Tenn. Resurrects 'Bathroom Bill' Targeting Trans Students

Tennessee State Capitol in Nashville

After effectively shelving a bill targeting transgender students last month, a Tennessee committee today advanced legislation that would bar transgender students statewide from using the restrooms or locker rooms that correspond with their identity. 

Today’s vote of 8-4 in the state House Education Administration and Planning Committee means that House Bill 2414 moves on to the Senate Finance, Ways, and Means Committee.

Last month, the House Education Administration and Planning Committee voted unanimously to send the bill to summer session, which LGBT advocates celebrated as an effective end to the bill’s chances of passing this year. 

The Tennessean newspaper reports that the committee’s willingness to reconsider HB 2414 after effectively scuttling it just a month before “came after Family Action Council of Tennessee sent emails to members of the community questioning their integrity.” 

The Family Action Council of Tennessee bills itself as a conservative nonprofit “dedicated to protecting marriage and family, life, and religious liberty,” according to its website. The group’s mission, as stated on the site, “is to equip Tennesseans and their elected officials to effectively promote and defend a culture that values the traditional family, for the sake of the common good.”

“Our belief is that healthy families and communities come about when basic values from the Bible are embraced and upheld,” FACT’s “About Us” page explains. 

Introduced in January by Rep. Susan Lynn and Sen. Mike Bell, both Republicans, HB 2414 and its companion, Senate Bill 2387, aim to prohibit students at any public elementary school, high school, or institution of higher education from using any bathroom or locker room that does not match the sex listed on the student’s birth certificate. The bills mirror provisions of the controversial anti-LGBT laws recently passed in North Carolina and Mississippi, and are near carbon-copies of legislation vetoed by South Dakota’s Republican governor last month after nationwide outcry. 

“Tennessee lawmakers must not be paying attention to North Carolina and the national backlash caused by a similar legislative attack on transgender people,” said Human Rights Campaign president Chad Griffin in a statement blasting today’s vote. “In addition to undermining Tennessee’s economy, this vicious and appalling measure would needlessly jeopardize millions in federal funding for Tennessee’s schools and universities in an attempt to force local administrators and teachers to discriminate against transgender students — young people who already face high rates of harassment, bullying, and discrimination.”

If passed, the bill would require staff and faculty at public K-12 schools, colleges, and universities to bar transgender students from using the restroom that corresponds with their gender identity, in direct opposition to current interpretations of federal protections guaranteed to transgender students under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. The federal Department of Education and the Department of Justice have both stated that Title IX, which prohibits discrimination in education on the basis of sex, also prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender identity, or any student’s failure to adhere to gender norms as defined by society. 

Earlier today, HRC released an open letter to Tennessee lawmakers urging them to “abandon bills targeting trans youth” in the state. Signed by executives from the Dow Chemical Company, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Choice Hotels Inc., and manufacturing company Alcoa Inc., the letter states that HB 2414 and its companion legislation, Senate Bill 2387, do not reflect the values of those companies. It plainly states that “discrimination is wrong, and we believe it has no place in Tennessee or anywhere in the country.” 

The letter, sent to Tennessee’s Republican lieutenant governor and speaker of the House, is the latest escalation in LGBT advocates’ growing effort to convince lawmakers to kill the transphobic bill. Top executives in Nashville, including leaders at entertainment company Viacom, which owns Country Music Television, have warned that passing the so-called bathroom bill could cost the state jobs, revenue, and its image as a “welcoming place.” The Nashville Convention and Visitors Corp. told the The Tennessean that its members have already heard from two groups that they will not consider Nashville as a host city for conventions if the bill becomes law. 

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