NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - Tennessee's Republican-led Statehouse gave final legislative approval Monday to a measure to ban transgender athletes from participating in girls' sports, a measure many critics warn would likely result in costly legal challenges and be harmful to transgender youth.
House lawmakers voted 71-16 for the bill after little debate. The measure now goes to Republican Gov. Bill Lee's desk. Lee has not explicitly promised he would sign the bill, but has said transgender athletes would "destroy women's sports" and remarked that transgender athletes would put "a glass ceiling back over women that hasn't been there in some time."
Republicans in at least 20 state legislatures have been pushing for similar bans this year. Arkansas lawmakers also sent a similar prohibition to GOP Gov. Asa Hutchinson earlier Monday. Mississippi's governor signed a prohibition into law earlier this month. In South Dakota, Gov. Kristi Noem has signaled support for such actions but has pushed to applying it to college sports.
According to Tennessee's bill, student athletes would be required to prove that their sex matches that listed on the student's "original" birth certificate in order to participate in public school sports in middle and high schools. If a birth certificate is unavailable, then the parents must provide another form of evidence "indicating the student's sex at the time of birth."
"Words do mean things. They are very important. This bill that I'm sponsoring maintains the competitive balance, the safety and the opportunity for scholarships and advancement for our female athletes," said GOP Rep. Scott Cepicky, who refused to stray from that response when questioned by Democrats.
None of the supporters of the Tennessee measure could cite a single instance of transgender girls or boys having caused problems. A review by The Associated Press found only a few instances in which it has been an issue among the hundreds of thousands of American teenagers who play high school sports.
Backers of the bill argue that transgender girls, because they were identified as male at birth, naturally are stronger, faster and bigger than those identified as female at birth and therefore have an unfair advantage in sports.
Opponents counter that such proposals violate Title IX of federal education law prohibiting sex discrimination, as well as rulings by the U.S. Supreme Court and 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Furthermore, others point to an executive order signed by Democratic President Joe Biden that prohibited discrimination based on gender identity in school sports and elsewhere.
To date, only Idaho has successfully enacted such legislation. However, it's never been implemented after it was blocked by a federal judge amid a lawsuit making its way in court.
"This is about discrimination, plain and simple. This is not about fairness" said Rep. John Ray Clemmons, a Democrat from Nashville.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee swiftly decried the bill as "shameful" after House passage, arguing that transgender girls do not threaten women's sports.
"We urge Gov. Lee to reverse course and veto this bill or –- should any transgender student be excluded because of this new law –- we will see him in court," said Executive Director Hedy Weinberg.