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Tennessee Advances Anti-Trans School Sports Bill


The bill, which would require trans student athletes to compete under the gender they were assigned at birth, passed in the state's Senate and awaits a vote in the House.

Yet another bill restricting transgender athletes' participation in school sports is advancing, this time in Tennessee.

The Tennessee Senate Monday night voted 27-6 to approve legislation that would require trans student athletes to compete under the gender they were assigned at birth, The Tennessean reports. "The bill includes no exception for transgender athletes receiving gender-affirming care, such as hormone blockers," the paper notes. The state's House of Representatives has not yet scheduled a final vote on it.

Such bills have been introduced in more than 20 states this year, aimed primarily at keeping trans girls and women from competing with cisgender females. Backers claim trans females have an unfair advantage -- something disputed by LGBTQ+ activists as well as scientists, as hormones are but one of many factors that contribute to an athlete's performance -- and have resorted to using scare tactics, such as contending trans participation will destroy women's sports.

The Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association has never encountered a trans student seeking to play school sports, according to The Tennessean. But the bill's supporters said this is a "problem" the state's schools will face at some point.

"For anyone in this chamber to say that this is not a problem or this is not going to be a problem or we don't need to deal with it ... it is a problem that is emerging with a great deal with steam," Republican Sen. Kerry Roberts said Monday. "To deny that it's a problem is to deny reality."

Democratic Sen. Heidi Campbell countered, "The argument in favor of this legislation is about hypothetical situations that might happen. What isn't hypothetical is the tearful moms of trans kids I spoke to on the phone last week, worried about psychological effects that this bill has on their child, or the pediatricians who have emailed me that this bill will hurt children and cause irreparable damage to them psychologically and physically."

"Protecting women's sports is important, but transgender girls do not threaten them," said a statement issued by Hedy Weinberg, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union's Tennessee chapter. "The vast majority of transgender students are not elite athletes. They just want to play sports for fun, with friends and classmates, to feel a sense of community and camaraderie, and to learn to respect and work together with coaches and teammates."

Human Rights Campaign Deputy National Campaign Director Hope Jackson also issued a statement opposing the measure: "This is a dangerous bill that discriminates against transgender kids who are simply trying to navigate their adolescence. This bill is an attempt to legislate against a problem that doesn't exist -- neither Governor [Bill] Lee nor any of the proponents of this bill in the Senate can name an instance of transgender athletes trying to game the system for competitive advantage because no examples exist and to do so would be nonsensical and impractical. Those who purport to care about women's sports should take action to ensure better funding for programs and more pay equity rather than bullying transgender girls who just want to compete and be part of a team. Tennessee Senate should be more focused on passing relief to help Tennesseans get by in the midst of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Passing this bill will not only be bad for transgender Tenneseans, it will threaten Tennessee's effort to recruit and retain businesses and harm its reputation as previous anti-transgender legislation has done across the country."

Anti-trans sports bills have passed one chamber of the legislatures in North and South Dakota,Montana, Mississippi, and Utah, and lawmakers in Alabama are scheduled to vote on one Tuesday, in addition to a bill that would ban gender-affirming health care for trans minors. Many other states are considering the latter type of bill as well.

The Utah sports legislation, passed by the state's House of Representatives, stalled in the Senate last week. Gov. Spencer Cox has expressed reservations about it, as have several lawmakers. A Senate committee decided not to vote on it, so it probably won't make it to the full Senate for a vote before the legislative session ends this Friday, Salt Lake City's Deseret News reports.

The only state where a bill restricting trans participation in sports has become law is Idaho. A federal judge has blocked the law from being enforced while a court challenge to it proceeds.

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