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Tennessee Governor Signs Bill Requiring Collegiate Athletes to Compete on Teams Matching Their Biological Sex

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee signed a bill on Friday requiring collegiate athletes to play on teams matching their biological sex.

The legislation, Senate Bill 2153, “prohibits males from participating in certain intercollegiate and intramural sports that are designated for females, and creates a cause of action for certain violations regarding gender and sports at the middle school, high school, or postsecondary level.”

Under the new law, parents or students will be able to sue schools that violate this policy.

“Present law provides that a student’s gender for purposes of participating in public middle school or high school sports must be determined by the student’s sex at the time of the student’s birth, as indicated on the student’s original birth certificate,” the bill summary reads. “Under this bill, if a public school or public charter school violates a policy adopted to enforce the above provision and the violation deprives a student of an athletic opportunity or causes direct or indirect harm to the student, then the student or the student’s parents, if the student is a minor, will have a private cause of action for injunctive relief, damages, and other relief, plus costs and attorney fees.”

All state colleges will be required to adopt and enforce a policy to guarantee the law is not violated.

Last month, Governor Lee signed a bill that added a penalty measure to a state law that bars transgender athletes from competing on sports teams that do not match their biological sex in the public school system.

The measure allows the state to withhold funding from schools that fail to verify a student’s sex assigned at birth before allowing them to participate on a gendered sports team.

The penalty is meant to strengthen a law that Gov. Lee signed last year which requires students over fourth grade to produce documentation about their biological sex in order to participate on gendered sports teams.

“There was no requirement for enforcement, no penalty for non-enforcement,” Rep. Joey Hensley, who sponsored both the original legislation and the penalty measures, said according to a report from the Tennessean. “This bill just sets up a penalty.”

Lambda Legal, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the ACLU of Tennessee have filed a lawsuit challenging last year’s law on behalf of 14-year-old Luc Esquivel, a transgender golfer and freshman at Farragut High School in Knoxville, TN.

“There is endless research demonstrating the short-term and long-term benefits that flow from participating in team sports for kids growing up,” Sasha Buchert, senior attorney at Lambda Legal, said in a press release. “For trans kids, who often experience alienation and stigmatization, participating on teams with their peers is especially important. Luc just wants to play golf with other boys, to be part of the team, and to improve his game. Like all kids, he just wants to play.”

A trial for Esquivel’s case has been tentatively set for March 2023.

According to a report from the Associated Press, Tennessee has passed more laws regarding transgender people than any other state in the nation.

“Tennessee this year banned transgender athletes from playing girls public high school or middle school sports. The state is poised to become the first to require government buildings and businesses that are open to the public to post signs if they let trans people use multi-person bathrooms and other facilities associated with their gender identity,” the report says. “Public schools, meanwhile, will soon risk losing lawsuits if they let transgender students or employees use multi-person bathrooms or locker rooms that do not reflect their sex at birth. Lee also signed legislation to require school districts to alert parents 30 days before students are taught about sexual orientation or gender identity, letting them opt out of the lesson.”

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