Tennessee leads political shift to the right with anti-transgender laws

Nashville, Tenn.

Conservative lawmakers across the country have introduced an avalanche of anti-LGBTQ bills this year, but no state political leader has gone further than Tennessee in enacting new laws targeting transgender people.

Lawmakers passed and Republican Gov. Bill Lee signed five new bills, systematically dismissing concerns that they discriminate against an already vulnerable population, that some of the laws are unenforceable and could damage the state’s reputation. .

Supporters defend laws policy by policy, arguing that one protects parental rights, others protect girls and women, and even improves equality. Opponents reject these claims.

Colin Goodbred, a 22-year-old transgender student raised in suburban Nashville and attending college in New Hampshire, says the multitude of new laws could prevent him from calling Tennessee home again.

“I think these kinds of bills are part of what makes me not identify Tennessee as my own state, even though I spent the vast majority of my childhood growing up in Tennessee,” he said. said the senior of Dartmouth College. “I don’t want to go back. I’m already going to college out of state. I want to work out of state. And they made it clear that they don’t want trans people in the state.

Tennessee’s emergence as an anti-LGBTQ leader stems from a political shift to the right in an already firmly controlled Republican state. Mr Lee’s Republican predecessor pressed the brakes on some socially conservative laws, but outright GOP election wins, fueled by strong support for former President Donald Trump, have since emboldened lawmakers. This is the political landscape in which Mr. Lee launches his candidacy for re-election 2022.

Legislatures in 30 other states, most of them under Republican control, have considered banning trans youth from sports teams that match their gender identities. Twenty weighed in on the ban on medical care confirming the sex of transgender minors. The Human Rights Campaign has called 2021 the worst year for anti-LGBTQ legislation in recent history.

Tennessee this year banned transgender athletes from participating in public high school or college sports. The state is set to become the first to require government buildings and businesses open to the public to display signs if they allow trans people to use multi-person bathrooms and other facilities associated with their gender identity.

Public schools, meanwhile, risk losing lawsuits soon if they let transgender students or employees use bathrooms or locker rooms for multiple people who do not reflect their gender at birth. Mr Lee also signed a law requiring school districts to alert parents 30 days before students are informed of sexual orientation or gender identity, allowing them to withdraw from the lesson.

“Tennessee takes the crown for the state of hate,” said Sasha Buchert, a senior lawyer for Lambda Legal.

The governor recently defended the school-bathroom rule. “This bill provides equal access to all students,” he said.

Neighboring Arkansas is the only other state to ban sex-confirming care for minors, one of three new anti-transgender laws in that country. Montana has two new legal restrictions for transgender people. Sports bans have also been passed in a handful of other states, including Alabama, Mississippi and West Virginia.

The decades-long cultural war over LGBTQ rights has focused on transgender Americans in recent years and has increasingly been a topic of discussion in conservative-leaning media.

The recent wave of bills has received support from conservative groups including the Heritage Foundation and the Defending Freedom Alliance, the latter of which is proposing model legislation for transgender athletics bills. The push into state houses follows Democratic President Joe Biden’s executive order banning discrimination based on gender identity.

A survey by The Trevor Project showed that 94% of LGBTQ youth said recent political debates on the issue had had a negative impact on their mental health. A separate question found that more than half of transgender and non-binary youth had seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year.

Project Trevor has been contacted by crisis-stricken Tennessee youth 2,400 times in the past year, according to executive director Amit Paley.

“Our son regularly asks, ‘When can we move out or can you send me to boarding school? Said Amy Allen, whose Grade 8 transgender son is dreading going from private school to public school next fall.

The mayor of Nashville has warned that the requirement for commercial signage for bathrooms and other fixtures could be particularly damaging to his growing and progressive city, which is often at odds with downtown social policies. Capitol, dominated by the GOP.

“This law is part of an anti-LGBT political platform of hate and division,” said Mayor John Cooper, a Democrat. “One of the risks to Nashville is that the hostility inherent in these signs can be the equivalent of hanging up another sign: a ‘Don’t come here’ sign. We are an inclusive city and that will not change. “

Some of Tennessee’s new laws face practical challenges.

The sponsor of the signage bill said people could sue or district attorneys could ask a judge to force businesses to comply. But Tennessee District Attorneys General President Amy Weirich says the bill “doesn’t talk about anything to do with law enforcement,” so her group has remained neutral on the issue. law Project.

“The way it’s written, I don’t see anything that allows me or gives me the responsibility or the right to go to a civil court and ask a judge to execute it,” said Ms. Weirich, prosecutor. from Shelby County.

Regarding the ban on medical treatment, advocates say no doctor in Tennessee currently offers hormone therapy for young people before puberty.

Supporters of the sports team ban have been largely unable to cite local cases – in Tennessee or across the country – where trans athletes were seen to have a competitive advantage. They argue that the rules will ensure a level playing field.

The new laws send the wrong signal, said Aly Chapman, mother of a transgender son and a lawyer.

“I don’t know how to see it other than talking about oppression and control and power and saying to people, ‘You don’t exist’,” she said.

Advocates say the next few years will be crucial. Many fear the legislative blockade will continue.

“The signage is, ‘Hey, look what we could’ve done. Here is the roadmap, ”Ms. Chapman said. “They are not finished.”

This story was reported by The Associated Press. Lindsay Whitehurst reported from Salt Lake City, Utah.

About Rachel Gooch

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