Tennessee Republican Shelves Bathroom Discrimination Bill

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Tennessee Republican Shelves Bathroom Discrimination Bill

Teddy Wilson

Transgender students and their families on Monday delivered petitions to the governor’s office with more than 67,000 signatures urging Tennessee's Republican-held legislature not to pass the legislation.

A Tennessee lawmaker has withdrawn a bill that requires students in the state’s public schools, colleges, and universities to use restrooms based on “the sex indicated on the student’s original birth certificate,” not the gender with which they identify.

The Republican measure is similar to a discriminatory North Carolina bill that has drawn widespread condemnation this month. 

HB 2414, sponsored by Rep. Susan Lynn (R-Mt. Juliet), would require students in public schools and public institutions of higher education to use restrooms and locker rooms that are assigned to “persons of the same sex as the sex indicated on the student’s original birth certificate.”

Sen. Mike Bell (R-Riceville) is the sponsor of the state senate companion bill, SB 2387.

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The House Education Administration and Planning Committee passed the legislation April 6 with a vote of 8 to 4The bill has been widely criticized by Democratic lawmakers, transgender advocates, and some in the business community.

Transgender students and their families on Monday delivered petitions to the governor’s office with more than 67,000 signatures urging Tennessee’s Republican-held legislature not to pass the legislation.

The students were joined by representatives from the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee, the Tennessee Equality Project, the Tennessee Transgender Political Coalition, and the Human Rights Campaign.  

Butch Spyridon, CEO of the Convention and Visitors Corp., told the Tennessean that bill will damage Tennessee’s reputation and prevent organizations from considering the state as a host for conventions.

“When the state starts introducing legislation that affects our ability to do business, it is not helpful and needs to be rethought,” Spyridon said. “Our success in the hospitality industry is predicated on a welcoming and friendly environment. We don’t need to do anything to diminish or hinder the success that is driving the state’s economy.”

David Fowler, president of the Family Action Council of Tennessee (FACT), defended the legislation Monday during a press conference. Fowler claimed the bill is not similar to the law recently passed in North Carolina because the Tennessee legislation only applies to bathrooms in public schools and colleges. 

“We are also not here today to condemn those who experience a psychological tension with their biological anatomy. They deserve our compassion,” Fowler said in a statement. “But so does the prepubescent girl or young college woman who does not want to be in a state of undress in front of someone who is their biological opposite.”

FACT is a state affiliate of the Family Research Council, which the Southern Poverty Law Center has designated as a hate group.

Lynn told the Tennessean that she withdrew the bill from consideration because the state’s public schools are already complying with the proposed law.

“I have learned that our school districts are largely following what the bill says,” Lynn said. “I am still absolutely 100 percent in support of maintaining the privacy of all students. But I’m going to roll the bill over until next year so we can work on those issues.”

Lynn claimed that the controversy surrounding the bathroom discrimination measure, including promises to withhold business from the state, did not factor into her decision to halt the bill.

“I didn’t have one letter from one company saying that they were pulling out of Tennessee or anything because of this bill,” she said.

Lynn’s bill is just the most recent legislative assault on the LGBTQ people in the state, which has an LGBTQ population of more than 129,000

The legislature recently passed a bill that would allow therapists and counselors to reject clients who express “goals, outcomes, or behaviors that conflict with sincerely held religious beliefs,” in violation of the American Counseling Association’s code of ethics.