Republican Governor of Tennessee, Bill Lee has signed legislation that puts public schools and their districts at risk of losing civil lawsuits if they let transgender students or employees use multi-person bathrooms or locker rooms that do not reflect their gender at birth.
It’s the first bill restricting bathroom use by transgender people signed in any state in about 5 years, according to Wyatt Ronan, a spokesperson for the Human Rights Campaign.
Governor Lee signed the bill Friday, cementing another policy into law this year in Tennessee that targets the transgender community. LGBTQ advocates have claimed the legislation is discriminatory, as numerous anti-transgender measures have advanced recently in GOP led statehouses across the country, including in Texas, Alabama and Arkansas.
Under the bathroom measure, a student, parent or employee could sue in an effort to claim monetary damages for all psychological, emotional, and physical harm suffered if school officials allow a transgender person into the bathroom or locker room when others are occupying the facility.
They also could take legal action if required to stay in the same sleeping quarters as a member of the opposite sex at birth, unless that person is a family member.
The proposal says schools must try to offer a bathroom or changing facility that is single-occupancy or that is for employees if a student or employee desires greater privacy when using a multi-occupancy restroom or changing facility designated for their sex birth.
Governor Lee has said the bill promotes “equality in bathrooms,” despite the prohibition against transgender people using multi-person facilities that don’t align with their sex at birth. “This bill provides equal access to every student. It’s a reasonable accommodation and allows for accommodation for every student regardless of their gender. I think that’s a smart approach to the challenge,” he told reporters last week. The legislation will take effect on July 1.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee has said the requirement would violate equal protection rights under the Constitution and the Civil Rights Act. The ACLU expects the law will be challenged in court.
According to ACLU of Tennessee Executive Director Hedy Weinberg in a statement, “Transgender students should be treated with respect and dignity, just like everyone else. Governor Lee’s decision to sign this bill sends the opposite message – that students should be able to discriminate against a group of their classmates by avoiding sharing public spaces with them, and sue their schools if they are prevented from doing so.”
Challenging a school policy currently presents procedural hurdles, including legal standing and immunity issues, said state ACLU spokesperson Lindsay Kee. The law presents a “clear path to litigation” about bathrooms and allows for attorneys’ fees awards, Kee said.
Although such measures have met opposition, it isn’t the first, and probably won’t be the last proposed restriction affecting the transgender community to come before Governor Lee this year. Up to this point nationally, there hasn’t been a lot of repercussion where bill have passed targeting transgender people, unlike the swift backlash from the business community to North Carolina’s 2016 “Bathroom Bill.”
The governor has already signed a different proposal this year this year that bars transgender athletes from playing girls public high school or middle school sports. He also signed legislation to require school districts to alert parents 30 days in advance before students are taught about sexual orientation or gender identity and allows parents to opt their student out of the lesson. The requirement would not apply if the teacher is responding to a student’s question.
Lee is still deciding whether to sign a different variety of bathroom bill that passed this year that would require businesses or government facilities open to the public to post a sign if they let transgender people use multi person bathrooms, locker rooms or changing rooms with people of their gender, not just their gender at birth.
The NCAA recently picked three states that ban interscholastic transgender athletes as host schools for softball regionals. These three states are Alabama, Arkansas and Tennessee. Arkansas law also applies to college sports. The decision came after the NCAA reiterated support for transgender athletes in college sports, warning that future events should only be in places that are safe, healthy and free of discrimination.
Isn’t the question, or shouldn’t the question be, what is unsafe, unhealthy, or discriminatory, if you are a male, you go into a Men’s restroom, and if you are female, you go into a Women’s restroom?