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Tennessee's Latest Anti-LGBTQ+ Assault: Restricting Trans Health Care

Tennessee Governor Bill Lee

The new legislation signed by Gov. Bill Lee is the fifth anti-LGBTQ+ measure he's signed this year.

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee has signed a bill into law regulating gender-affirming health care, the fifth anti-LGBTQ+ bill he's signed this year.

The Republican-backed legislation isn't as draconian as the measure passed in neighboring Arkansas, which bans gender-affirming health care up to age 18, but it's still discriminatory and sets a bad precedent, LGBTQ+ activists say.

Tennessee's Senate Bill 126, which primarily addresses training for nurses who assist children with medications, contains an amendment that bans hormone treatment for gender-dysphoric minors who haven't entered puberty -- which no doctor in Tennessee prescribes, noted Chris Sanders, executive director of the Tennessee Equality Project. Health care providers can still prescribe the treatment for young people during puberty. Lee signed the bill Tuesday.

"We still opposed the bill because it is a form of discrimination," Sanders told The Advocate via email. "We don't normally codify health care protocols. The legislature chose not to trust trans youth, their families, and their health care providers and put this law in place. We are also worried that it allows the legislature to add more restrictive amendments in the future. In addition, you shouldn't codify health care protocols because they change as the research changes. We believe you shouldn't have to amend the law to change health care protocols."

The Human Rights Campaign denounced the legislation as well. "If lawmakers really care about the best interests of trans youth, they would focus on improving access to quality health care instead of playing doctor themselves," said a statement released by HRC President Alphonso David. "Patients, parents, and health care providers should be guided by science and medical best practices ... when seeking treatments, not the whims of the state legislators. Gov. Lee has made Tennessee a pioneer in anti-transgender discrimination by signing the first and second bathroom bills since [North Carolina's House Bill 2] in recent days. Unfortunately his decision to sign SB 126 (HB 1027) therefore comes as no surprise. He and his anti-equality colleagues are advancing policy based on fear, not science, and they will ultimately lose this fight."

"Instead of focusing on real issues affecting the people of Tennessee, Gov. Bill Lee and his fellow Republicans have shown they have no shame," added HRC Associate Regional Campaign Director Melodia Gutierrez. "The governor has told transgender youth they can't use the bathroom at school, they can't play school sports alongside their peers, and they can't have LGBTQ people or issues discussed in the classroom, including in history or literature. Now he thinks he knows better than their doctors and parents too. Shame on Governor Lee for letting anti-LGBTQ extremists make Tennessee their playground."

More detail on the anti-LGBTQ+ bills passed by legislators and signed by Lee this year: One bars trans students from using multi-occupancy school restrooms and changing rooms that align with their gender identity, instead forcing them to use single-occupancy or staff restrooms, and makes it grounds for a lawsuit if a cisgender student encounters a trans person in a multi-user facility. One bars trans students from the sports teams designated for their gender identity. One requires schools to notify parents of lessons that include LGBTQ+ content and allow students to opt out of them. Another mandates that businesses and other public buildings post warning signs if their restrooms or changing rooms are open to trans people.

The Tennessee measures have been dubbed the "slate of hate" and drawn opposition from prominent trans people, including actor Elliot Page and philanthropist Jennifer Pritzker, as well as allies. They are part of a spate of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation introduced in 30 states around the nation this year. More than 250 have been introduced and 20 signed into law, both record numbers. About half the bills specifically target trans people, most of them seeking to restrict health care or sports participation for youth. Many of the more generally anti-LGBTQ+ bills deal with school curricula or the right to refuse goods or services based on religious objections.

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