Human Rights Campaign Sues Tennessee for Anti-Trans Law

The Human Rights Campaign has filed a lawsuit against Governor Bill Lee after the state imposed a discriminatory law restricting trans students access to school bathrooms.
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The Human Rights Campaign is suing the state of Tennessee in federal court after officials imposed a law prohibiting transgender individuals from using bathrooms and locker rooms that align with their gender identity.

The lawsuit, filed in the US District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee, pertains to the “Tennessee Accommodations for All Children Act,” which went into effect in July and allows individuals to sue a public school if they encounter “a person of the opposite sex” in a multi-occupancy school bathroom, locker room, or if they are required to dorm with a person of another gender during a school trip. Under this law, schools must provide reasonable accommodations to any student who does not want to use a multi-stalled restroom or changing facility.

Advocates filed the lawsuit on behalf of two transgender students — Alex, a 14-year-old trans boy, and Ariel, a 6-year-old trans girl — who were denied access to their school’s bathrooms. In the 30-page lawsuit, the Human Rights Campaign alleges that the schools violated the students’ constitutional rights and Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which prohibits sex-based discrimination. The suit named Tennessee Governor Bill Lee, Attorney General Herbert Slatery III, the school’s board, and the school district director. 

Alphonso David, the president of the Human Rights Campaign, ripped the law as “morally reprehensible.”

“Courts have time-and-again ruled against these dangerous and discriminatory laws, and we are going to fight in court to strike down this one and protect the civil rights of transgender and non-binary young people,” David said in a written statement. “With our representation of two transgender kids today, we are sending a strong message of support for all transgender and non-binary children across the country— you matter, and your legal rights should be respected.”

The suit states that the law is discriminatory and sends a message that transgender people are “second-class citizens.” 

“By prohibiting AS and AB — a transgender boy and a transgender girl, respectively — from using the restrooms and other facilities corresponding to their gender identities because the State does not deem them to be of the gender they identify, the Defendants treated and continue to treat AS and AB differently from similarly situated students based on their gender identity,” the lawsuit reads. “The School Facilities Law’s discrimination against transgender people based on sex is not necessary and narrowly tailored to the achievement of a compelling government interest.”

The group emphasized that the legislation also poses significant risks to non-trans students and individuals who are gender non-conforming. 

“The School Facilities Law does not promote the safety, privacy, security, or wellbeing of non-transgender people,” the lawsuit reads. “In fact, the Law invites potential harassment and assault of nontransgender students who may not fit gender expectations or stereotypes associated with their 26 gender identity by giving private persons a right of action to sue under the Law, and thereby encouraging independent policing of everyone who uses a multi-occupancy restroom.”

The same month that Tennessee lawmakers proposed this law, they also passed legislation demanding that businesses post a sign if they allow trans folks to use the bathroom that aligns with their gender identity. That measure, however, was blocked by a federal judge. The legislation coincides with other anti-trans efforts, including a law that restricts transgender students from participating in school sports.

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