceling their events.

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