NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee would ban transgender athletes from participating in female college sports under legislation gaining traction inside the state’s GOP-controlled General Assembly.
The measure is one of 17 bills that have been introduced this year in Tennessee targeting LGBTQ people — more than any other state in the country, according to civil rights activists.
“Even amid one of the most extreme time periods for anti-LGBTQ politics in our country’s history, lawmakers in Tennessee have distinguished themselves with one of the most anti-LGBTQ legislative agendas in the country,” said Sam Ames, director for advocacy and government affairs at The Trevor Project, in a recent statement.
Last year, no other state enacted more laws targeting transgender people than Tennessee. That included banning transgender athletes from playing girls public high or middle school sports.
This year, lawmakers returned to the Nashville-based Statehouse looking to expand that ban to colleges and universities. The proposal cleared key legislative hearings Wednesday in both the House and Senate despite objections from Democratic lawmakers.
Separately, in the Senate, a committee advanced a bill that would let teachers and school districts use the pronoun that a transgender student does not prefer, exempting teachers from facing employment punishment and protecting schools from civil liability. It could get a Senate floor vote in the coming days, but still requires more committee work in the House. Meanwhile, a bill that would impose penalties on public K-12 schools that violate the transgender athlete ban also advanced out of legislative committees a day before.
Republican Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee has not publicly weighed in on either bill, but he has previously declared that allowing transgender athletes to participate in female sports would “destroy women’s sports.”
Scrutiny over transgender athletes has come to the forefront once again after University of Pennsylvania swimmer Lia Thomas started smashing records this year. She was on the men’s team her first three years, but she is competing for the women this season after transitioning.
The NCAA adopted a sport-by-sport approach in January for transgender athletes, but Republicans in a handful of states have decided to push for strict bans. Supporters argue such prohibitions are needed to ensure a level playing field.
“Yes, the (NCAA) does have rules but we’ve seen instances in college athletics where a biological male competing against women and won several medals. We feel like they have an advantage,” said Sen. Joey Hensley, a Republican from Hohenwald and sponsor of the higher education transgender ban.
Also on Wednesday, Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt signed a similar transgender athlete ban for middle and high school sports, as well as college.
Associated Press writer Jonathan Mattise contributed to this report.
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