Tennessee’s War on Trans Kids Now Includes Defunding Schools

GOP state lawmakers are doubling down on banning transgender girls from playing girls’ sports.
Minnesotans hold a rally at the capitol to support trans kids in Minnesota, Texas, and around the country, March 6, 2022. (Michael Siluk/UCG/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)
Minnesotans hold a rally at the capitol to support trans kids in Minnesota, Texas, and around the country, March 6, 2022. (Michael Siluk/UCG/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

Not content with its ban on transgender girls playing girls’ sports, Tennessee lawmakers have sent to the governor’s desk a bill that would defund public schools that don’t comply.

The bill that overwhelmingly passed the Republican-dominated Tennessee Senate Monday night would pull funding from local education agencies that allow transgender girls to play girls’ sports. This comes despite the fact that just last year, Tennessee passed a law requiring students, beginning in fourth grade, to show their original birth certificate in order to play sports. 

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A transgender teenager and civil rights groups sued the state over its ban on trans athletes in November

The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Joey Hensley, has said his new legislation “gives teeth” to the ban, but admitted that he hasn’t heard of any districts that are flouting the new state law, nor had he actually spoken to any transgender students about his bill, The Tennessean reported

“We have seen it happening in other states,” Hensley claimed in a floor speech. “I don’t know of a personal example in Tennessee, but we don’t want it to happen in Tennessee and our female athletes to have unfair competition.”

In his nearly two decades as a state lawmaker, Hensley has backed some virulently anti-LGBTQ legislation: In 2012, while in the Tennessee House, he introduced a bill that would have prohibited teachers “from discussing of any sexuality except heterosexuality in grades K-8.” The bill was dubbed “Don’t Say Gay” by opponents at the time, presaging a Florida bill recently signed into law by Gov. Ron DeSantis

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At a time when Republican-led states are escalating an unprecedented assault on transgender youth and their families, Tennessee has arguably been the most aggressive. Another Hensley-sponsored bill banning transgender women from playing women’s college sports also passed the Senate Monday, and will now head to the House for a full vote. 

The state passed at least five anti-LGBTQ laws in 2021, including the aforementioned sports ban, a ban on gender-affirming care for transgender youth, and “bathroom” bills similar to North Carolina’s HB 2. One law aimed at school bathroom use would allow civil lawsuits to be filed against school districts if they allow transgender children to use bathrooms associated with their gender identity. 

“Tennessee’s elected officials have failed thousands of their own today by passing these bills,” Henry Seaton, a transgender justice advocate for the ACLU of Tennessee, said in a statement following the passage of Monday’s bill. 

“Every young person deserves the opportunity to participate in sports to challenge themselves, improve fitness, and be part of a team,” Seaton said. “Telling transgender students that they can’t participate as who they really are amounts to excluding them from sports entirely – depriving them of opportunities available to their peers and sending the message that they are not worthy of a full life.”

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