Tennessee has become the first state to increase the penalties of its transgender sports ban, as Gov. Bill Lee (R) signed a bill to withhold funds from schools if they fail to determine what sex is listed on the birth certificates of student-athletes.
Last year, Lee signed several anti-LGBTQ bills, including one to ban transgender students from participating in school sports on the team that aligns with their gender identities. The state’s bill was one of the few to include a ban on trans boys playing on boys’ teams.
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The new bill instructs the Tennessee Department of Education to withhold funding from schools that are not enforcing the ban. The bill does not specify how much funding should be withheld.
Lee signed the bill without comment last Friday. It goes into effect on July 1.
A 14-year-old transgender boy is suing the state to overturn last year’s trans sports ban, with help from the ACLU and Lambda Legal. Luc Esquivel wanted to play on the boys’ golf team but wasn’t allowed because of the law.
“I was really looking forward to trying out for the boys’ golf team and, if I made it, training and competing with and learning from other boys and improving my game,” Esquivel said in a statement. “Then, to have the legislature pass a law that singled out me and kids like me to keep us from being part of a team, that crushed me, it hurt very much. I just want to play, like any other kid.”
“It made me, and still makes me, so angry,” his mother said. “A mother wants to see their kid happy, thriving, enjoying being a kid. High school sports are an important part of that. I know how much Luc was looking forward to playing on the boys’ golf team.”
“Telling transgender students that they can’t participate as who they really are amounts to excluding them from sports entirely — depriving them of opportunities available to their peers and sending the message that they are not worthy of a full life,” said Henry Seaton of the ACLU of Tennessee in a statement.