An anti-transgender “bathroom bill” has died in committee in the Tennessee legislature.
The House Education Administration and Planning Committee voted unaimously today to send the legislation, House Bill 2412, to summer study, the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee reports.
The bill would have required transgender students in public schools and state universities to use the restrooms, locker rooms, and other sex-segregated facilities designated for the gender they were assigned at birth. A bill of this type was recently vetoed by the governor of South Dakota, but similar bills remain pending in several states.
Several transgender students had testified against the bill in a subcommittee hearing last week. “The powerful voices of transgender students and their families who spoke out against this bill truly increased understanding of what it means to be transgender and moved legislators to recognize that this legislation was extremely harmful,” said ACLU of Tennessee executive director Hedy Weinberg in a press release today.
“It feels great to know that my voice is counting,” one of those students, Henry Seaton, told Nashville TV station WTVC after today’s vote. Seaton also spoke to the committee chairman, Republican Rep. Mark White, before today’s meeting, and the youth said he thinks that had an effect as well.
Rep. Rick Womick, a Republican member of the committee, said he had changed his position on the bill from support to opposition after hearing from a transgender girl and her parents about the harm it would cause.
“I never thought I’d be speaking like this on a bill like this,” he said in today’s meeting, according to the Nashville Scene. “It’s not broke. Why are we trying to fix something that’s not broke? … Here goes government going in there and saying, ‘Nope, we know how to do it better. You have to do it this way.’ And we’re really going to screw things up.”
The bill’s House sponsor, Republican Rep. Susan Lynn, contended it was not harmful or discriminatory. “This bill truly does protect the rights of all students, all students,” she said in today’s session, the Scene reports.
Tennessee law, by the way, does not permit people to change the gender on their birth certificate even if they have undergone gender-affirming surgery. So even those students who have had such surgery would have been forced to use the facilities designated for their birth gender.
Chris Sanders, director of the Tennessee Equality Project, said he believes the bill’s defeat took Lynn by surprise. The outcome, he told Washington, D.C.’s Metro Weekly, was due to the change of heart by Womick and other Republicans as well as the likelihood that the bill would endanger Tennessee schools’ federal funding.
The U.S. Department of Education has ruled that Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, in prohibiting sex discrimination, also bans discrimination based on gender identity. The federal government can withhold funds from public schools that violate the law, and Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam had raised concerns about this, as had the Tennessee General Assembly Fiscal Review Committee.
“It’s good that the bill will not become law anytime soon,” Sanders told Metro Weekly. “And if the legislature would conduct a real study of the issue, they would find that all our claims are borne out. Trans people are not bothering others in the restroom; in fact, it’s a matter of their own safety, which restroom they go to. So we’d welcome a study.”
Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, issued a statement praising the move: “This is great news. What happened in Tennessee today shows yet again: When lawmakers and government officials listen to trans people and their families and find out who they are, they understand how unnecessary this legislation is.”