Respect Equality

Tennessee governor signs law adding penalties to transgender athlete ban

The law, which is set to take effect July 1, will pull funding from Tennessee schools that fail to verify a student-athlete’s sex assigned at birth.
(AP Photo/Mark Humphrey, file)

Story at a glance

  • Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee (R) has signed into law a measure adding harsh penalties to an existing law barring transgender athletes from competing on school sports teams that match their gender identity.

  • Under the law, funding will be withheld from school districts that refuse or fail to verify the gender listed on a student-athlete’s “original” birth certificate.

  • The state legislature is pursuing additional legislation targeting the state’s transgender and nonbinary youth, including a measure that would allow public school teachers to ignore a student’s preferred personal pronouns if those pronouns are inconsistent with the student’s sex assigned at birth.

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee (R) has quietly enacted another measure to prevent transgender athletes from competing on school sports teams consistent with their gender identity, adding harsher penalties to the state’s existing transgender athlete ban.

Lee late last week without comment signed into law House Bill 1895, which will pull funding from state schools that allow transgender students to play on sports teams aligning with their gender identity, doubling down on an existing Tennessee law which already bars transgender athletes from gender-segregated sports teams inconsistent with their sex assigned at birth.

The new measure, which is set to take effect July 1, requires Tennessee’s education commissioner to “withhold a portion of the state education finance funds” from local school districts that fail or refuse to determine a student-athlete’s gender using the student’s “original” birth certificate.

Lee last year signed into law legislation requiring students beyond the fourth grade to provide legal documentation demonstrating their sex assigned at birth to participate in school sports. That law is still in effect despite a pending lawsuit challenging its constitutionality. A trial has been tentatively set for March of next year, The Associated Press reported.

America is changing faster than ever! Add Changing America to your Facebook or Twitter feed to stay on top of the news.

Lee after signing the measure into law last year tweeted that the action was done to “preserve women’s athletics and ensure fair competition.” Similar arguments have been made by other conservative lawmakers and state officials in enacting related legislation, asserting that transgender female athletes in particular have a material competitive advantage over cisgender women and girls.

In a statement to the Associated Press, Henry Seaton, a transgender justice advocate at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Tennessee, said measures like these send a harmful message to transgender youth and set dangerous precedents. Tennessee lawmakers are already pushing to pass additional legislation barring transgender women from participating in school athletics through college.

“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.

In a statement on Monday, Chris Sanders, the executive director of the Tennessee Equality Project, said the new measure was “built on misinformation” meant to stigmatize transgender and nonbinary people.

“It is hard to imagine a worse combination–cutting school funds for not discriminating,” he said. “It is past time for Tennessee to pursue policies that create a sense of belonging for trans and nonbinary students in our schools.”

Lawmakers in Tennessee this week also sent House Bill 2633 to the governor’s desk. If that measure is signed into law, public school teachers in Tennessee will be permitted to ignore a student’s preferred personal pronouns if those pronouns do not align with their sex assigned at birth.