A Tennessee House committee blocked a bill Tuesday that would have forced transgender public school students to use bathrooms that aligned with their sex at birth. On Wednesday, the committee backtracked, and now the anti-trans bill has advanced through the senate.
Although the House Education Administration and Planning Committee voted against the bill on Tuesday, when the committee reconvened on Wednesday, Rep. Jim Coley, R-Bartlett, made a motion to force the committee to reconsider its action… Later in the day, after nearly an hour of discussion on the measure, the Senate Education Committee voted 7-2 in favor of the bill, sending it to the chamber's finance committee.
When the bill was shot down on Tuesday, LGBT rights activists and trans students breathed a sigh of relief. A trans high school student, Henry Seaton, told The Associated Press following the initial vote that "it feels great to know that my voice is counting."
The bill has been supported by the conservative Family Action Council of Tennessee (FACT), which argues things like "no men in ladies rooms":
Republican Representative Mark White, who opposed the bill, said that FACT leader David Fowler cast doubt on White's motives in an email sent to FACT supporters after Tuesday's decision. "I wrote about protecting young people. And he wants to question my integrity. Absolutely not. This is what's wrong up here—you question a person's integrity and we back down and we reconsider a bill. I will not," White told The Tennessean.
White's point about voting against the bill to protect young people is a valid one. According to a 2014 report, 45% of transgender Americans between the ages of 18-44 attempt suicide. That figure jumps to 50% for transgender Americans under 20. In a statement, Hedy Weinberg, the executive director of the ACLU of Tennessee, said that Tuesday's decision was the right one.
"Every child in Tennessee deserves to be treated with respect and dignity," she said, adding, "The powerful voices of transgender students and their families who spoke out against this bill truly increased understanding of what it means to be transgender and moved legislators to recognize that this legislation was extremely harmful."
Opponents of the bill—including Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam—also argue that it's unconstitutional, and could lose the state hundreds of millions of dollars in Title IX funding. A representative of Haslam said back in March that "the governor does have financial concerns over the loss of Title IX funding. Currently in Tennessee this issue is being handled on a local basis, situation by situation. The governor trusts our teachers and local school boards to make necessary accommodations in those situations.” Title IX "protects people from discrimination based on sex in education programs or activities that receive Federal financial assistance."
The reversal follows the rapid ushering of a similar bill through North Carolina's legislature.
Danielle Wiener-Bronner is a news reporter.