Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Victory! Trans students change hearts in Tennessee and send anti-trans bill packing

In one of the trans community’s biggest legislative victories this year, Tennessee legislators defeated a bill that would have targeted trans students in public school and college.

HB 2414, which would have forced trans students to use the wrong restrooms, passed unanimously out of a subcommittee in the state House last week. But yesterday, legislators reversed course, killing the bill off for the year by sending it off for further study over the summer.

The fight may not be quite over yet. This morning, a legislator tried to revive the bill with a motion to reconsider, which will be voted on next week. It’s critical that committee members hear from as many Tennesseans as possible urging them to stand by their decision.

In yesterday’s session, Legislators of all stripes recognized that interfering in an issue that Tennessee schools are already solving on their own is unfair and unnecessary. Representative Rick Womick, widely considered to be one of the most conservative members of the Tennessee legislature, told his colleagues today HB 2414 tries to conjure a solution to a nonexistent problem, saying, “It’s not broke. Why are we trying to fix something that’s not broke?” Representative Womick urged his fellow legislators to push the brakes on government overreach: “Here goes the government going in there and saying, ‘Nope, we know how to do it better. You have to do it this way.’ And we’re really going to screw things up.”

As legislators like Representative Womick rightly recognized, HB 2414 would have been a mistake—and one with a potentially giant price tag. Yesterday, the bill was amended to reflect the real cost of state-run discrimination, including up to $1 billion dollars of lost federal funding. That’s too high a price for Tennessee’s students to pay to fund prejudice.

But most importantly, the victory in Tennessee shows how powerful trans young people can be. Just before the vote, legislators met with trans students like Henry Seatton, a high school senior from Hendersonville, and parents of trans youth—the climax to a weeks-long fight by local advocates, like the Tennessee Transgender Political Coalition, the Tennessee Equality Project, and the ACLU of Tennessee, in partnership with NCTE and other national groups. Many legislators said that talking with trans people and their families about the impact this bill would have on their lives was ultimately what convinced them to kill off HB 2414. As we gear up to fight more bills in North Carolina and elsewhere, the victory in Tennessee reminds us that defeating the ignorance and misperceptions that drive these legislative assaults is not only possible—it’s the most critical tool we have to win.

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