NASHVILLE, Tenn. — On Monday, two bills expanding Tennessee's existing laws on transgender female athletes in girls' sports passed through the state Senate.
The first bill, which would penalize school districts for not adhering to the state's ban by withholding funding, had already passed through the state House. It will soon head to Gov. Bill Lee.
The sponsor of both bills, Republican Sen. Joey Hensley, said he is trying to create a fair playing field for girl athletes and women in college. He said the bill was inspired by transgender athletes who had beaten women in national competitions.
The second bill adds to an existing law to keep transgender female athletes out of girls' middle and high school sports. The bill adds higher education and intramural sports to the list.
Opponents of these bills said they're creating a problem out of an issue that doesn't exist.
"In the process of trying to raise concern that there is something there, we create this really discriminatory environment that really scares people from being who they are," said Dahron Johnson, a transgender athlete. "That's a trauma that has an impact on their entire lives."
Johnson has been cycling since she was 12 or 13 years old. She said it was always about the camaraderie and not the experience Republican lawmakers fear.
"There's some folks and leaders in sports who have children who want to come forward, who want to come out and play but are scared to because of the environment that bills like this and the associated ones help create," Johnson said.
The ACLU and Tennessee Equality Project both released statements shortly after the passage of the bills. They condemned the legislature for creating a discriminatory atmosphere in the state and asked Lee to veto the bills.
The state's transgender law currently faces legal challenges. Each law couldn't take effect until those suits were resolved.