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Tennessee OK's Penalties for Schools That Violate Trans Athlete Ban

Tennessee Governor Bill Lee
Photo via Office of the Governor of Tennessee

The measure signed by Republican Gov. Bill Lee lets the state withhold a portion of funding from schools that don't comply.

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee has signed a bill into law that provides for penalties for schools that violate the state's transgender athlete ban.

The state passed a law last year that requires student athletes in public middle schools and high schools to compete under the gender they were assigned at birth, as shown on their birth certificate or other official documents. A bill that Lee signed without comment Friday allows for the withholding of a portion of state funds from school districts that don't comply with the trans-exclusionary law, the Associated Press reports. It doesn't specify the amount to be withheld. It goes into effect July 1.

The American Civil Liberties Union's Tennessee affiliate, which is representing a trans boy suing over the ban, condemned the latest legislation.

"Telling transgender students that they can't participate as who they really are amounts to excluding them from sports entirely -- depriving them of opportunities available to their peers and sending the message that they are not worthy of a full life," Henry Seaton, the ACLU of Tennessee's transgender justice advocate, said in a statement to the AP.

Cathryn Oakley, the Human Rights Campaign's state legislative director, likewise condemned the move. "Undeterred by the lawsuits Tennessee is facing, undeterred by the possibility of federal administrative enforcement action, undeterred by the harm that this legislation does to Tennessee children, Bill Lee continues to support and sign bill after discriminatory bill -- making Tennessee among the most anti-LGBTQ states in the country," she said in a press release.

"It is hard to imagine a worse combination -- cutting school funds for not discriminating," said Chris Sanders, executive director of the Tennessee Equality Project and Tennessee Equality Project Foundation. "To say that trans participation in school sports is a reason to threaten school districts is deeply stigmatizing and built on misinformation. It is past time for Tennessee to pursue policies that create a sense of belonging for trans and nonbinary students in our schools."

The state passed five anti-trans laws last year and is working on more this year. Conservative legislators are pushing a bill to bar trans women from competing under their gender identity at the college level, even though the National Collegiate Athletic Association allows trans inclusion on women's teams if certain requirements are met. It has passed the Senate and is likely to pass in the House. Another pending bill would exempt teachers from discipline if they refuse to use a trans student's preferred pronouns and protect schools from liability in such cases. It is expected to pass both chambers as well.

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