Tenn. AG Warns That State Will Lose Federal Funding Over Bills Attacking Trans Students

by Ianthe Metzger

State legislation mirrors outrageous provisions in North Carolina law that has drawn widespread condemnation, and South Dakota bill vetoed last month

WASHINGTON - Today, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the nation’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) civil rights organization responded to Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery III’s warning that the state could lose millions of dollars in federal funding if lawmakers move forward with legislation restricting transgender students’ access to bathroom facilities consistent with their gender identity.

“We hope that Tennessee’s elected officials hear Attorney General Herbert Slatery’s clear message -- the state’s discriminatory, anti-transgender legislation will jeopardize crucial federal funding for the state’s public schools,” said HRC Senior Vice President of Policy and Political Affairs JoDee Winterhof. “Any compassionate person can see how cruel this legislation targeting transgender children is. But this warning from the state’s top lawyer also makes clear that the terrible bill puts millions of federal education dollars in peril, risking the quality of education received by every single student attending Tennessee’s public schools.”

In an opinion released earlier today, Slatery writes: “In sum, if a transgender student is required by a school district in Tennessee to use a restroom or locker room facility that is consistent with his or her anatomical gender rather than his or her gender expression or gender identity, and if that student files a complaint, [the U.S. Department of Education], applying its current interpretation of Title IX, will almost certainly require the school district to permit the student access to the facility consistent with his or her gender expression, and refusal to do so could very well result in loss of federal funding — at least until [Department of Education’s] interpretation is overruled by authoritative and binding judicial decision.”

Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam has already voiced concerns that these discriminatory measures would compromise the state’s $3 billion in federal funding for its schools and universities. His spokesperson has said that the governor “trusts our teachers and local school boards to make necessary accommodations” for transgender students. The legislation offers costly supposed “solutions” to non-existent problems, and would force schools to choose between complying with federal law -- while also doing the right thing for their students -- or complying with a state law that violates students’ civil rights. Several federal departments have announced that they are looking into whether to cut federal funding for North Carolina following the recent passage of their anti-LGBT laws. Read more about how these bills put federal funding at risk here.

Last week, HRC released an open letter from executives at the Dow Chemical Company, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Choice Hotels International, Inc., and Alcoa, Inc. urging Tennessee lawmakers to abandon their legislative assault on transgender students. Major CEOs and business leaders are speaking out because they know the legislation is bad for business and bad for Tennessee. Country music stars including  Emmylou Harris, Chely Wright, Ty Herndon, and Miley Cyrus are also publicly condemning these discriminatory bills, as is Viacom, the parent company of Country Music Television.

Over the past month, bills with language similar to Tennessee’s discriminatory proposal were vetoed in South Dakota, but enacted in North Carolina, where lawmakers are facing fierce backlash. In South Dakota, Republican Governor Dennis Daugaard vetoed a similar bill after listening to child welfare organizations, pediatricians, and parents, and meeting with transgender children.

In North Carolina, Governor Pat McCrory and the state legislature rammed through a measure that, among other discriminatory provisions, includes a similar appalling attack on transgender students. More than 130 business leaders are calling on North Carolina’s elected officials in their upcoming legislative session to repeal that law, which puts thousands of youth, citizens, employees, and visitors to the state at risk. In the meantime, a number of businesses have begun  removing investments from the state.

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


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