Tennessee lawmakers are pushing forward on a bill explicitly allowing teachers to refuse to use transgender and nonbinary students’ correct pronouns, just the latest in an onslaught of bills targeting trans people—including youth—in the Volunteer State.
The legislation, introduced by GOP state Rep. Mark Cochran and GOP state Sen. Mike Bell, states that teachers and other public school employees are “not required to use a student’s preferred pronoun when referring to the student if the preferred pronoun is not consistent with the student’s biological sex,” and says that employees can’t be held civilly liable or disciplined with “adverse employment action” for not using students’ correct pronouns.
The Tennessee House passed the bill, known there as HB 2633, on Monday by an 67-25 vote, and on Tuesday the Senate’s companion bill cleared the Senate Education committee by a 6-1 vote. Both chambers of the Legislature are overwhelmingly Republican.
“This bill raises serious statutory and constitutional concerns by singling out trans students for worse treatment than their peers—all other students can be referred to by the pronouns that match their gender,” Harry Seaton, transgender rights advocate for the ACLU of Tennessee, said in a statement following Monday’s vote.
“Most [legislators] made a choice to reject and ignore the needs of a vulnerable population in our schools, and instead protect those who perpetuate bullying, stigmatization, and potentially trauma and violence.”
Though Republican lawmakers across the country have escalated legislative attacks on LGBTQ people and trans youth in the last two years, Tennessee lawmakers have opened a war on all fronts, with a slew of laws.
Last year, the state passed two “bathroom bills,” one of which required businesses to post signs if they allowed trans people to use bathrooms matching their gender identity. The other made school districts liable for lawsuits from students who objected to using the same bathroom as trans students.
Tennessee has also passed laws in the last two years that required students, beginning in fourth grade, to produce their birth certificates in order to play sports, another that allowed the state to pull funding from schools if they allowed trans girls to play girls’ sports, and a bill restricting gender-affirming care for some minors.
Tennessee Republicans have also introduced a “Youth Health Protection Act,” which would bar medical professionals from prescribing treatments such as puberty blockers to trans kids. This is in spite of opposition to such bills from major medical groups representing providers, such as the American Academy of Pediatrics, and despite research showing that early gender-affirming treatment can greatly improve transgender people’s mental health and quality of life.
More than half of transgender and nonbinary people between the ages of 13 and 24 contemplated suicide last year, according to the nonprofit Trevor Project’s 2021 survey on LGBTQ mental health. Trans and nonbinary youth who said they had been discriminated against were 24 percent more likely to attempt suicide than those who said they hadn’t been discriminated against, the survey found.
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