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Tennessee high school golfer suing state over anti-transgender athlete law

Lawsuit alleges transgender athlete ban is discriminatory and violates trans students' right to equal protection under the law.

tennessee, transgender
Luc Esquivel – Photo: Shawn Poynter/ACLU.

A Tennessee transgender student is suing the state after he was barred from trying out for an athletic team at his high school.

Luc Esquivel, a 14-year-old freshman at Farragut High School in Knoxville and an avid golfer, had been seeking to try out for the boys’ golf team this fall. But due to Tennessee’s anti-transgender athlete law, which prohibits students from playing for sex-segregated athletic teams that match their gender identity, Esquivel was unable to compete, prompting him to sue in the hope of overturning the law.

“I was really looking forward to trying out for the boys’ golf team and, if I made it, training and competing with and learning from other boys and improving my game,” Esquivel said in a statement released by his lawyers, who are affiliated with the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Tennessee, and Lambda Legal.

“Then, to have the legislature pass a law that singled out me and kids like me to keep us from being part of a team, that crushed me, it hurt very much. I just want to play, like any other kid.”

“It made me, and still makes me, so angry,” Shelley Esquivel, Luc’s mother, said in a statement. “A mother wants to see their kid happy, thriving, enjoying being a kid. High school sports are an important part of that. I know how much Luc was looking forward to playing on the boys’ golf team.

“It’s heartbreaking to see him miss out on this high school experience, and it is painful for a parent to see their child subjected to discrimination because of who they are. I’m proud Luc is taking this step, and his father and I are with him all the way.”

In the lawsuit, Esquivel argues that the law, approved by Republicans on a largely party-line vote, and signed into law by Gov. Bill Lee (R), violates his right to equal protection under the law as guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and his rights under Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972, which prohibits forms of sex-based discrimination in educational settings or institutions.

The Tennessee law is one of at least 10 bans that have been implemented this year in the name of protecting the “integrity” of sports and ensuring that cisgender females have the chance to win awards, honors, and accolades without being forced to compete against transgender athletes.

Nearly identical laws passed in Idaho and West Virginia have been blocked by federal judges while similar legal challenges move forward, while a federal court in Connecticut dismissed a lawsuit challenging that state’s policy of allowing trans students to compete on sports teams that align with their gender identity.

Related: Transgender billionaire threatens to move company from Tennessee in response to anti-LGBTQ laws

“This is the ACLU’s fifth challenge to an anti-trans law that has passed this year,” Leslie Cooper, the deputy director of the ACLU’s LGBTQ & HIV Project, said in a statement. “We will continue to fight these relentless attacks on trans youth. There is no reason, apart from the legislature’s desire to express its disapproval of transgender people, to keep Luc from playing on the boys’ golf team.”

“When Tennessee lawmakers passed this discriminatory law, they could not identify a single instance of a Tennessee student facing any harm from a transgender athlete playing sports,” Hedy Weinberg, the executive director of the ACLU of Tennessee, added. “However, the emotional cost of this law to transgender student athletes is tremendous.”

“There is endless research demonstrating the short-term and long-term benefits that flow from participating in team sports for kids growing up,” Sasha Buchert, a senior attorney with Lambda Legal, said in a statement.

“For trans kids, who often experience alienation and stigmatization, participating on teams with their peers is especially important. Luc just wants to play golf with other boys, to be part of the team, and to improve his game. Like all kids, he just wants to play.”

See also:

Bulgarian presidential candidate arrested after leading attack on LGBTQ center

Virginia Beach pastor who said trans teens in restrooms would lead to assaults charged with soliciting sex from a minor

Marvel allegedly cancelled New Warriors series because it was “too gay”

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