Today, the Tennessee House passed an anti-LGBTQ bill that would ban transgender children from participating in school sports consistent with their gender identity. To become law, the bill still requires Governor Bill Lee‘s signature—but Lee has so far been supportive of such bills, despite the enormous cost to Tennessee businesses likely to result.

In a statement, Adam Love, Associate Professor of Recreation and Sport Management at the University of Tennessee, said of the bill: “HB 0003/SB 0228 represents a harmful piece of legislation that further stigmatizes an already marginalized group of children. Given the social and physical benefits that sport participation can provide, access to sport must be seen as a human right. Laws that exclude transgender children from sport not only deny them an important component of physical and mental well-being, but also restrict their access to groups that can provide important sources of social support. State lawmakers have a duty to represent all of their constituents, even those whose circumstances they may not understand. Unfortunately, rather than creating a welcoming and inclusive environment for children, HB 0003/SB 0228 fosters misplaced fear and divisiveness in our state.”

Human Rights Campaign (HRC) President Alphonso David issued the following statement in reaction to the legislature’s passage of this hate legislation: "The Tennessee legislature is sending a discriminatory and unnecessary bill to Governor Lee on the same day that governors elsewhere are reconsidering their hasty embrace of similar legislation. SB 228 would sow fear and division and pose danger to transgender kids who are simply trying to navigate their adolescence. Tennessee is inviting economic harm and legal challenges to the state like we've seen in other states that have passed anti-transgender legislation. Governor Lee has the opportunity to stop this from being Tennessee’s story, too. We call on him to veto this legislation.”

While the damage to trans children and youth is incalculable, Tennessee businesses will pay a very calculable price for this legislative hubris. Nashville LGBT Chamber of Commerce CEO Joe Woolley has called out supposedly pro-business Republicans for spending their time and energy targeting trans children, when the state is still in economic crisis from the COVID pandemic, while risking further economic damage from passing such legislation.

"It is a shame that the Tennessee Legislature is focused on discrimination and attacking trans-youth, instead of COVID-19 recovery and supporting our struggling small businesses," Woolley said. "Our state is playing with fire in the form of boycotts and economic harm that will come with the passage of this bill and others that they are pushing."

Tennessee's business community will pay the huge bill for legislated hate. "We are all about to get burned by this unneeded legislation, the scar it will leave is looking worse than the one left in North Carolina after they passed the bathroom bill," Woolley said. "Maybe the pain from that will make elected officials wake up and realize how wrong this was. They didn't listen to business who made it clear this was bad, and they don't care about the personal harm it is having on children or what Tennesseans are telling them is important to focus on, like the economy and education."

It is unlikely that the supposedly business-friendly governor, who has so far shown himself more than willing to ravage the state’s economy in the name of restricting the rights of LGBTQIA+ people, will do anything but celebrate the bill. Nevertheless, all interested citizens should convey to the governor their opposition to this bill. Governor Bill Lee's office may be reached at (615) 741-2001, or via web form at tn.gov/governor/contact-us.html.

The push to pass anti-LGBTQIA+ legislation across the country is part of a coordinated push by nationally organized and funded right-wing groups aiming to undermine LGBTQ progress made on the national level and in many states. According to the HRC, there are so far 174 anti-LGBTQ bills under consideration in state legislatures across the country. Of those, 95 directly target transgender people and about half of those would, like HB3/SB 228, ban transgender girls from participating in sports consistent with their gender identity.

In their headlong rush to attack transgender children where they live and could flourish, legislators have admitted they have no real-world examples of the dangers they claim motivate their efforts. This demonstrates the sad reality their legislative push is based entirely on an agenda that seeks to openly discriminate. Collegiate and professional sports organizations have had trans-inclusive policies for years without incident, and, as the HRC and many local advocacy organizations have pointed out, a ban on transgender participation in sports has no merit but is costly both economically and in terms of the real damage to real children, in the name of protecting theoretical children from imaginary dangers.

Again, all interested citizens should express their opposition to the bill to Governor Lee at (615) 741-2001, or via web form at tn.gov/governor/contact-us.html. If you wish to let Lee Company know why you will be hiring their competitors now and in the future, their corporate headquarters may be reached at (615) 567-1000.

This article has been republished from Out & About Nashville, and was part of a series of first-person pieces written by the late Bobbi Williams.

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