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Tennessee’s legislative season is concerning transgender constituents, LGBTQ+ activists and officials around the country. The state could break its 2021 record by passing the most anti-LGBTQ legislation yet.
Freedom for All Americans lists 14 bills on its anti-transgender legislative tracker, including one that would make gender-affirming healthcare for kids a crime. According to the Human Rights Campaign, 2021 was a record-setting year with 250 anti-LGBTQ bills introduced in state legislation across the US. At least nine bills passed in Tennessee. If all 14 bills being tracked this year are passed, 2022 will set records again.
Sen. Heidi Campbell, D-Nashville, says Republicans have been planning an anti-LGBTQ push for some time. She’s concerned that actions in other conservative states like Texas could also negatively impact Tennessee. Texas Gov. Gregg Abbott recently ordered that parents of trans kids be investigated for child abuse in the Lone Star State, and Campbell says the GOP is collaborating to push more bills into law.
“The conservative plan is pushing forward full-force in the Southern states,” Campbell said via email. “Our ability to prevent the loss of democracy as we know it is going to come down to whether or not we’re able to run good candidates, get out the vote and hang on to seats in the mid-terms. These Southern Republican states are all in this together. I do think the Texas bill will impact us, inasmuch as it’s all part of a larger plan.”
One of the more concerning bills introduced this year is HB0578, introduced in February and sponsored by Republican Reps. John Ragan of Oak Ridge, Culleoka’s Scott Cepicky, Bruce Griffey of Paris, Rusty Grills, Jerry Sexton, Bean Station, Paul Sherrell, Sparta, and Terri Lynn Weaver of Lancaster. As introduced the bill would ban gender-confirming therapy to minors and charge parents who violate the law with child abuse. It would also designate violations by healthcare professionals as professional misconduct. According to Bill Track, HB0578 is set to be taken up again at a later date by the Tennessee House Health Committee.
Another invasive piece of legislation is HB1895, which would cut pay for school law enforcement officers who refuse or cannot verify a student’s gender before school athletic participation. In short, the bill encourages police officers to verify a student’s genitals and is sponsored by Ragan and Cepicky. According to Bill Track, HB1895 was recommended for passing and sent to the Government Operations Committee on March 2.
Anti-LGBTQ bills are deeply impacting the physical and mental health and safety of transgender Tennesseans. Jace Wilder, GLSEN Freedom Fellow at Belmont University, says Tennessee is moving backwards in terms of rights and freedoms for its residents.
“I think about the up and coming generation of trans kids that don’t have the same privileges I do,” Wilder says. “It terrifies me because in my head all I can think about is those statistics of suicide are going to go up. They already are.”
Despite the serious consequences for LGBTQ constituents, none of the GOP legislators sponsoring the bills responded to requests for comment or addressed questions about liability for increased suicide rates, medical training to determine what constitutes gender-affirming care or what research they had done to support such legislation.
Community allies say it’s still worth advocating against the legislation despite little response from legislators. Wilder says allies can provide a lot of support through word of mouth and personal education.
“Listen up. Speak up. Act up,” Wilder says. “Continue to reach out to trans voices. Ask trans kids and adults around you how you can help. Go tell your neighbor. Actually show up [for] your trans siblings, even if that’s sitting next to them in committee and supporting them.”
Campbell says much the same and encourages constituents with concerns to call her any time, and Wilder says activists shouldn’t pretend the South can’t be organized.
“This is your home, too,” Wilder says. “I hate the mosquitoes and the ticks but I still have memories of honeysuckle and bonfires. That’s part of our stories too. We have to stop treating the South as a lost cause.”
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