NASHVILLE, Tenn — On March 29, Tennessee senators debated a number of education bills during a committee meeting, including whether transgender athletes should participate in female sports and how to approach library materials that parents think are offensive.
SB1861 would require the commissioner of education to withhold a portion of state funding from local education agencies (LEAs) that fail or refuse to determine a student's gender for the purposes of participation in school sports by the student's sex at the time of birth.
It was passed by the Senate on April 11 after it was substituted by a similar bill from the House of Representatives and is now headed to Governor Bill Lee's desk for his signature.
"This puts teeth in a bill and a law that we passed last year," Sen. Joey Hensley said. "It just allows the department to withhold funds if the policy is not upheld by the LEA."
Other senators disagreed with the stricter enforcement.
"It puts a terrible burden on schools," Senator Raumesh Akbari said. "The TSSAA is responsible for regulating our K-12 sports and to me, this is another unfair intrusion by the state."
Another bill, SB2153, would "prohibit males from participating in public higher education sports that are designed for females."
Senators debated the SB2153 bill on March 30 but allowed for one speaker in attendance to share their experience.
"I asked a competitor, one who's raced with me many times over the last year how she perceives my involvement," the speaker said. "Her reply was this: '[You] share the same vision that all the other ladies who toe the line in our races do, to test the limits of our own bodies, to race in a safe and ethical manner, and to build relationships and community and sport.'"
The bill passed the Senate. It also passed the House of Representatives Finance, Ways and Means Committee on April 19. It will be taken up in the Calendar and Rules Committee on April 20.
Advocates spoke against both bills, releasing a statement on April 11. You can read a statement from Chris Sanders, the executive director of the Tennessee Equality Project, below.
"These bills are overreach by the Legislature. There is no reason for the General Assembly to regulate issues like the eligibility of student-athletes. More broadly, these bills are part of a nationwide, coordinated attack on trans youth that is deeply stigmatizing and dangerous. We call on the Legislature to stop these attacks and call on Governor Lee to veto SB1861 since it is now headed to his desk."
Senators are also expected to debate SB2777, which would let educators choose whether to use a student's preferred pronouns if they do not align with their biological sex.
"It's an unfair attack on the LGBTQ community," Sen. Akbari said. "It's not something that the state legislature needs to be involved in."