Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee has signed a bill into law to penalize schools and school districts that allow transgender athletes to compete in sports that align with their gender identity.
The measure, signed quietly into law last week, builds upon the state’s existing ban on transgender athletes — signed into law by Lee last year — by adding enforcement mechanisms to force more liberal-leaning school districts into compliance.
Beginning July 1, the state will be empowered to strip funding from schools that fail to verify that athletes in fourth grade and above who compete in sex-segregated sports are only competing on teams that match their assigned sex at birth.
Under the new law, Tennessee’s education commissioner can “withhold a portion of the state education finance funds” from any districts that fail or refuse to verify a student-athlete’s gender as listed on their “original” birth certificate.
The underlying ban on transgender athletes remains in effect, but has since been challenged in court. The lead plaintiff in the case, Luc Esquivel, a transgender male, is seeking to try out for his high school’s boys’ golf team in the upcoming fall season but is prohibited from doing so as long as the transgender athlete ban remains in effect.
Lee and other Republicans have touted the restrictions on transgender athletes as essential to ensuring fair competition by preventing cisgender women from having to compete against athletes that may have a competitive advantage due to having undergone male puberty.
Henry Seaton, a transgender justice advocate at the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee, said in a statement to the Associated Press that measures like the ban on trans athletes send a harmful message to transgender youth and set dangerous precedents, reports The Hill.
“Telling transgender students that they can’t participate as who they really are amounts to excluding them from sports entirely — depriving them of opportunities available to their peers and sending the message that they are not worthy of a full life,” Seaton said.
Chris Sanders, the executive director of the Tennessee Equality Project, said the enforcement bill is “built on misinformation” designed to stigmatize transgender and nonbinary people.
“It is hard to imagine a worse combination — cutting school funds for not discriminating,” he said in a statement. “It is past time for Tennessee to pursue policies that create a sense of belonging for trans and nonbinary students in our schools.”
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