Tennessee just passed some of the cruellest U.S. anti-trans legislation yet

The state’s governor just signed HB 1182 into law, which will require businesses to post warning signs about trans people in washrooms

As bills targeting trans youth, health care and sports continue to be forced into law across the United States, the right-wing attack on trans people took yet another dark turn this week as Tennessee cemented its place as one of the worst states when it comes to trans rights. 

On Monday, Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee officially signed HB 1182, also known as the “business bathroom bill” into law. The legislation will require businesses that don’t discriminate against trans people—a.k.a. allow trans people to use multi-stall gendered washrooms—to post signs warning patrons that trans people may be using their facilities. 

Lee has not commented publicly on the signing of the bill, but the Tennessee General Assembly website has been updated to reflect its passing. 

According to the language in the legislation, businesses that allow trans people in public washrooms will be required to post a sign that says: “This facility has a policy of allowing the use of restrooms by either biological sex, regardless of the designation on the restroom.”

The law, like others before it, defines biological sex as “a person’s immutable biological sex as determined by anatomy and genetics existing at the time of birth.” It’s important to note that the terminology “biological sex”—which is present in many of the anti-trans bills that have been recently passed in the U.S.—is outdated and discriminatory against trans people. It also doesn’t take into account actual science, which shows our biological sex can change along with the rest of us.

HB 1182 is the first bill of its kind in the U.S., and it effectively shames businesses for being welcoming to trans people and permits the creation of trans-exclusionary spaces. It also continues to fuel the disproven myth of predatory trans people in public washrooms. 

Such myths were brought up by the bill’s originator, State Rep. Tim Rudd, when he introduced the legislation earlier this year. Rudd claimed the bill is intended for “the protection of women and children against sexual predators [who] could be taking advantage of policies, executive orders or legislation that may allow the opposite sex to enter a restroom, shower or locker that allows more than one person in the facility at a time.”

There is not a single documented case in the U.S. of this kind of voyeurism occurring in states with legal protections for trans people. What is documented are the high rates of harassment against trans people while using public facilities: In a 2015 survey, 60 percent of trans Americans reported avoiding public restrooms out of a fear of experiencing violence, and 12 percent reported being verbally harassed in a washroom. 


The ‘slate of hate’ 

This latest bill comes on the heels of the Tennessee Accommodations for All Children Act, which Lee signed on May 14. Under that bill, public schools will be required to make “reasonable accommodation” for a person who cannot or will not use a restroom or changing facility designated for their sex at birth in a public school building or at a school-sponsored activity.

This legislation essentially forces trans students who refuse to use gender-incongruent multi-stall washrooms to use other single-stall facilities, and bars them from using the multi-stall washrooms aligned with their gender.  

The law also means that any student or parent could potentially sue a school “for all psychological, emotional and physical harm suffered” if trans students or staff are allowed into a bathroom or locker room when others are there. Students or parents could also take legal action if required to stay in the same sleeping quarters—for example, at an overnight camp—as a trans person. 

Advocates say the law effectively bans trans students and school staff from using multi-stall washrooms or changing rooms that align with their gender identity, and it is the first bill to do so in the U.S. since North Carolina’s “bathroom bills” five years ago.

“Transgender students should be treated with respect and dignity, just like everyone else,” American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee executive director Hedy Weinberg said in a statement. “Governor Lee’s decision to sign this bill sends the opposite message—that students should be able to discriminate against a group of their classmates by avoiding sharing public spaces with them, and sue their schools if they are prevented from doing so.”

In a statement Friday, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) called both laws “flagrantly discriminatory.”

“The state of Tennessee is quickly becoming a national leader for anti-LGBTQ legislation, as lawmakers would rather discriminate against LGBTQ youth than focus on real problems facing Tennesseans,” HRC president Alphonso David said. 

The two pieces of legislation come on the heels of multiple anti-trans bills already signed into law by Lee in Tennessee, including a bill banning trans girls from participating on girls’ sports teams and legislation requiring school districts to alert parents 30 days in advance before students are taught about sexual orientation or gender identity. Another bill that would restrict access to gender-affirming health care like puberty blockers is also under consideration. 

The HRC has designated specifically the bills in Tennessee as a “slate of hate.” 

But the two Tennessee bathroom bills only represent the latest in a wave of anti-trans legislation being forced through state legislatures across the U.S. One proposed bill in Minnesota would make it a crime for trans girls to play on women’s sports teams. Another in Texas would have categorized gender-affirming health care as child abuse and could have trans kids taken away from their parents. And another proposed bill in Florida would have legalized “genital inspections” of kids who wish to participate in sports.

Senior editor Mel Woods is an English-speaking Vancouver-based writer and audio producer and a former associate editor with HuffPost Canada. A proud prairie queer and ranch dressing expert, their work has also appeared in Vice, Slate, the Tyee, the CBC, the Globe and Mail and the Walrus.

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