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Tennessee Flushes 'Bathroom Bill' Away Again

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Its lead sponsor has withdrawn it until next year, she said today.

Tennessee's anti-transgender "bathroom bill" has gone down the drain again -- and it will apparently stay there for at least a year.

In March, a legislative committee had delayed action on the bill by sending it to a summer study session, but the committee, under pressure from the far-right Family Action Council of Tennessee, revived it in early April. Today, though, its sponsor in the House of Representatives, Susan Lynn, said she would withdraw the bill until next year, reports Nashville paper The Tennessean.

The measure, House Bill 2414, and its companion legislation, Senate Bill 2387, would have barred transgender students in public elementary and secondary schools, colleges, and universities from using the restrooms, locker rooms, and other sex-segregated facilities that correspond with their gender identity.

"I have learned that our school districts are largely following what the bill says," Lynn told The Tennessean today, a day when both supporters and opponents rallied at the capitol building in Nashville. "I am still absolutely 100 percent in support of maintaining the privacy of all students. But I'm going to roll the bill over until next year so we can work on those issues."

There has been an outcry against the legislation from businesses as well as LGBT rights groups, but Lynn said, "I didn't have one letter from one company saying that they were pulling out of Tennessee or anything because of this bill."

However, executives with numerous companies signed on to a letter expressing concern about the bill and sent it to Lieutenant Governor and Speaker of the Senate Ron Ramsey and Speaker of the House Beth Harwell. The executives didn't go so far as to threaten to pull out of Tennessee, but they said that laws like the one proposed "are bad for our employees and bad for business." They also said such laws would make it more difficult to attract and retain the best workers.

The bill was also likely to cost the state federal education funding, as it would conflict with Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which bans sex discrimination in schools that receive federal money. The U.S. Department of Education has held that sex discrimination includes discrimination based on gender identity. Tennessee's attorney general had issued an opinion saying if the bill became law, it was very likely to result in a loss of federal funding, which Tennessee schools receive to the tune of $3 billion a year.

LGBT rights groups expressed relief at the bill's withdrawal. "Tennessee lawmakers were wise to learn from the mistakes of North Carolina and Mississippi and halt this cruel legislation that would have only worsened the marginalization and harassment transgender students already face on a daily basis," said Human Rights Campaign president Chad Griffin in a press release. "Over the last weeks and months, a growing chorus of civil rights leaders, child welfare advocates, businesses, and fair-minded people spoke out and declared that transgender youth deserve our support, care and respect. We urge Tennessee lawmakers to reject any similar future proposals that would subject these youth to discrimination and fear."

"The LGBT community and our allies never gave up in the fight against HB 2414 and today our efforts were rewarded," added Tennessee Equality Project executive director Chris Sanders in the same release. "We can build a culture of inclusion and acceptance in Tennessee."

And Hedy Weinberg, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee, told the Nashville paper, "Today's move helps ensure that every child in Tennessee will be treated with respect and dignity. We will remain vigilant to ensure that all Tennessee children are treated equally under the law."

They may well need to be. Family Action Council of Tennessee president David Fowler said he trusts that legislators will bring the bill back next year. "In the meantime," he told The Tennessean, "we would encourage citizens to monitor the policies of their local school systems and demand that their schools defend the privacy of students if threatened with lawsuits, as has already happened with one local school system."

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