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Tennessee Senate Committee Advances Legislative Assault on Transgender Students

by Stephen Peters March 23, 2016

Today, HRC strongly condemned a vote of 7 to 2 by the Tennessee Senate Education Committee advancing SB 2387 – an outrageous bill targeting transgender students in public schools and universities. The measure seeks to force transgender students to use restrooms and other facilities inconsistent with their gender identity. The vote to advance the Senate bill comes as the House companion bill, HB 2414, was put on hold for a summer study just yesterday.

Fair-minded Tennesseans; major national child welfare, medical, and education groups; the Tennessee Equality Project; and the Human Rights Campaign have beenpleading with lawmakers to abandon the discriminatory proposal. Earlier this month, South Dakota’s Republican Governor vetoed a similar bill that would have further compounded the marginalization transgender students already face.

Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam has echoed concerns that the discriminatory, unconstitutional measure would compromise the state’s three billion dollars in federal funding for its schools and universities. His spokesperson also said the governor “trusts our teachers and local school boards to make necessary accommodations” for transgender students.

“This vicious legislation is an assault on more than 10,000 transgender students in Tennessee,” said HRC Legal Director Sarah Warbelow. “Being pushed by anti-equality extremists from outside the state, this measure would needlessly jeopardize millions in federal funding for Tennessee’s schools and universities. Local administrators and teachers should never be forced by a state mandate to discriminate against students who already face high rates of harassment, bullying, and discrimination. The Tennessee Senate must resoundingly reject this outrageous measure.”

Seven major national child welfare, medical, and education groups have condemned this type of discriminatory legislation – including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Counseling Association, the American School Counselor Association, the Child Welfare League of America, the National Association of School Psychologists, the National Association of Social Workers, and the National Education Association. Expressing strong opposition, the organizations made clear that the proposal “would compromise the safety and well-being of the young people we all have the duty and obligation to support and protect.”

SB 2387 and it’s companion bill, HB 2414, would put Tennessee school districts at risk of losing federal funds under Title IX, forcing them to choose between state and federal law. In April of 2014, the U.S. Department of Education issued guidance informing public schools that Title IX protects students against discrimination based on gender identity. The U.S. Department of Justice has unequivocally stated that, “Discrimination based on a person’s gender identity, a person’s transgender status, or a person’s nonconformity to sex stereotypes constitutes discrimination based on sex. As such, prohibiting a student from accessing the restrooms that match his [or her] gender identity is prohibited sex discrimination under Title IX.”  

According to the Williams Institute, there are over 10,000 transgender youth in Tennessee between the ages of 13 and 19.

The proposal ties the hands of school administrators and teachers who would no longer have the flexibility they need to find workable solutions in coordination with transgender students and their parents.

In vetoing similar legislation that targeted transgender children in South Dakota, Gov. Daugaard said,

“Local school districts can, and have, made necessary restroom and locker room accommodations that serve the best interests of all students, regardless of biological sex or gender identity. This bill seeks to impose statewide standards on ‘every restroom, locker room, and shower room located in a public elementary or secondary school.’  It removes the ability of local school districts to determine the most appropriate accommodations for their individual students and replaces that flexibility with a state mandate.  If and when these rare situations arise, I believe local school officials are best positioned to address them.  Instead of encouraging local solutions, this bill broadly regulates in a manner that invites conflict and litigation, diverting energy and resources from the education of the children of this state.  Preserving local control is particularly important because this bill would place every school district in the difficult position of following state law while knowing it openly invites federal litigation.”

Stephen Peters
Stephen Peters


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