Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee quietly signed an anti-transgender “bathroom bill” into law Friday.
The legislation, House Bill 1233, will deny trans students and staff in public schools access to multi-occupancy restrooms and changing rooms aligning with their gender identity, while requiring schools to make “reasonable accommodations” for them, for example, a single-occupant or faculty restroom.
It further states that if someone “encounters a person of the opposite sex” — a definition that includes trans people — in a multi-occupancy facility, it’s grounds for a lawsuit. That’s also the case if anyone is housed with a member of the “opposite sex” during school activities that require overnight stays.
Lee, a Republican, made no statement about the bill Friday, but he had said earlier that he planned to sign it; it goes into effect July 1. The measure “provides equal access to every student,” he said after touring a Nashville public charter school Tuesday, the Chattanooga Times Free Press reports. “It’s a reasonable accommodation, it allows for accommodation for every student regardless of their gender. I think that’s a smart approach to the challenge. And I’ll be signing that.”
But the bill, titled the Tennessee Accommodations for All Children Act, is far from reasonable, LGBTQ+ activists say. “Tennessee Gov. Lee and state legislators are using their power to harm and further stigmatize trans youth in Tennessee,” Human Rights Campaign President Alphonso David said in a press release. “The state of Tennessee is quickly becoming a national leader for anti-LGBTQ legislation, as lawmakers would rather discriminate against LGBTQ youth than focus on real problems facing Tennesseans. I want to be clear: Gov. Lee’s shameful decision to sign this baseless and discriminatory bill into law will harm the health and well-being of trans students in Tennessee by creating daily degrading experiences for them at school. These ‘Slate of Hate’ bills are unjustifiable and must stop.”
“Transgender children are children. They deserve to feel safe and accepted at school, just like all children,” added HRC Associate Regional Campaign Director Melodía Gutiérrez. “But Gov. Lee and the Tennessee state legislature have chosen once again to sign an inherently discriminatory and harmful bill. … Why are Tennessee’s elected leaders so focused on discriminating against transgender students instead of addressing real issues facing Tennesseans? They have no regard for the damaging impact these bills have on the mental health of transgender students — who have been begging state leaders to leave them alone.”
This is the third anti-LGBTQ+ bill Lee has signed into law this session. The first he signed bars trans students from joining the school sports teams aligning with their gender identity, and the second requires schools to give parents a 30-day notice about any lessons that deal with sexual orientation or gender identity and allow the parents to opt their children out of that instruction.
Two other transphobic measures are awaiting his signature or veto. One would ban gender-affirming medical care for certain trans minors, and the other would require businesses and government buildings to post warning signs if they let trans people use the restrooms or changing rooms designated for their gender identity.
The Tennessee bills are part of a national rash of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation put forth in states around the nation this year, with more than 250 introduced and 19 signed into law; both figures are records. About half the bills are focused on trans people, either denying gender-affirming procedures to young people or barring them from school sports. Many of the more general bills are aimed at letting parents keep their children out of classes with LGBTQ+ content or allowing businesses or service providers to turn away LGBTQ+ people and others based on religious objections.