Tennessee lawmakers are again getting involved in the fight over transgender access to school facilities, even though President Donald Trump's administration has dropped its investigations into civil rights complaints from transgender students.
A measure that would make the state pay the legal costs for school districts if they're accused of discriminating against transgender students is making its way through the Tennessee legislature. House Bill 2620's sponsor, state Rep. Andy Holt, R-Dresden, says it's needed to protect students from being forced to share facilities with people of the opposite sex.
"Biological differences are real, and they are objective," he says. "And it's not a form of discrimination to recognize their reality or the objectivity thereof when it comes to personal situations involving states of various undress."
Tennessee legislators have frequently fought over transgender access to school facilities, including bathrooms and locker rooms. Spurred by a complaint from a student, the American Civil Liberties Union sued the school district in Sumner County in 2016 over a policy that barred transgender people from all but faculty or special-needs bathrooms.
At the same time, the U.S. Department of Education was directing school districts to develop less restrictive policies for transgender students.
Trump rescinded that directive, but Holt says districts still face the threat of lawsuits. His legislation calls on the attorney general to defend school districts that are sued on behalf of transgender students. And if the AG declines, an outside attorney could be hired at the state's expense.
The Tennessee chapter of the ACLU says the proposal will encourage discrimination against transgender people by shielding districts from the consequences.
Several members of the House Civil Justice Committee worried about giving districts a blank check to fight discrimination suits, but they nonetheless voted to send the measure along to the House Finance Committee for further consideration.
Companion legislation could be taken up in the state Senate next week.