Tennessee Governor Signs Bill Creating Penalties For Schools That Don’t Follow Biological Sports Rules
Tennessee State Capitol - stock photo Tennessee State Capitol Building in Nashville, TN on a cloudy day ReDunnLev via Getty Images
ReDunnLev via Getty Images

Tennessee Republican Governor Bill Lee signed a bill that would create penalties for public schools that don’t follow the state’s rules regarding biological males competing in girls’ sports. 

Lee signed the measure last Friday, which states that the Tennessee Department of Education would withhold state funds from local school districts that do not establish what a student’s sex is in order to take part in middle school or high school sports, according to the Associated Press. The legislation reportedly did not clarify how much state support would be withheld. The law is set to take effect on July 1.

Last year, Lee signed a bill to “preserve women’s athletics and ensure fair competition” by separating sports by biological sex determined at birth. 

The bill said that students must prove that their sex is the same as what is on their “original” birth certificate. If that documentation is not available, the parents have to provide another form of evidence “indicating the student’s sex at the time of birth,” per the AP.

The legislation from last year pointed out that “it is unfortunate for some girls that those dreams, goals, and opportunities for participation, recruitment, and scholarships.” It said female sports can be negatively impacted by new initiatives at schools that allow “boys who are male in every biological respect to compete in girls’ athletic competitions if they claim a female gender identity.”

The law is in effect even though it is being challenged in court, with a trial tentatively scheduled for March 2023. 

“I signed the bill to preserve women’s athletics and ensure fair competition,” Governor Lee said via Twitter last year. “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.”

Lawmakers in Tennessee are also pushing through a separate measure regarding women’s collegiate sports, and Republicans have pressed to protect teachers and school districts if they don’t use a student’s preferred pronoun, per PBS.

Various states have taken similar action to protect girls’ and women’s sports, even as some governors have decided against signing the measures. 

Kentucky Democratic Governor Andy Beshear vetoed a bill banning biological males from competing in girls’ sports from 6th-12th grades and women’s college sports, The Daily Wire reported. But then the Republican-led legislature voted to override the veto. The bill makes it so that students have to compete in the sports that correspond with their sex assigned at birth. 

Indiana Republican Governor Eric Holcomb also vetoed a bill earlier this year that would have blocked biological males from participating in girls’ sports. In a letter to Indiana state Speaker Todd Huston (R), Holcomb said that the bill would increase “the likelihood of litigation against our schools with the courts having to adjudicate the uncertainties.” 

“In the two cases with initial rulings thus far, the courts have enjoined or prohibited laws with these same substantive provisions from taking effect based on equal protections grounds,” Holcomb added. 

He mentioned a third concern that it “implies that the goals of consistency and fairness in competitive female sports are not currently being met. After thorough review, I find no evidence to support either claim even if I support the overall goal.”

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