Last Friday, Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee (R) signed a bill into law that would bar transgender students from multi-user restrooms matching their gender identity and allow cisgender students to sue if they encounter a transgender person using the same facilities as them.
House Bill 1233, sponsored by Rep. Jason Zachary (R-Knoxville), requires public schools to provide a “reasonable accommodation” — defined as a single-occupancy room or changing facility, or access to an employee restroom or changing facility — to students who do not wish to use multi-occupancy facilities, either because they are transgender or because they, as a cisgender person, feel uncomfortable about using shared facilities.
The bill also requires sex segregation, based on a person’s assigned sex at birth, in terms of sleeping arrangements on school-sponsored field trips. However, a student may request an alternative accommodation, as in the case of a transgender student who asks not to be quartered with fellow members of the same assigned sex at birth due to personal discomfort.
Under the new law, a student who is denied a requested accommodation — for whatever reason — may sue a school district, as may a person who previously asked for a special accommodation but who “later encounters a person of the opposite sex in a multi-occupancy restroom or changing facility designated for the person’s sex and located in a public school building.”
That means that cisgender students who see a transgender person using shared facilities can sue for damages stemming from any alleged “psychological, emotional, and physical harm suffered,” and can also demand payment of attorney’s fees.
Lee made no statement about signing the bill, which goes into effect on July 1, into law Friday. However, he had previously expressed support for the measure, saying the bill “allows for accommodation for every student regardless of their gender,” according to the Chattanooga Times Free Press.
“I think that’s a smart approach to the challenge,” Lee said. “And I’ll be signing that.”
LGBTQ activists have condemned the bill as yet another measure intended to stigmatize transgender people in Tennessee, particularly transgender children. The bill is one of at least 11 bills known as the “Slate of Hate,” a term used by LGBTQ activists to describe various bills targeting transgender youth and same-sex couples for discrimination, or barring LGBTQ-related content from schools, either in the form of sex education, history lessons, or books dealing with LGBTQ topics or featuring LGBTQ characters.
“The state of Tennessee is quickly becoming a national leader for anti-LGBTQ legislation, as lawmakers would rather discriminate against LGBTQ youth than focus on real problems facing Tennesseans,” Alphonso David, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement. “I want to be clear: Gov. Lee’s shameful decision to sign this baseless and discriminatory bill into law will harm the health and well-being of trans students in Tennessee by creating daily degrading experiences for them at school.”
“Transgender children are children. They deserve to feel safe and accepted at school, just like all children, HRC Associate Regional Campaign Director Melodía Gutiérrez said in a statement. “But Gov. Lee and the Tennessee state legislature have chosen once again to sign an inherently discriminatory and harmful bill. … Why are Tennessee’s elected leaders so focused on discriminating against transgender students instead of addressing real issues facing Tennesseans? They have no regard for the damaging impact these bills have on the mental health of transgender students — who have been begging state leaders to leave them alone.”
Lee previously signed a bill into law prohibiting transgender athletes from competing on sports teams that align with their gender identity. He also signed a bill requiring schools to give parents 30 days’ notice, and allowing them to “opt out” of instruction, before broaching any LGBTQ-related content in classrooms, even content that has a historical basis in fact.
Two other measures are awaiting a signature or veto from Lee. The first bans gender-affirming medical care for transgender minors, usurping the rights of parents with transgender children who have consented to such care. The second requires businesses to post “warning” signs around their establishments if they allow trans people to use facilities matching their gender identity, regardless of whether it is a formal or informal policy. Business owners have questioned the intent behind the bill, believing it to be an attempt to shame businesses that cater to LGBTQ customers.
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