The recently passed Tennessee transphobic bathroom bill came under legal challenge Tuesday after the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) Foundation filed suit on behalf of two transgender minors living in the state.
The law in question, signed by Governor Bill Lee in May, targets students, faculty and staff in public schools that are “unwilling or unable” to use public restrooms aligned with their gender at birth. Tuesday’s filing alleges that the law violates its plaintiffs’ Title IX protections, which prohibits federally funded education programs from discriminating against individuals on the basis of sex.
The law requires schools to provide “reasonable accommodation” to anyone that fits that category, though what the law defines as a “reasonable accommodation” (“single-occupancy” or “employee” restrooms) can contribute to the stigmatization and othering of trans identities within Tennessee schools. their fear of the unknown is unnecessarily leading their actions and causing irreparable harm to these children.
“When I started 7th grade, I just wanted to blend in. Having to use a ‘special’ bathroom made me stand out because other kids would wonder why I didn’t just use the boys’ bathroom,” said 14-year-old Alex, one of the case’s plaintiffs. His experience led him to stop drinking liquids at school altogether so he wouldn’t have to use the school nurse’s private bathroom at school and not have to answer his peers’ questions.
Though Alex attended a school that didn’t enforce such policies during 8th grade, he is preparing to enter a public high school whose bathroom protocols align with Tennessee’s new law. “It stresses me out that I’ll have to deal with this all over again at my new school,” he said.
“We didn’t know we had a trans child when we relocated to Tennessee—if Alex had come out to us before the move, we wouldn’t have come here,” said Amy and Jeff, Alex’s parents. “It makes me so angry that our elected officials have chosen to target trans kids … Alex just wants to be a regular kid. He should be able to look forward to starting high school without the added layer of anxiety about something as basic as using the bathroom.”
The other plaintiff, 6-year-old Ariel faces similar issues when she leaves her private kindergarten and enters first grade at a public school later this year. Ariel began transitioning socially two years ago and her parents, Julie and Ross, aren’t mincing words when it comes to the situation she’ll enter without understanding why. “The state’s political leaders are making Tennessee a dangerous place for our daughter, and other children like her,” they said. “We are extremely worried about her future here, and the bills that are being passed have put us in panic mode.”
Tennessee’s bathroom bill is one of five anti-trans bills passed during its latest legislative session. Similar bills in North Carolina and Texas introduced in the last decade were met with staunch opposition and were ultimately defeated. That obviously hasn’t kept bathrooms from being an arena for conservatives and transphobes (with some overlap) to stoke political support while attacking a vulnerable pocket of the nation’s population.
HRC president Alphonso David labeled Tennessee’s law as such, saying it was “morally wrong” and “devoid of any sound legal justification.” David continued, “Courts have time-and-again ruled against these dangerous and discriminatory laws and we are going to fight in court to strike down this one and protect the civil rights.”
“They are attacking children that cannot defend themselves for what appears to be political gain over a non-existent problem,” Julie and Ross said. “We wish our leaders would take the time to speak with transgender youth and adults – instead, their fear of the unknown is unnecessarily leading their actions and causing irreparable harm to these children.”
The basis of the suit’s alleged Title IX violations received support from multiple governmental bodies earlier this year. The Department of Justice issued a memorandum in March stating that Title IX protections include discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation, following precedent set by the Supreme Court’s ruling in Bostock v. Clayton County last year. The Department of Education seconded the DOJ’s statement in June.
The Justice Department also filed a “statement of interest” urging judges in West Virginia and Arkansas to strike down anti-trans laws introduced in state legislatures in June.
As the case plays out, both families have stated that they are likely to move out of Tennessee if the law remains in place, leaving behind homes, lives and relationships.
Tennessee Trans: Previously on Towleroad
Photo courtesy of Kai Medina/Creative Commons