Tennessee Stops Altering Gender Markers on Official Documents to Reflect Gender Identity

A new state law defines sex as an individual's 'immutable biological sex as determined by anatomy and genetics existing at the time of birth'

Tennessee will no longer alter official documents to reflect an individual’s personal view of their gender.

Official documents – including birth certificates and driver’s licenses – can only legally list a person’s biological sex at birth as of July 8. 

The policy is part of state compliance with Senate Bill 144, which formally defines sex as being determined by “a person’s immutable biological sex as determined by anatomy and genetics existing at the time of birth and evidence of a person’s biological sex.”

The legislation was passed on April 21 and signed by Governor Bill Lee on May 17 to the displeasure of pro-LGBTQ groups.

Extremist Tennessee Senators are continuing their assault on LGBTQ+ Tennesseans’ ability to live their lives openly and honestly,” said Sarah Warbelow, the legal director for the Human Rights Campaign, in a press release. “This is their latest cruel attempt to stigmatize, marginalize and erase the LGBTQ+ community, particularly transgender Tennesseans. Let’s be clear: the goal of this bill is to exclude the LGBTQ+ community from nondiscrimination protections in the state of Tennessee and to perpetuate a false narrative of who transgender people are.”

The Pink News, a publication focused on LGBTQ issues, called SB 1440 “insidious,” discriminatory, and an “attack on LGBTQ+ rights.”

According to The Hill, Tennessee risked “losing more than $1.2 billion in federal education funding by enforcing the measure because it conflicts with federal nondiscrimination rules.”

“More than $750 million in federal grants may also be withheld, and funding for state and local government, including Tennessee’s education and health departments, may be jeopardized,” reported the outlet.

“I mean, if defining sex, as it has traditionally meant for years in the dictionary, costs us federal funds, there’s something wrong with Washington, DC,” state Senator Kerry Roberts, the Republican who sponsored SB 1440, told WKRN in March. 

Advocates for transgenderism have previously challenged Tennessee’s position on biological sex. 

In 2019, a biological man who identified as female sued Tennessee over a 1977 statute that prohibited transgender-identifying people from changing the birth markers on their birth certificates. The LGBTQ rights advocacy group Lambda Legal assisted the plaintiff in the case as well as in two similar lawsuits in Kansas and Ohio. Lambda Legal argued the statute was unconstitutional.

The legal group said “Tennessee’s prohibition serves no legitimate government interest while it subjects transgender people to discrimination, harassment and even violence,” per NBC News

A federal judge dismissed the lawsuit in June. In his decision, U.S. District Judge Eli Richardson wrote that there are varying definitions of sex but, when used in the context of birth certificates, there is “a very narrow and specific meaning” – specifically “external genitalia at the time of birth,” per Fox News.

The similar policies in Kansas and Ohio that were challenged by Lambda Legal have both been ruled unconstitutional.  

Montana, North Dakota and Oklahoma all have policies defining sex as a person’s immutable characteristics at birth.

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