Tennessee's GOP Governor Signs Measure That Penalizes Schools That Ignore Biological Sports Rules

Tennessee's GOP Governor Signs Measure That Penalizes Schools That Ignore Biological Sports Rules

In addition to GOP-led states passing bills that require schools to limit athletic competitors to events consistent with their birth gender, others — like Tennessee — are putting some teeth into those rules.

Gov. Bill Lee signed a bill Friday which will level penalties against schools that refuse to follow state rules forbidding biological males from competing in all-female sporting events.

According to reports, the measure allows the Tennessee Department of Education to withhold state funds from local districts that don’t formally establish what a student’s biological sex is in order to participate in middle school or high school sporting events.

The legislation, however, did not make clear how much state support would be withheld, according to The Associated Press. The bill is slated to take effect on July 1.

The Daily Wire adds:

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, which was filed last year, noted that “it is unfortunate for some girls that those dreams, goals, and opportunities for participation, recruitment, and scholarships.” The bill also said female sports and female athletes can and likely would be harmed by new efforts at schools that permit “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, but there has already been a lawsuit filed to block it, with a trial scheduled for March 2023.

“I signed the bill to preserve women’s athletics and ensure fair competition,” 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.”

Tennessee lawmakers, meanwhile, are pushing through a separate measure regarding women’s collegiate sports. Also, the GOP-majority legislature has worked to protect teachers and school districts if they refuse to use a student’s preferred pronouns, according to PBS.

Other states have moved to protect female sports from biological male competitors as well.

In Kentucky, the GOP-controlled legislature passed such a measure earlier this year but it was vetoed by Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear. However, the legislature managed to override his veto.

Also, Indiana Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb vetoed a similar bill earlier this year, explaining in a letter to Indiana state Speaker Todd Huston (R) that he believes 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. 

A third concern of his is that the bill “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,” Holcomb wrote.

In Florida, GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a similar measure in June 2021.


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