Tennessee governor bans transgender athletes from competing in collegiate athletics

·3 min read

Story at a glance

  • Tennessee’s Republican Gov. Bill Lee on Friday signed a bill barring transgender women from competing on college sports teams aligning with their gender identity.

  • The measure requires Tennessee colleges to determine a student-athlete’s gender using the student’s “original” birth certificate.

  • Lee late last month signed into law a measure to add harsher penalties to the state’s existing transgender athlete ban.

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee (R) on Friday signed legislation to prevent transgender women from competing on college sports teams consistent with their gender identity, building on a set of existing laws prohibiting state schools through high school from allowing young transgender women and girls to participate in athletics.

Lee on Friday enacted Senate Bill 2153, which, according to a summary of the bill, “prohibits males from participating in public higher education sports that are designated for females.” The measure requires Tennessee colleges to determine a student-athlete’s gender using the student’s “original” birth certificate.

The measure, which was introduced in early February along with its companion bill in the state House, would also prevent any government entity, organization or athletic association from taking “an adverse action” against a school that complies with the law or a student who reports a violation.

If evidence of a violation is found which “deprives a student of an athletic opportunity or causes direct or indirect harm to the student,” then the student affected has a private cause of action for injunctive relief, damages and “any other relief available under law,” according to the law.

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Each college in the state will also be required to adopt and enforce a policy ensuring compliance with the new law.

Lee late last month without comment signed into law a measure to add harsher penalties to the state’s existing transgender athlete ban, which was enacted last year. The law requires students  beyond the fourth grade to provide legal documentation demonstrating their sex assigned at birth to participate in school sports.

Lee after signing the measure into law last year tweeted that the action was done to “preserve women’s athletics and ensure fair competition.” Despite a pending lawsuit challenging its constitutionality, the law is still in effect, with a trial tentatively set for March of next year, according to The Associated Press.

LGBTQ+ advocates on Friday condemned the governor’s actions against transgender young people in the state, claiming the new set of laws – which now ban virtually all transgender female athletes in Tennessee from playing on sports teams that match their gender identity – isolate them from their peers and negatively impact their mental health and overall well-being.

“This law sends a horrible message that trans and nonbinary youth can be excluded from the many benefits of participating in sports,” Chris Sanders, the executive director of the Tennessee Equality Project, said Friday in a statement issued by the Human Rights Campaign.

“More broadly, it also stains those who are complicit and creates habits of lawmaking that endanger everyone in Tennessee,” he said. “Legislation crafted from animus and ignorance protects no one.”

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