Conservatives across the country are rushing to preempt a Biden administration executive order that transgender men and women have access to the single-sex showers, restrooms and dorms of their choice.
But no state is pushing back harder than Tennessee.
Lawmakers in Nashville have passed, and Republican Gov. Bill Lee has signed, five new bills that supporters say improve equality, strengthen parental rights, and protect vulnerable girls and women in intimate spaces.
But transgender advocates and LGBTQ activists are calling Tennessee “the state of hate,” dismissing the new laws as discriminatory and vowing to fight the rules in court.
“Tennessee has gone well above board to go after trans folks,” said Sasha Buchert, an attorney for Lambda Legal, a pro-LGBTQ legal group. “This isn’t about policy, it’s about prejudice.”
Since March, there have been at least five new laws implemented in Tennessee that weigh the demands of transgender individuals against the privacy rights of cisgender individuals.
The state is set to be the first to require government buildings and businesses to post signs if they let transgender people use multiperson bathrooms and other facilities associated with their gender identity.
The governor signed a bill that allows individuals to sue a school if they are in the same bathroom with a transgender individual, reasoning that schools should offer transgender people a single-person restroom option.
Mr. Lee also signed into law in March a ban on transgender athletes competing in women’s sports. He said the measure would “ensure fair competition.”
When signing the women’s sports bill, Mr. Lee said it would “preserve women’s athletics and ensure fair competition” and blamed the Biden administration for making the new state law necessary.
“This legislation responds to damaging federal policies that stand in opposition to the years of progress made under Title IX and I commend members of the General Assembly for their bipartisan work,” he said.
Tennessee also requires parents to be given 30 days notice when a school district plans to teach students about gender identity or sexual orientation. That legislation was enacted last month. In addition, the governor has signed a law that bans transgender minors from receiving gender-affirming medical treatment.
The governor’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the criticism from transgender activists.
Though not the first state to begin passing these types of measures, Tennessee has recently picked up the pace and Mr. Lee has been laser-focused on protecting cisgender women rather than following federal directives to expand transgender rights.
“The governor has been very thoughtful about trying to lean into this issue,” said Penny Nance, president of Concerned Women for America.
She said one of her top concerns is about predators using transgender rights to gain access to public restrooms.
“It’s about predatory men who will say anything to gain access to women and children,” she said. “People who are predators prey.”
Casey Black, a spokesperson for the governor, said that liberal advocacy groups could have weighed in on the laws when they were under consideration in the legislature.
“Organizations have opportunities to weigh in on the legislative process but ultimately, Tennesseans, through their elected representatives, determine the law in our state,” Ms. Black said.