ICYMI: Governor Lee Signed Tennessee’s Fourth Anti-Transgender Sports Ban into Law; Making it the State’s 15th Anti-LGBTQ+ Law Since 2015

by HRC Staff

Nashville, Tennessee – The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) — the nation’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ+) civil rights organization — condemned Tennessee Governor Bill Lee for signing SB 1237 into law late last week, which will allow private schools to prohibit transgender students from playing sports consistent with their gender identity. This is Tennessee’s fourth anti-transgender sports law. In addition, multiple discriminatory bills are waiting for the Governor’s consideration, all of which restrict the rights of Tennesseans and many of which make Tennessee an increasingly difficult place for LGBTQ+ people to survive, let alone thrive.

Governor Lee had already signed two anti-LGBTQ+ bills into law this year, a ban on age-appropriate, best practice gender-affirming care for transgender youth and a now-enjoined law criminalizing drag performances on public property or any location where people under 18 could be present. Since 2015, Tennessee has enacted more anti-LGBTQ+ laws than any other state in the country, now 15 in total, including four laws preventing transgender students from playing sports consistent with their gender identity, two bathroom bans, a law allowing discrimination by state contractors providing child welfare services paid for with taxpayer funds, curriculum censorship laws, and more. Tennessee’s attack on LGBTQ+ people has been unrelenting.

Human Rights Campaign Legal Director Sarah Warbelow issued the following statement today:

“Governor Lee has become the ringleader in the world of bullying and attacking LGBTQ+ youth. He and his extremist lawmakers are wielding their political power to pass bills that serve no purpose other than to send a message of exclusion to transgender youth. Like all kids, transgender students deserve the opportunity to participate in sports with their friends and learn important skills like sportsmanship and teamwork. What they do not deserve is to be targeted and stigmatized by adult politicians who apparently have nothing better to do. This bill is shameful, and we know it’s not the last anti-LGBTQ+ bill Governor Lee plans to sign into law.”

The full list of discriminatory bills heading to the Governor’s desk this week include:

  • (Just signed into law): SB 1237, which is an anti-transgender sports ban that allows private schools to prohibit transgender students from playing sports consistent with their gender identity. This places schools that accept federal funds in conflict with Title IX. This is Tennessee’s fourth anti-transgender sports law.

  • HB 727 / SB 1443, which limits students' access to important educational instruction and goals by requiring written consent from parents before students can participate in any surveys, evaluations, “family life” instruction, and general health programs. It puts an additional burden on teachers and schools who already have limited resources, and intentionally aims to limit the inclusive teaching of LGBTQ+ content and sex education.

  • HB 239 / SB 1440, which adopts a discriminatory definition of sex that excludes LGBTQ+ people from state non-discrimination laws. It also allows discrimination against transgender people in critical services including rape crisis centers, domestic violence shelters, detention facilities, bathrooms, locker rooms, school athletics and beyond.

  • HB 1269 / SB 466, which allows for the intentional misgendering and deadnaming of transgender and non-binary students by their peers.

  • HB 158 / SB 102, which prohibits public education institutions from requiring implicit bias training.

The Facts About Anti-Transgender Sports Bans

A majority of Americans oppose discriminatory bills seeking to ban transgender and non-binary youth from participation in sports. A PBS/NPR/Marist poll states that 67% of Americans, including 66% of Republicans, oppose the anti-transgender sports ban legislation proliferating across 30 states. And a poll conducted by the Human Rights Campaign & Hart Research Group revealed that, with respect to transgender youth participation in sports, the public’s strong inclination is on the side of fairness and equality for transgender student athletes. 73% of voters agree that “sports are important in young people’s lives. Young transgender people should be allowed opportunities to participate in a way that is safe and comfortable for them.”

Advocates for women and girls in sports support trans-inclusive policies and oppose efforts to exclude transgender students from participating in sports. This includes the National Women’s Law Center, the Women’s Sports Foundation, Women Leaders in College Sports, and others — including prominent female athletes like Billie Jean King, Megan Rapinoe, and Cheryl Reeve. That’s because while there are real issues facing women’s sports, including a lack of resources devoted to supporting them, transgender participation in athletics is not one of them. And nearly 550 college athletes have stood up to anti-transgender legislation by demanding the NCAA pull championships from states that have enacted anti-trans sports laws.

The nation’s leading child health and welfare groups oppose sports bans. Groups representing more than 7 million youth-serving professionals and more than 1,000 child welfare organizations released an open letter calling for lawmakers in states across the country to oppose dozens of bills that target LGBTQ+ people, and transgender children in particular.

In 2022, lawmakers introduced 80 bills aimed to prevent transgender youth from playing school sports consistent with their gender identity. By the end of the 2022 legislative session, a record 17 bills attacking transgender and non-binary children passed into law. 19 states exclude transgender athletes in school sports.

For more information, please access the following resources on HRC’s website:

State Leg Snapshot

So far in 2023, HRC is opposing more than 540 anti-LGBTQ+ bills that have been introduced in statehouses across the country. More than 220 of those bills would specifically restrict the rights of transgender people, the highest number of bills targeting transgender people in a single year to date.

This year, HRC is tracking:

  • More than 125 bills that would prevent transgender youth from being able to access age-appropriate, medically-necessary, best-practice health care; this year, 13 have already become law in Arkansas, Tennessee, Mississippi, South Dakota, Utah, Iowa, Idaho, Indiana, Georgia, Kentucky, West Virginia and North Dakota.

  • More than 30 bathroom ban bills filed,

  • More than 100 curriculum censorship bills and 40 anti-drag performance bills.

In a coordinated push led by national anti-LGBTQ+ groups, which deployed vintage discriminatory tropes, politicians in statehouses across the country introduced 315 discriminatory anti-LGBTQ+ bills in 2022 and 29 passed into law. Despite this, fewer than 10% of these efforts succeeded. The majority of the discriminatory bills – 149 bills – targeted the transgender and non-binary community, with the majority targeting children receiving the brunt of discriminatory legislation. By the end of the 2022 legislative session, a record 17 bills attacking transgender and non-binary children passed into law.

The Human Rights Campaign is America’s largest civil rights organization working to achieve equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people. HRC envisions a world where LGBTQ+ people are embraced as full members of society at home, at work and in every community.

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