NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A bill that would require transgender students to use bathrooms that match their sex at birth is gaining momentum in the Tennessee legislature after passing in a House subcommittee.
The bill is advancing despite opposition from the state’s Republican governor, Bill Haslam. On Tuesday, the bill passed unanimously in the Education, Administration and Planning Subcommittee.
It was a bitter disappointment to transgender students and their supporters.
Henry Seaton, an 18-year-old senior at Hendersonville’s Beech High School who was born female but identifies as male, testified before the vote that he could only use one restroom at school. The teen said he wasn’t allowed to use either the bathroom for boys or girls, but instead had to go to a teachers’ restroom that was locked half the time.
“I’m a little concerned that it passed unanimously,” the teen said of the subcommittee vote. He said he is counting on the governor preventing it from coming into law.
Haslam has voiced concerns that the bill could endanger federal funding. He told reporters last week that he wants to leave the issue up to individual school districts.
“Right now we’re handing that on a local basis, and I think they’re dealing it with on an incident-by-incident situation,” Haslam said. “I actually trust our teachers and local school boards to figure out how to make those accommodations in those situations.
Conservatives have pushed the legislation, which is sponsored by Rep. Susan Lynn, R- Mount Juliet, and Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville.
Republicans in support of the measure have said that it would protect the privacy of students. Rep. Mark White, a Republican from Memphis on the committee, said members had compassion for transgendered kids but they had to create a balance while creating a law for all kids.
The Americans Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee has opposed the bill, saying it discriminates against transgender students.
Last month South Dakota became the only state to pass a bill that would require transgender students to use bathrooms that correspond to their sex at birth. However, Republican Gov. Dennis Daugaard vetoed the legislation.
Tennessee’s bill would require transgender students at public grade schools and universities to use restrooms and locker rooms that match their sex on their birth certificate.
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