NASHVILLE — On Thursday, The Tennessee House passed two bills dealing with transgender issues, sending one to the governor that would ban the medical community from providing transgender-affirming care to most children and teens.
A second bill passed by the House bars adult-oriented entertainment on public property. It also prohibits adult cabaret performances featuring exotic dancers, strippers and "male or female impersonators" appealing to "prurient interests" in private venues with children present.
The adult cabaret bill goes back to the Senate for expected concurrence on changes made by the House.
Gov. Bill Lee indicated to reporters prior to the transgender health care measure's passage he will sign it absent any problems in its language.
"Like any piece of legislation, I will look at the details of it when it gets closer to my desk," the Republican governor told reporters Thursday. "But I'm grateful to the leadership in both houses who have worked to protect kids along those lines."
The transgender health care bill bars children and teens under age 18 in Tennessee from accessing transition treatments such as surgery, puberty blockers and hormone therapies, in addition to surgeries for gender dysphoria, a term used to describe anguish and other symptoms as a result of the disparity between someone's assigned sex and their gender identity.
Doctors could be penalized if they violate the law.
LGBTQ groups immediately attacked the health care bill, hinting they may sue.
"This attempt by radical politicians in Tennessee to ban gender-affirming care is only the latest effort in their war against the LGBTQ+ community, especially against transgender kids," Human Rights Campaign State Legislative Director and Senior Counsel Cathryn Oakley said in a statement.
After also citing the drag performance bill, Oakley said Tennessee "has not only introduced more anti-LGBTQ+ legislation than any other state in this country, but attacks on the fundamental rights of thousands of LGBTQ+ people in Tennessee have been unrelenting for nearly a decade." She urged Lee to veto the legislation.
The Tennessee Equality Project, which advocates for the LGBTQ community, also took aim at both bills.
"The House took life-saving health care options away from trans youth and their families and ignored the First Amendment," the group stated in a tweet. "Almost 300 organizations, congregations and businesses have spoken out against them. Gov. Lee should veto them."
Tennessee Equality Project Executive Director Chris Sanders said in a phone interview that he thinks there's a good chance a lawsuit will be filed against Tennessee, noting that's occurred in some states that have passed similar legislation.
During House debate, Majority Leader William Lamberth, R-Portland, who carried the gender-affirming care bill, said the legislation is necessary.
"These children do not need these medical procedures to be able to flourish as adults," he told the chamber. "They need mental health treatment. They need love and support, and many of them need to be able to grow up to become the individuals that they were intended to be."
Seventy-four Republicans voted for the bill as did three Democrats, among them Rep. Yusuf Hakeem of Chattanooga.
Hakeem said later by phone he was torn over the legislation, noting that arguments made by the bill's House sponsor, Lamberth, made him think about younger men who at ages 20 and 21 have vasectomies that can't be reversed.
"In my own way, I felt like I was between a rock and a hard place," Hakeem said, adding he was concerned about erring on the "wrong side," and worrying about decisions made when someone is 13 or 14 years old.
"Again, as I said, the permanence of it gave me great pause. ... I didn't agree with all of it, but that piece really stuck with me," he added.
He also said whether a youth has surgery or not, it appears mental health issues can develop.
Hakeem said he agreed with an approach proposed by House Democratic Caucus Chairman John Ray Clemmons of Nashville.
During debate, Clemmons argued the main disagreement lawmakers have is the puberty blockers, which he said are reversible. He asked Lamberth to "meet us in the middle" and agree to stop irreversible medical procedures until the people become adults, when they can make the decision.
The bill would take effect July 1. It gives current patients until March 31, 2024, to stop treatment, which Democrats argue could medically harm the patients.
The issue over pediatric transgender surgery and puberty blockers blew up last year after conservative political commentator Matt Walsh, a Nashville transplant who writes for the Daily Wire, called attention to Vanderbilt University Medical Center, where the procedure is performed.
Medical Center officials stated procedures were for minors ages 16 and 17 and required consent from parents or a guardian. They said the center has provided five gender-affirming surgeries to minors every year since its transgender clinic opened in 2018. None received genital procedures. The Medical Center later announced it was suspending the program as officials reviewed practices.
Drag show controversies erupted in various areas of the state last year, including Chattanooga after a video taken at a youth-oriented LGBTQ event at WanderLinger Brewing Co., part of a weeklong LGTBQ celebration organized by Chattanooga Pride.
Nashville area conservative political activist Robby Starbuck, who was barred from running in the Tennessee Republican Party's 5th Congressional District primary last year for not meeting residency requirements, circulated a video from the Chattanooga event on social media. The video showed a girl running her hands along the front of a performer's sequined costume.
But the brewery's owner and the Chattanooga Pride organization have said the performer in a mermaid costume was a woman -- not a man, as portrayed erroneously on social media and in conservative news outlets.
Tennessee lawmakers have fought in recent years over a variety of LGBTQ issues such as transgender restrooms and school sports.
Contact Andy Sher at firstname.lastname@example.org.