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Tennessee could mandate bathroom signs about transgender use

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Tennessee lawmakers have passed a bill that requires businesses or government facilities open to the public to post a sign if they let transgender people use multi-person bathrooms, locker rooms or changing rooms associated with their gender identity.

The Human Rights Campaign, which opposes the proposed requirement, says it would be the first of its kind.

The Republican-dominated Legislature finished work on the bill with the Senate’s passage Thursday, sending GOP Gov. Bill Lee another bill that LGBTQ advocates have decried as targeting the already-marginalized transgender community this legislative session. Numerous anti-trans measures have advanced recently in Republican-led statehouses across the country, including in Texas, Alabama and Arkansas.

“Texas has the most anti-LGBTQ bills filed of any state but Tennessee is not far behind,” said Cathryn Oakley, Human Rights Campaign’s state legislative director and senior counsel. “It’s one of our leaders in terms of having the most anti-LGBTQ legislation that has been filed this year.”

The American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee said it is “evaluating our legal options” on the bathroom sign requirement, which is a signature away from becoming law and would kick in July 1.

The Republican House sponsor, Rep. Tim Rudd, last month said the bathroom signage bill is on the “cutting edge” of the subject, but also stressed that it didn’t restrict bathroom access.

“It’s very shocking and a danger to people if they walk into a restroom that’s marked men or women, and the opposite sex is standing there, it could scare them, it could provoke violence,” Rudd said.

According to the bill, the required sign outside the bathroom or other facility would say: “This facility maintains a policy of allowing the use of restrooms by either biological sex, regardless of the designation on the restroom.”

A sign would be required if a locker room, shower facility, dressing area or other facility is open to the general public, designated for a specific sex and is in an area where someone has a “reasonable expectation of privacy.” It wouldn’t apply to single-occupancy unisex bathrooms.

On Thursday, Democratic Senate Minority Leader Jeff Yarbro repeated what he said about another bathroom-related bill this year: “People have been going to the restroom in this state for so long without our help.”

“This is silly,” Yarbro said. “What good are we doing here?”

The governor has already signed a different proposal this year that bars transgender athletes from playing girls public high school or middle school sports.

Lawmakers have also approved another bill about bathrooms, which opens up schools and districts to lawsuits if they let transgender students or employees use facilities marked for the sex opposite of what’s on their birth certificate.

Lee has painted that bill in a positive light, claiming it provides “equality in bathrooms.” Schools would have to make a single-person or employee bathroom available to students or employees who are not comfortable using a restroom associated with the gender on their birth certificate. But they could not allow them to use the facilities of their gender identity.

Lee said last week that he hadn’t read the bill yet, but said that “any bill that provides equal access for all kids, I’ll sign.”

Lee’s office has said he will sign another measure on his desk to require school districts to alert parents 30 days in advance before students are taught about sexual orientation or gender identity. Parents could also opt their student out of the lesson. The requirement would not apply when a teacher is responding to a student’s question or referring to a historic figure or group.

Lawmakers have also advanced a bill that seeks to ban gender-affirming medical treatment for trans minors – including the use of puberty blockers and hormone therapy. The Senate passed the legislation earlier this month, and it’s scheduled for a House vote next week.

Similar measures are pending in Alabama and Texas. Arkansas approved a similar version earlier this year over a veto from Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson.

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