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Amid a pandemic that has claimed more than 100,000 American lives, Tennessee Republicans are focusing on legislation that discriminates against transgender people.
Despite over 22,00 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus in Tennessee and 360 deaths as of May 29, the Tennessee House has advanced two bills that seek to ban transgender student-athletes from competing in teams that match their gender identity, the Memphis Flyer reports.
HB 1572, sponsored by Rep. Brice Griffrey (R-Paris) and advanced earlier this week, “requires elementary and secondary schools that receive public funding to ensure that student athletes participate in school-sanctioned sports based on the student’s biological sex as indicated on certificate issued at time of birth.”
Griffey said his bill, which would fine schools up to $10,000 for failing to comply, is “an attempt to address an issue where we have transgender athletes wanting to compete in female-primary sports, which gives them an unfair advantage.”
“I have two daughters that are both school athletes and I would certainly be upset and I know a lot of other people who may have daughters who would be upset if a male athlete that considers themselves female and transgender has an unfair advantage,” Griffey said.
Specifically calling out transgender females, he argued that puberty and testosterone “makes all the difference in the world. It’s just a fact of life.”
But Griffey’s bill seems to be legislation in search of a problem, based on a question from Democratic Rep. Vincent Dixie (D-Nashville), who asked Griffey if the bill was a response to an actual case regarding a trans student-athlete.
Griffey said he was “not aware that we have had specific instances in Tennessee yet. This is a prospective bill so that we don’t run into this problem in the future.”
In addition to a $10,000 fine, the bill would require school administrators to vacate their position for five years, and any school found to have violated the legislation would also lose access to local and state funds.
The second bill advanced by the House subcommittee, HB 1689, is sponsored by Rep. Scott Cepicky (R-Culleoka), and is similar to Griffey’s bill except it would also require schools to “verify that the student is of the respective sex before the student may participate.”
That verification would include either a birth certificate or, should it not be available, the student undergoing a “genetic or DNA test conducted by a licensed healthcare practitioner that establishes the student’s biological sex.”
Cepicky argues that his bill will ““protect the safety-competitive balance and the opportunity for scholarships of our female athletes in middle school all the way to high school.”
Of Cepicky’s bill, Griffey said, “I don’t care how we get the job done. It just needs to be done.”
Both Cepicky and Griffey’s bills have Republican co-sponsors in the Tennessee Senate, with Sen. Joey Hensley’s SB 1736 mirroring Cepicky’s bill, and Sen. Mark Pody ‘s SB 2077 mirroring Griffey’s bill.
Trans athletes competing according to their gender identity have increasingly drawn the ire of Republican lawmakers and conservatives. Arizona has been heavily criticized for a bill that seeks to bar transgender females from competing in girls’ sports.
More than 200 businesses have signed a letter arguing that the pursuit of “divisive policies” hurts the state’s reputation as business-friendly, while Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) earlier this year branded the proposed ban “cruel.”
“Trans athletes are not a threat,” Warren tweeted. “We need to protect trans kids — and all LGBTQ+ kids — and ensure they feel safe and welcomed at school. I urge the Arizona legislature to reject this cruel bill.”
An ongoing lawsuit in Connecticut is seeking to overturn a Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference rule that allows transgender athletes to compete in sports based on the gender with which they identify.
The lawsuit, on behalf of a group of female-student athletes, is being argued by the right-wing, anti-LGBTQ Alliance Defending Freedom. Earlier this month, ADF attorneys demanded that the federal judge assigned to their case recuse himself for not allowing the attorneys to misgender trans female athletes.
This week, the U.S. Department of Education sided with ADF, issuing a letter arguing that the CIAC’s policy allowing transgender athletes to compete in girls’ sports violates the civil rights of cisgender female athletes.
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