The Look in Brief

ACLU challenges Tennessee transgender bathroom law

By: - June 25, 2021 4:03 pm
A transgender woman hold a transgender pride flag at a rally for LGBTQ rights in New York. (Photo by Yana Paskova/Getty Images.)

A transgender woman hold a transgender pride flag at a rally for LGBTQ rights in New York. (Photo by Yana Paskova/Getty Images.)

The American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee and the ACLU filed a lawsuit in federal court Friday challenging a new Tennessee law requiring businesses that offer transgender restrooms to post government-required warnings signs.

Filed on behalf of Nashville and Chattanooga business owners who object to the message, the lawsuit claims the law violates the First Amendment and seeks a preliminary injunction stopping enforcement while the challenge takes place.

“Forcing businesses to display a stigmatizing message for political expediency is unconstitutional,” said Hedy Weinberg, executive director of ACLU of Tennessee. “Furthermore, by targeting the transgender community, these government-mandated signs marginalize and endanger transgender individuals. Tennessee should be embracing and protecting all Tennesseans, not passing unconstitutional, discriminatory laws.”

Davidson County District Attorney General Glenn Funk has said already he will not enforce the law.

The ACLU filed the lawsuit on behalf of Kye Sayers, owner of the Sanctuary performing arts and community center in Chattanooga, and Bob Bernstein, owner of Fido restaurant in Nashville. Both have informal policies allowing customers to decide which restroom they want to use and have not run into complaints, according to a release.

Sayers said Sanctuary was founded to create a “safe place” for transgender and intersex people and their families because of the “unwelcoming” attitude toward LGBTQ people often seen in Tennessee.

“I am against posting offensive signs that stigmatize and deny the existence of transgender and intersex people at our center. These signs undermine Sanctuary’s very mission and send the exact opposite of the welcoming message we try to convey in everything we do,” Sayers said.

Rep. Tim Rudd, R-Murfreesboro (Photo: Tennessee General Assembly)
Rep. Tim Rudd, R-Murfreesboro (Photo: Tennessee General Assembly)

The ACLU contends if the law takes effect, any business preventing transgender and intersex people from using a restroom that aligns with their identity would be forced to put up signs with the word “NOTICE” in yellow on a red background at the top with text stating, “THIS FACILITY MAINTAINS A POLICY OF ALLOWING THE USE OF RESTROOMS BY EITHER BIOLOGICAL SEX, REGARDLESS OF THE DESIGNATION ON THE RESTROOM.” Otherwise, the business could face criminal charges, according to the release.

State Rep. Tim Rudd, R-Murfreesboro, was primary sponsor of the bill, saying he did so to warn people who might be using a restroom, including women who might be in danger of being raped.

“The ACLU’s lawsuit is baseless, inaccurate and are obviously based on the plaintiff’s ideological views or political opportunism. Many of the plaintiffs’ stated reasons for filing the lawsuit have nothing to do with the law itself,” said Rudd. “It would seem they have not read the law or are simply pushing their own political agenda, or both.”

Rudd continued, “The law is not ideologically-motivated or inaccurate. The law also does not alter, limit or affect a business or a person’s free speech. The law does not require property owners to guard the entrance to a restroom, ascertain whether or not someone is transgender, nor prohibit anyone from entering or using restroom facilities. The law is in fact very limited in scope.”

It simply requires a warning sign to be placed at the entrance of a restroom that allows the opposite biological sex to enter that has multiple stalls and allows multiple people in at the same time. Nothing more than that. Women and parents of a female child have a right to know if a man could be waiting on them in a restroom. They also have a right to know if a property owner’s policies could give cover to sexual predators waiting to pray upon women and children. At the same time, this law also provides protections for members of the transgender community using restrooms marked opposite from their biological sex. If a woman or man sees the warning sign upon entering a restroom that allows the opposite biological sex to enter, people are less likely to be shocked or respond in self-defense.

I yield to the Tennessee Attorney General for further comment.”


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Sam Stockard
Sam Stockard

Sam Stockard is a veteran Tennessee reporter and editor, having written for the Daily News Journal in Murfreesboro, where he served as lead editor when the paper won an award for being the state's best Sunday newspaper two years in a row. He has led the Capitol Hill bureau for The Daily Memphian. His awards include Best Single Editorial from the Tennessee Press Association.