NASHVILLE — Tennessee lawmakers on Tuesday advanced legislation that would prohibit transgender girls from playing on middle and high school sports teams as opponents warned the proposal will almost certainly face costly legal challenges if it’s signed into law.
The bill is still in the early stages in the GOP-dominant Statehouse, with multiple hearings in both chambers still required before it could land on Gov. Bill Lee’s desk. However, Republican House members expressed enthusiastic support for the proposal during Tuesday’s initial hearing — making Tennessee among the dozen of states where lawmakers are backing restrictions on athletics or gender-confirming health care for trans minors this year.
“We are the great state of Tennessee. We don’t operate like California or New York,” said Rep. Michelle Carringer, a Republican from Knoxville.
“If we as a state of Tennessee are afraid of ever making a difference because we might be sued some day, then we should all pack our bags and go home,” Carringer added, shortly before voting in favor of the bill.
According to the bill, student athletes would be required to prove that the student’s sex matches the student’s “original” birth certificate in order to participate in public high school sports. If a birth certificate is unavailable, then the parents must provide another form of evidence “indicating the student’s sex at the time of birth.”
Tennessee lawmakers debated a similar bill last year, where the proposal cleared the House chamber but stalled in the Senate.
The bill’s backers argue that transgender girls, because they were born male, are naturally stronger, faster and bigger than those born female and therefor have an unfair advantage in sports.
“When you look at sports and the fastest man in the world — Usain Bolt — if you put him next to the fastest women in the world it wouldn’t even be close,” said Rep. Scott Cepicky, a Republican from Culleoka.
Opponents of the measure counter that such proposals violate Title IX of federal education law prohibiting sex discrimination, as well as rulings by the U.S. Supreme Court and 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
“Let’s really consider and be thoughtful about the discriminatory impact on our youth rather than what we want to see. Let’s put ourselves in their perspective,” said Rep. John Ray Clemmons, a Democrat from Nashville.
Currently, a similar 2020 Idaho law has been blocked by a federal judge as a lawsuit makes it way in court.