Respect Equality

Tennessee governor says transgender athletes ‘destroy women’s sports’

Story at a glance

  • Tennessee Republicans are pushing legislation that would require student athletes to prove their gender matches their birth certificate.
  • “This is just hate legislation, and to double down with an insult to our LGBTQ community is unnecessary,” Sen. Heidi Campbell said.

Republican Tennessee Governor Bill Lee made controversial comments Wednesday surrounding transgender female athletes, saying that they should be prohibited from middle and high school sports teams or they will “destroy women’s sports.”

“I do believe that transgenders participating in women’s sports will destroy women’s sports,” Lee told reporters, per The Associated Press (AP). “It will ruin the opportunity for girls to earn scholarships. It will put a glass ceiling back over women that hasn’t been there in some time. I think it’s bad for women and for women’s sports.”

Since early 2020, Tennessee Republicans have advanced legislation that would penalize state schools for including transgender girls in athletic events and teams. The bill, HB1572, was last taken off the calendar of Tennessee State Legislature’s Education Committee in June 2020. 

The initiative now appears to have been revived in the state legislature as Republicans worked to advance a new measure that would require student athletes to prove that the student’s gender matches the student’s “original” birth certificate to participate in public school sports. 

Democratic counterparts have come out against it, with Senator Heidi Campbell writing on Twitter that Lee’s remarks were “hurtful.”



Supporters of the bill claim that transgender girls have an advantage over those identified as female at birth. 

Opponents cite Title IX as prohibiting officials from discriminating and restricting discrimination on the basis of sex for students in school sports. 

“Governor Lee has no idea what he’s talking about,” Human Rights Campaign Deputy National Campaign Director Hope Jackson said in a statement, according to AP. “We’d love to engage with Governor Lee if he can actually name a time when a transgender athlete in Tennessee ‘stole’ a scholarship from a cisgender athlete.”