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Anti-Trans Sports Bills Sent to Governors in Arkansas, Tennessee

Trans rights demonstrator in Arkansas
Photo by Sydney Rasch/ACLU of Arkansas

It's not certain whether the bills will be signed into law, but both governors are anti-trans Republicans.

Legislators in Arkansas and Tennessee have sent their governors bills restricting transgender students' sports participation.

In both states, members of the House of Representatives approved bills Monday that had already been passed by their respective Senates, mandating that athletes in interscholastic sports compete according to the gender they were assigned at birth, not their gender identity. The Tennessee bill applies to sports in public middle and high schools, while the Arkansas measure applies to public elementary, secondary, and college teams as well as private school teams that compete against the public institutions.

Both states' bills, like many across the nation, are aimed primarily at keeping transgender females from competing with cisgender girls and women, due to the perception that trans female athletes have an inherent and unfair advantage over their cis counterparts, something that is much disputed by both activists and scientists. There is no evidence of widespread domination of sports by trans girls and women, and most lawmakers pushing these bills can't name a single example of a trans athlete causing problems in their state.

The Arkansas bill goes to Gov. Asa Hutchinson, a Republican, who has said he supports the measure's objectives but hasn't committed to signing it, the Associated Press reports. If he takes no action within five days from receiving a bill, it becomes law without his signature. In Tennessee, Republican Gov. Bill Lee is expected to sign the bill into law, as he's said trans athletes will "destroy women's sports."

More than 90 anti-transgender bills have been introduced in states around the nation in 2021, the most in any year, according to the Human Rights Campaign. About half deal with sports participation, and many of the rest are aimed at denying gender-affirming medical care to trans minors. There are also numerous generally anti-LGBTQ+ bills pending as well. Legislation that would allow health care providers to opt out of procedures that offend their religious or moral beliefs has passed both houses in Arkansas and also awaits action by Hutchinson; it could lead to discrimination against LGBTQ+ people and many other groups.

In Tennessee, several other transphobic and/or homophobic bills are scheduled for action in committees or subcommittees this week, according to the Tennessee Equality Project. These include proposals to ban gender-affirming care to trans minors; to restrict trans students' restroom usage in schools or to add transphobic language to restroom signs; and to let parents keep their children out of sex education classes that include LGBTQ+ content.

Opponents of the bills that advanced Monday in Arkansas and Tennessee pointed out that such legislation further marginalizes young people who already face many challenges. "It's extremely hard to be a kid, and if you're a transgender kid, your life's even harder," Arkansas Rep. Tippi McCullough, a Democrat, said before the vote, according to the AP. "Sports gives kids a place to belong, a place to be included, a place to succeed or learn to deal with setbacks and work to overcome them."

"Laws that exclude transgender children from sport not only deny them an important component of physical and mental well-being, but also restrict their access to groups that can provide important sources of social support," Adam Love, an associate professor of recreation and sports management at the University of Tennessee, told The Tennessean.

The only state where an anti-trans sports bill has become law is Idaho, and it has been blocked by a federal judge while a court challenge proceeds. Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves has signed a similar measure, and it takes effect July 1. South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem has backtracked about signing such a bill, demanding that legislators change it so it doesn't apply to colleges, but she has announced she's forming a multistate coalition to fight the National Collegiate Athletic Association's efforts to punish states with trans-exclusionary laws.

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