Tennessee high school student sues to overturn state's transgender sports law

·3 min read

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – A Farragut High School student is at the center of a federal lawsuit challenging the Tennessee law that requires transgender students to compete in school sports according to their sex at birth.

The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee against Gov. Bill Lee, Tennessee Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn, the state Board of Education, state Board of Education Executive Director Sara Heyburn Morrison, individual state board members, the Knox County Board of Education and Knox County Schools Superintendent Bob Thomas.

Luc Esquivel, a 14-year-old freshman from Knoxville, was excited to try out for the boys' golf team, according to a press release.

“I was really looking forward to trying out for the boys’ golf team and, if I made it, training and competing with and learning from other boys and improving my game,” Luc Esquivel said in a news release. “Then, to have the legislature pass a law that singled out me and kids like me to keep us from being part of a team, that crushed me, it hurt very much. I just want to play, like any other kid.”

The law bans transgender middle and high school students from participating in sports under their gender identity. The legislation contains no exception for kids receiving puberty blockers or treatments altering testosterone levels, a factor scientific studies associate with athletic performance.

The lawsuit was filed by the ACLU, the ACLU Tennessee and Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, a national nonprofit that advocates for LGBTQ+ people.

The office of Tennessee Attorney General Herbert H. Slatery III did not immediately return a request for comment on the suit.

Tennessee's law was signed by Lee in March. It is part of a nationwide push to restrict transgender children and teens from participating in sports. Lee on Thursday declined to comment, citing pending litigation. The governor previously said he believes transgender student athlete participation would "destroy women's sports."

The groups say in the suit that the law "shunts transgender students" and denies them the social and educational experiences.

Proponents of the law say it will protect girls' and women's sports and ensure fair competition. Opponents say there is no evidence to suggest that trans athlete participation will make it difficult for biological females from participating in sports.

They also say the legislation codifies transphobia.

“It made me, and still makes me, so angry,” Shelley Esquivel, Luc's mother, said in the release. “A mother wants to see their kid happy, thriving, enjoying being a kid. High school sports are an important part of that.

"It’s heartbreaking to see him miss out on this high school experience, and it is painful for a parent to see their child subjected to discrimination because of who they are. I’m proud Luc's is taking this step, and his father and I are with him all the way.”

Lawyers argue that the governor, education commissioner, individual state board of education members, Knox County Schools and Thomas violated the Equal Protection clause of the U.S. Constitution's Fourteenth Amendment. They also say the Tennessee State Board of Education and the Knox County Board of Education violated Title IX of the federal Education Amendments of 1972.

Reporter Yue Stella Yu contributed to this report.

This article originally appeared on Knoxville News Sentinel: Tennessee transgender sports law: Farragut student sues to overturn