A trio of civil rights groups on Thursday said they will sue after Republican Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee ignored pleas from human rights and health experts and signed a bill banning gender-affirming healthcare for transgender youth—a move that came on the same day the governor also approved legislation criminalizing public drag shows.
Under S.B. 1—introduced by state Sen. Jack Johnson (R-23), the same lawmaker behind the public drag ban—transgender minors undergoing hormone therapy or taking prescribed puberty blockers as of July 1, 2023 will be cut off from such care in Tennessee after March 31, 2024. Trans youth not receiving gender-affirming care by July 1 will be barred from doing so in the state.
Tennessee joins Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, South Dakota, Tennessee, and Utah in outlawing or restricting gender-affirming care for trans youth—and, in the case of Alabama, anyone under age 19. Federal judges have blocked Alabama and Arkansas from implementing their bans. Meanwhile this year, at least 24 states have introduced legislation to prohibit or restrict such care.
Lambda Legal—which along with the ACLU and ACLU of Tennessee announced its intent to sue—accused Lee and Republican lawmakers of "taking away the freedom of families of transgender youth to seek critical healthcare" and "putting the government in charge of making vital decisions traditionally reserved to parents in Tennessee."
"They've chosen fearmongering, misrepresentations, intimidation, and extremist politics over the rights of families and the lives of transgender youth in Tennessee."
"We will not allow this dangerous law to stand," the groups said in a joint statement. "Certain politicians and Gov. Lee have made no secret of their intent to discriminate against youth who are transgender or their willful ignorance about the lifesaving healthcare they seek to ban."
"Instead, they've chosen fearmongering, misrepresentations, intimidation, and extremist politics over the rights of families and the lives of transgender youth in Tennessee," the groups added. "We are dedicated to overturning this unconstitutional law and are confident the state will find itself completely incapable of defending it in court. We want transgender youth to know they are not alone and this fight is not over."
Ivy Hill, director of gender justice for the Campaign for Southern Equality, said in a statement after the bill passed that "my heart is breaking for transgender youth all across the country and throughout the South."
"We've known for years that it's never been easy to access gender-affirming care in states like Tennessee and the passage of this bill will only make it harder," they added. "But the trans and queer community across the South will do what we've always done: come together, support each other, and chart new systems that help people live authentic, thriving lives where they know they are loved and supported."
Dr. Allison Stiles, a Memphis physician, said that "this bill, I feel, was born out of fearmongering—out of false rhetoric that we are doing sex-change operations on our children."
"The hate has grown, and we now have a bill that could get parents arrested for taking their gender-dysphoric child to the physician, and their physicians for taking care of them," she asserted.
"There are at least four human beings that I have touched with my hands who are this side of the grave because of the gender-affirming care."
"Just to throw in a little science here... there are four independent aspects to our sexuality," Stiles added. "Our genetics—which could be XX, XO, XY, XXY, XYY—there is our outward appearance, our gender identity, and our sexual preference. The XX and XY fetus are identical, actually, until six weeks of gestation."
Proponents of gender-affirming care noted it saves lives.
"There are at least four human beings that I have touched with my hands who are this side of the grave because of the gender-affirming care," Rev. Dawn Bennett of the Table Nashville, a faith group that centers the LGBTQ+ community, recently asserted.
According to the ACLU, Republican lawmakers in more than 20 states are trying to ban gender-affirming care for trans youth—and in some cases, even adults.
Lee also signed a bill on Thursday making Tennessee the first state to criminalize public drag shows. The governor signed the measure amid allegations of hypocrisy following the revelation that he dressed in drag at least once while in high school in the 1970s.
"Drag is not a threat to anyone. It makes no sense to be criminalizing or vilifying drag in 2023," Lawrence La Fountain-Stokes, a professor of culture and gender studies at the University of Michigan who has performed in drag, told the Associated Press.
"It is a space where people explore their identities," La Fountain-Stokes continued. "But it is also a place where people simply make a living. Drag is a job. Drag is a legitimate artistic expression that brings people together, that entertains, that allows certain individuals to explore who they are and allows all of us to have a very nice time. So it makes literally no sense for legislators, for people in government, to try to ban drag."
Other GOP-run states—including Idaho, Kentucky, Montana, North Dakota, and Oklahoma—are considering similar drag bans.