In Tennessee Governor Bill Lee has signed two of five anti-transgender bills into law in 2021, that have made their way through the Tennessee legislature. On March 26th, the governor signed House Bill 228 into law. The bill bans a transgender athlete from playing in a sport unless it matches their birth certificate.
One month before signing the bill, the Governor was quoted saying, allowing transgender girls to play on female sports teams would "destroy women's sports" the governor said it would "ruin the opportunity for girls to earn scholarships." Lee says the legislation was in response to President Biden's executive order which protects from discrimination based on sexual orientation.
On May 4th, Senate Bill 1229 was also signed into law by Governor Lee. This bill would require a school district to notify parents before “providing a sexual orientation curriculum or gender identity curriculum” in any kind of lesson plan, including but not limited to education on sexuality. The bill says school districts would have 30 days to tell parents or guardians of upcoming instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity. Families could then opt their children out of the learning without being penalized.
If students are going to grow up in a world with LGBTQ people, which they are, it is putting them in a pretend world, that they can opt out of dealing with LGBTQ people
I spoke with Chris Sanders, who is the executive director of the Tennessee Equality Project. He believes bills such as these, are "very stigmatizing" and are damaging to the LGBTQ+ community, particularly transgender youth. He says, trans young people, are being "targeted" by these bills, whether it's healthcare, sports, or bathrooms. He says it is damaging to their health and well-being.
This is the is a ridiculous burden on schools for a discriminatory bill.
The Tennessee legislature has also passed three other bills, which are either on Governor Lee's desk, or making their way to his desk.
As of this article posting, the governor has not yet signed or vetoed any of the three bills. (Update: 5/18/21: All three of these bills have now been signed by Governor Bill Lee)
Chris Sanders says House Bill 1182 would create dangerous scenarios for transgender people and could also lead to targeting of trans inclusive businesses. He says it is disheartening to see legislators spending time on a bill like this, that he says no one asked for.
Sanders and I also spoke about how the Tennessee Equality Project helps those in the LGBTQ+ community. A big part of their work is monitoring legislation affecting the community and coordinating the fight against it. Sanders says they have done over 33 email campaigns on the bills as they moved through the legislature this session. They have also held five phone banks, and helped more than 50 people meet with legislators and representatives in their district. The project also coordinates with other organizations like the ACLU, the Human Rights Campaign, Freedom for all Americans, and more. Sanders says the groups work together with a unified voice to fight these bills.
Tennessee Equality Project also focuses on mental health. Their Tennessee Counseling Unconditionally program is in response to a law that was passed a few years ago, The law says counselors in Tennessee could opt out of serving people, based on their personal views. The project has a digital map on its website that will show people where they can find affirming counselors.
According to the Movement Advancement Project (MAP), 3.5% of adults in Tennessee identify as LGBTQ, 223,000 of those 23 and older are LGBTQ. So, how do these laws affect those in your community and around the state?
MAP shows the state of Tennessee ranks low when it comes to nondiscrimination laws. The state does not have employment, housing, or public accommodations nondiscrimination laws. The project says because of a June 2020 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, people in all states can seek recourse for employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity through the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and federal courts.
Here in Hamilton County/Chattanooga, we do not have full protections for sexual orientation or gender identity. However, this is also the case for the entire state.
So, what can Tennessee do better to protect the rights of the LGBTQ plus community? According to Sanders, the state could adopt protections similar to what's in the Federal Equality Act that is going through Congress right now. He also believes schools, could be more accepting of gender sexuality alliances and do more work on bullying in schools.
I requested an interview with LGBTQ+ organizations in Chattanooga, but have not received a response back for this article posting.
If you would like to speak with someone with the Tennessee Equality Project click here. For more information for local organizations such as Chattanooga Pride or the Nooga Diversity Center, their websites are linked.
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My name is Jess and I love telling other peoples stories and bringing awareness to the community.