Tennessee lawmakers target transgender issues
Legislation targeting transgender issues is quickly advancing as the General Assembly moves to wrap up its session.
Why it matters: Tennessee emerged as a leading force in anti-transgender bills last year, per the Associated Press. Advocates say the action this year suggests that trend will endure.
- Similar efforts have taken root across the country.
Driving the news: Republican lawmakers this week passed a bill barring transgender athletes in female college sports. It is headed to Gov. Bill Lee's desk.
- Lee signed a separate bill last week adding harsh penalties for K-12 schools that allow transgender athletes to compete in sports that align with their gender identity.
- A third bill still being considered in the state Senate would protect public school teachers from punishment if they purposefully misgender a transgender student.
State of play: Conservatives say the sports-related bills were "setting a level playing field" for athletes. They frame the pronouns bill as an effort to protect school employees' freedom of speech.
- Democrats and advocacy groups have condemned the measures as discriminatory and constitutionally problematic.
- House Democrats slammed Republican leadership for squelching debate on the measures.
What they're saying: "It's really not in the best interest of Tennesseans," Rep. Vincent Dixie (D-Nashville) said in a news conference.
- Dixie called the pronouns bill "bullying at its best" that was "attacking some of our most vulnerable population."
Between the lines: Henry Seaton, a transgender justice advocate with the ACLU of Tennessee, told lawmakers the pronouns bill could create conditions that make trans students anxious, depressed and even suicidal.
- Seaton tells Axios he faced that kind of anguish when he came out as trans in high school and one teacher refused to teach him.
- "It's deadly to behave like this," Seaton says. "This could kill children. That's not an exaggeration."
Yes, but: Seaton says several other bills targeting transgender people failed this year.
- "I'm considering it a win for the most part because some of the most dangerous bills did not advance," he says.
What to watch: With many state lawmakers sailing toward reelection this year, Tennessee Equality Project executive director Chris Sanders tells Axios he expects similar themes to emerge in 2023.
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