Tennessee will soon add harsh penalties against public schools that allow transgender athletes to participate in girls’ sports, under legislation recently signed into law by Republican Gov. Bill Lee.
Lee quietly signed the proposal last Friday without comment. The governor had previously signed a measure last year mandating that student athletes must prove their sex matches that listed on the student’s “original” birth certificate. If a birth certificate was unavailable, then the parents must provide another form of evidence “indicating the student’s sex at the time of birth.”
This year, the GOP-controlled Legislature decided to add penalties to that ban — which is in effect even as a lawsuit challenging its constitutionality makes it way through court. A trial has been tentatively set for March 2023.
According to the bill, Tennessee’s Department of Education would withhold a portion of state funds from local school districts that fail to determine a student’s gender for participation in middle or high school sports. The measure does not specify exactly how much money should be withheld by the state.
The bill will go into effect July 1.
“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,” said Henry Seaton, ACLU of Tennessee’s transgender justice advocate, in a statement.
Tennessee lawmakers are also advancing a separate bill that would ban transgender athletes from participating in female college sports. Republicans have also pushed to let teachers and school districts use the pronoun that a transgender student does not prefer, exempting teachers from facing employment punishment and protecting schools from civil liability. Both proposals are expected to clear the General Assembly.
Last year, no other state enacted more laws targeting transgender people than Tennessee. That included banning transgender athletes from playing girls public high or middle school sports.