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VOL. 132 | NO. 48 | Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Rep. Mark Pody Pushes ‘Common Sense’ Transgender Bill Some Say Isn’t Needed

By Sam Stockard

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Despite a reversal of federal guidelines for public school restroom use, state Rep. Mark Pody is prepared to present legislation Tuesday, March 7, restricting bathroom use to a student’s sex at birth.

A Trump administration guidance order calls for states and local school systems to decide transgender rules, but a bill on transgender bathrooms is alive in the state Legislature.

(Daily News File/Andrew J. Breig)

Pody, R-Lebanon, says he will pursue the measure despite opposition from the LGBT community and statements from at least two top state officials that it isn’t needed, based on recent federal legal guidance.

“Boys should go to the boys shower and locker room and girls should go to the girls shower locker room,” Pody says, though leaving himself some wiggle room. “You know, if there has to be unique situations, let each school system handle it how they need to. I think we need to be accommodating for all concerned, but this is to me is very basic and common sense.”

He has not filed an amendment to the bill to allow for unique situations. Asked if he is talking about cases for transgender students, Pody says he’s talking about “anybody in general.”

“For whatever reason, if there’s a handicap situation or if there’s anything, I think we need to be accommodating. But overall, the common-sense policy that needs clarity is boys use the boys showers, girls use the girls showers,” he says.

Pody’s bill is set to be heard Tuesday at 3 p.m. by the House Administration & Planning Subcommittee. Sen. Mae Beavers, a Mount Juliet Republican, is carrying the Senate version, which is on the calendar for Wednesday’s Senate Education Committee.

The two legislators cut short a press conference in February held to introduce the bill and another measure against same-sex marriage. A group of LGBT protesters shouted them down and they left the meeting room abruptly.

Since then, Beavers has had private security accompanying her in the Legislative Plaza. Pody says he doesn’t feel the need for extra security but says some staff members felt threatened when protesters came to his and Beavers’ offices.

The Trump administration issued a guidance order within the last two weeks reversing an Obama administration directive requiring schools to make allowances for student use or restrooms based on their sexual identity.

In light of the new order, which allows states and local school systems to make their own rules, Lt. Gov. Randy McNally says the Pody-Beavers bill isn’t needed.

Education Commissioner Candice McQueen also sent a letter to Tennessee school system directors March 1 notifying them of the U.S. Department of Education and U.S. Department of Justice decision to formally rescind an order related to transgender students’ use of restrooms and locker rooms, which “created a number of questions at the local level and resulted in a federal court issuing a nationwide injunction barring the enforcement of a portion of the guidance.”

McQueen’s letter points out the new guidance shows preference for states and local districts to make decisions based on their interpretations of Title IX, instead of using the results of a formal public process.

“As I stated in May (2016), we believe decisions on these types of issues should continue to be made at the local level on a case-by-case basis considering the unique needs of all students and how to ensure their safety and protection,” McQueen’s letter reads. “As always, local policies and procedures should comply with federal and state law. We are confident local school districts are in the best position to appropriately and responsibly respect the rights and concerns of transgender students and others.”

Yet, based on the Trump administration’s guidance, Pody says, “we’re in agreement with all of them,” since it deems the matter a state and local issue.

“I’m just trying to say this is just common-sense legislation that I think will bring clarity to an issue where there’s no real public policy,” he says.

Still, his statements applying to “unique situations” show he could be willing to bend on the bill when he presents it in the subcommittee Tuesday.

Chris Sanders, spokesman for the Tennessee Equality Project, an advocate for the LGBT community, says the bill, as written, will hurt transgender students and make Tennessee “a target” in the international economy. He points out the National Basketball Association canceled the All-Star game in Charlotte, N.C., after the state Legislature passed a law considered discriminatory against the LGBT community.

If Pody amends the bill to allow local school districts to continue operating as they are, the bill would be dramatically different, Sanders says.

“That’s what they’re doing right now, and that would be a vast improvement to his current bill,” Sanders says.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Supreme Court remanded a case back to a federal appeals court regarding a Virginia high school transgender student seeking to use restrooms based on his sexual identity.

The appeals court initially deferred to the Obama administration directive on use of restrooms for transgender students, but with that order rescinded, the high court’s decision is considered a temporary setback for the student.

Sam Stockard is a Nashville-based reporter covering the Legislature for The Memphis Daily News. He can be reached at sstockard44@gmail.com.

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