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TN bill affecting transgender athletes goes into law next month

Published: Jun. 8, 2022 at 10:41 AM CDT
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WSMV) - A new law goes into effect in July, making it more difficult for students to play sports in school if they are transgender.

The law will add penalties for school districts who allow transgender athletes to play on teams that do not match the gender on their birth certificates.

If the school system breaks the law, the Department of Education could withhold some funding from the district.

This Pride month, members of the transgender community in Tennessee feel under attack by state legislators as the laws are set to go into effect on July 1.

“Kids end up bearing the burden of I think a lot of equality issues. They have the least amount of voice,” said Jake Martino, the President of PFLAG Nashville.

Martino, a transgender man, played high school and college sports before he transitioned.

“When I imagine myself putting myself in the shoes of kids today, their first encounter or understanding of transness may be hate speech. That’s really sad and can have really terrible effects,” he said.

The Tennessee law passed last year, and only allows students to compete in athletics based on the gender listed on their original birth certificates. The ACLU is currently suing the state over the measure.

Henry Seaton, a transgender advocate for the ACLU of Tennessee, thinks the bill is misguided.

“Instead of it solving an issue that exists, like inequality,” Seaton said. “This is rather just a paranoia move that just simply targets children that need our support.”

While being litigated, the legislature passed this new penalty law this year which takes away funding if they allow athletes to play on teams as the gender they identify with, rather than the gender that they were assigned at birth.

“In Tennessee, you also can’t change your gender marker on your birth certificate. We’re one of like the only states left that does that,” said Seaton.

The reasoning for the penalties was debated on the Senate floor on April 12th.

“What has happened between the last year and this year that necessitates this legislation?,” said, Sen. Jeff Yarbro.

Sen. Joey Hensley responded, “Thank you Mr. Speaker, I don’t know of a specific incident but just felt like that the bill was passed but there was no requirement for enforcement or no penalty for non-enforcement.”

Back when the original law passed, Governor Lee expressed why he thought the measure was necessary.

“Transgenders participating in women’s sports will destroy women’s sports. It will ruin the opportunity for girls to earn scholarships. It will put a glass ceiling back over women that hasn’t been there in some time,” said Gov. Lee.

However, doctors with Vanderbilt said there is limited data in the gender-diverse population and it is hard to quantify advantage in sports.

Pediatrician Dr. Cassie Brady pointed out that transgender patients “may have their earliest state of natal (birth) puberty blocked and never really see high levels of testosterone or estrogen (depending on sex at birth) in their bodies.”

Dr. Brady believes any advantage is complex, “probably a little bit of your genes and a little bit of what your put into your sport.”

Advocates like Martino believe schools need to let kids play without fear of penalty.

“Sports teach really important, lifelong lessons. Obviously teamwork and perseverance but also with the obesity crisis, the mental health crisis,” Martino explains. “All the things that are affecting youth today, I think now it’s more important than ever that all kids can play sports to develop the healthy, physical, and mental health type habits and practices that are really important.”

Martin continues: “It’s definitely discrimination and, like I said, I think fear mongering. Because I think there’s just a lot of people who aren’t very familiar with trans people and so it’s an easy perceived niche issue to make a stance about and scare people on it.”

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