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Published March 2, 2021
The Tennessee Senate voted 27-6 to pass a bill that would keep transgender athletes from participating on girls’ teams.
Senate Bill 288 will require student athletes to participate on public school sports teams that match the sex as listed on the original birth certificate. If a student was unable to provide an original birth certificate, parents must submit another form of evidence “indicating the student’s sex at the time of birth.”
Bill sponsors address the performance gap between male and female athletes as support for the legislation. While the International Olympic Committee and the NCAA both allow transgender athletes to participate under specific guidelines, TSSAA does not have guidelines in place to regulate gender-affirming therapies and testosterone levels.
Democrats and civil rights activists have spoken out against the legislation. They caution that enacting such a low will likely bring about a costly legal battle. They cite a current situation in Idaho where opponents of a similar bill are fighting that it is unconstitutional to enact such a ban.
The possibility of legal challenges has not stopped Tennessee, and several other states, from continuing to enforce restrictions on transgender participation in athletics, although the need for the bill has come into question several times.
Senate Speaker Randy McNally initially said that the lack of transgender athletes participating in sports in the state may deem the bill unnecessary. However, he later pledged his support to the legislation.
Some feel it is a step that needs to be taken to protect Tennessee students. Senator Joey Hensley, a Republican from Hohenwald, stated, “This bill is about guaranteeing safety and a level playing field for girl athletes on middle and high school teams.”
Senator Kerry Roberts, R-Springfield, agrees with being proactive with this legislation.
“To say it’s not a problem in Tennessee may be true, but it will be a problem in Tennessee probably sooner than we think,” he said.
Chris Sanders, executive director of the Tennessee Equality Project, argues that legislators had a different goal in mind.
“Supporters of SB228 never produced evidence that there is a need for this legislation,” Sanders stated. “It was never about sports. It was always about discrimination against transgender students.”
Senate Minority Leader Jeff Yarbro, a Democrat from Nashville, does not agree that this will protect students. He said, “In passing this, we’re not going to help a single kid. We’re going to make life harder for kids whose lives are already difficult.”
Others feel the repercussions of this bill could reach beyond school sports’ teams and could bring about a negative economic impact.
Joe Wooley, CEO of the Nashville LGBT Chamber of Commerce, released a statement saying, “We’re looking at events like the Super Bowl, we’re looking at the World Cup in 2026, we all love our NCAA basketball tournaments, all three of those organizations that run those events have said they will seriously consider not bringing their events to locations that have discriminatory laws on the books.”
While the bill has passed a hurdle in the Senate, it must now continue to move forward through a Republican majority House of Representatives. House Speaker Cameron Sexton expects it to go through with no major obstacles.
Governor Bill Lee has not said for sure that he will sign the bill if it makes it to his office, but he has addressed the setback that he believes would occur for females if transgender athletes are allowed to participate. He has commented that the inclusion of these athletes would put “a glass ceiling back over women that hasn’t been there in some time.”