Aug 3, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Tennessee sued over school bathroom policy for trans students

Photo of a trans flag and a rainbow flag perched on a fence

Photo: Alexi Rosenfeld via Getty Images

LGBTQ advocacy organization Human Rights Campaign (HRC) filed a lawsuit Tuesday against Tennessee over a state law barring transgender students and staff from using public school restrooms that align with their gender identity.

Why it matters: Under the law, which went into effect on July 1, schools must provide a "reasonable accommodation" — such as a single-occupancy or employee restroom — to students, faculty or staff who are "unwilling or unable" to use the restroom that aligns with their birth-assigned sex. HRC argues the law singles out trans children and can cause students to avoid using restrooms entirely for fear of being bullied.

State of play: After signing the law in May, Gov. Bill Lee (R) said it promotes "equality in bathrooms." But the HRC lawsuit, filed on behalf of two trans students who are named by their initials to protect their privacy, argues otherwise.

  • A.S., 14, was offered a "special" bathroom in seventh grade, per HRC, but he said it made him stand out and led to questions about why he couldn't use the same bathroom as other boys. As a result, A.S. began avoiding liquids at school so he wouldn't have to use the restroom.
    • "To the extent he needed to use the bathroom, he would delay while at school, and would run home from the bus stop as soon as school was over, or otherwise ask his mom to drive directly to the nearest public restroom if she picked him up to attend after-school activities, so that he could finally go to the bathroom," the lawsuit states.
    • A.S. will go to a public high school in the fall and fears the same situation will occur.
  • The other plaintiff, 6-year-old A.B., began her social transition at age 4. When she starts first grade this fall, she won't be allowed to use the girls' restroom.
    • "All she can remember is that she's always used the girls' at the private school she attended for kindergarten, and she's also on a girls' gymnastics team," A.B.'s mother told NBC News. "It honestly would cause a lot more problems and more confusion to see her in a boys' bathroom."

Both plaintiffs' parents said they are considering moving out of Tennessee if the law is not blocked.

  • The law "makes me afraid for her being here. They're making it a dangerous place to essentially say that my child is different from everyone and therefore essentially should be segregated," A.B.'s mother said.

What they're saying: The Tennessee law "is not only morally reprehensible but devoid of any sound legal justification and cannot withstand legal scrutiny," HRC President Alphonso David said in a statement.

  • "With our representation of two transgender kids today, we are sending a strong message of support for all transgender and non-binary children across the country — you matter, and your legal rights should be respected."

The big picture: 2021 has been a record year for legislation targeting trans youth in the U.S.

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