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Tennessee’s Legislative Assault on Trans Kids to Advance Despite Veto of Bill in South Dakota

by Stephen Peters March 02, 2016

Today, HRC and the Tennessee Equality Project strongly urged the Tennessee House Education Administration & Planning Subcommittee to abandon a bill targeting the dignity and rights of transgender students in public elementary, middle, and high schools, as well as public universities.  Even more restrictive than the appalling legislation vetoed by Republican Governor of South Dakota Dennis Daugaard just last night, Tennessee’s HB 2414 is scheduled for a hearing on Tuesday and seeks to prevent transgender students from accessing restrooms and locker rooms consistent with their gender identity.

Last night, in vetoing similar legislation that targeted transgender children in South Dakota, 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.”

Several major national child welfare, medical, and education groups have strongly condemned this type of discriminatory legislation that would further marginalize transgender students. The proposal would also put Tennessee public schools and universities at risk of litigation and loss of critical federal funds by forcing them into an untenable position of choosing between state or federal law.

“Fair-minded voices on both sides of the aisle know that it's wrong and reckless to play politics with the lives of transgender children,” said HRC President Chad Griffin. “South Dakota’s Republican governor showed crucial leadership by blocking an outrageous bill that would have further marginalized transgender students. Now is the time for lawmakers in Tennessee, and if needed Governor Haslam, to stop this outrageous legislative assault dead in its tracks. The health and welfare of Tennessee’s transgender youth hangs in the balance.”

"It is difficult to imagine a more targeted attack against transgender and gender non-conforming students,” said Tennessee Equality Project Executive Director Chris Sanders. “Now is the time for allies to speak out against this 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. It would also tie 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 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.”  

School districts around the country are successfully meeting the needs of their transgender students without incident, and so, in the words of Governor Daugaard, the similar bill in his state “does not address any pressing issue concerning the school districts of South Dakota”.

Stephen Peters
Stephen Peters


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