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Tennessee Becomes 3rd State This Month To Enact Restrictions For Transgender Athletes

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee speaks to reporters on Jan. 19, 2021, in Nashville, Tenn. Lee has signed into law a bill that bans transgender athletes from participating in girls' sports.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee speaks to reporters on Jan. 19, 2021, in Nashville, Tenn. Lee has signed into law a bill that bans transgender athletes from participating in girls' sports.

Tennessee Governor Bill Lee has signed into law a controversial bill requiring students to prove their sex at birth in order to participate in middle and high school sports.

The bill, which Lee signed on Friday, makes Tennessee the third state this month to adopt legislation aimed at restricting transgender girls from playing female sports. Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson signed a similar bill on Thursday, as did Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves earlier this month. All three governors are Republicans.

The new law in Tennessee requires students beyond the fourth grade to show legal documents demonstrating their assigned sex at the time of their birth in order to participate in school athletics. The law only allows students to participate in sports with other students with the same biological sex designated at birth.

"I signed the bill to preserve women's athletics and ensure fair competition," Lee tweeted after approving it. "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."

The bill is the latest in what has been a growing dispute in statehouses across the country around the issue of trans rights. Already this year, state legislators have introduced at least 35 bills aimed at restricting trans girls and women from playing on girls' and women's sports teams, according to the LGBTQ advocacy group Freedom for All Americans. That's up from only two in 2019.

Supporters of the measures say they are necessary to ensure fair competition, but advocacy groups and critics in the LGBTQ community have denounced the measures as openly discriminatory.

The Human Rights Campaign calls the slew of legislation restricting the access of trans children to sports "unprecedented," grouping it in with other bills introduced recently in states like South Carolina and Texas that would limit certain kinds of medical treatments for trans youth. The organization tweeted that the Tennessee bill prioritizes attacks on trans students, and fails to reflect the values of the state of Tennessee.

"Transgender kids are kids," the organization said. "Excluding and discriminating against them does great harm to them and it weakens the communities in which these children feel excluded and marginalized."

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