Bill Protecting Students From Shared Restrooms Powers Through Senate

Photo Credit: Public Domain

Published April 23, 2021

The Tennessee Conservative Staff –

The Tennessee Senate passed a bill on Wednesday that will protect students, teachers, and other school employees from having to share restrooms and locker rooms with transgender students. The bill passed the Senate with a 21-7 vote.

Tennessee Capitol Building in Nashville

The House version of the bill passed on Monday with a vote of 65-24. It is expected that the House will approve the Senate bill, and it will head to Governor Lee for his signature.

The bills, sponsored by Senator Mike Bell of Riceville and Representative Jason Zachary of Knoxville, gives students, teachers, and staff the right to refuse to share restrooms, locker rooms, or dorms with transgender students. It also allows them to bring a civil lawsuit against public schools if they are not provided with “reasonable accommodations.”

Some critics believe this will cause discrimination against transgender students by forcing them to use facilities that do not reflect their gender identity.

“There are human beings on the other side of these votes who will have to live with the fallout,” said Senator Heidi Campbell of Nashville. “And I just ask us to consider: What harm are they causing us? Why are we trying to get into people’s bedrooms and doctors’ offices and bathrooms and families? Is that the role of government?”

Others feel the legislation is simply unnecessary.

“Folks have been going to the bathroom in schools in Tennessee for generations without any help from this Legislature,” said Democratic Senate Minority Leader Jeff Yarbro. “And they don’t need any help from this Legislature now on this.”

Bell disagrees. He says that schools in his district have already had to deal with this issue and are thankful for legislation that will help to clarify how to handle it.

“If you don’t think this is an issue our schools are dealing with, you need to talk to your local schools,” he said.

The legislation provides school administrators with the right to decide how to handle the situation if students or staff refuse to share facilities with others. The request must be made in writing, and, if the request is denied, a clear appeal process is detailed in the bill.

According to the bill, schools can be sued if students come into contact with someone of the opposite biological sex in the same facilities. Schools would not be required to construct new facilities for transgender students but would be required to provide alternate facilities for students who submit a complaint.

Wyatt Ronan, spokesperson for the Human Rights Campaign, says this is the most progress any bathroom bill has achieved in any state in years.

“The distinctive nature of this bill is how far it’s gotten – it’s the furthest bathroom bill to advance so far this year and certainly the furthest any bathroom bill has advanced since 2015/2016,” Ronan said.

Yarbro also questions whether the legislation will violate federal law.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 required employers to protect the rights of transgender employees. Additionally, the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) prohibits schools from releasing confidential student information, which would include a student’s gender identity.

“We are putting our schools in a place where they are going to violate federal law,” said Yarbro. “It doesn’t help our schools navigate this situation, and it certainly doesn’t help the students who are targeted.”

Zachary assured legislators that the bill would not cause lawsuits but would provide clarification for schools and protection for students and school staff.

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