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VOL. 132 | NO. 49 | Thursday, March 09, 2017

Tennessee Transgender Bathroom Bill Postponed

By Sam Stockard

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NASHVILLE – Legislation requiring public school students to use restrooms based on their sex at birth is on hold.

State Rep. Mark Pody, saying he wants to bring “common sense” and “clarity” to the matter, took his bill off notice Tuesday in a House Education subcommittee, saying policies and court decisions are changing so quickly he needs more time to amend the measure.

“It’s almost week to week, and, in fact, things changed this week,” said Pody, a Lebanon Republican. “So with all those changes, we need to work on a different type of amendment to bring language in that would be appropriate for this bill in this committee. So I would like to take this off notice at this time.”

Pody hinted earlier in the week he might try to amend his bill, though as of Monday he was prepared to present his legislation, saying he believes boys should use boys’ showers and locker rooms and girls should use girls’ showers and locker rooms but that school systems should be allowed to handle “unique situations.”

Chris Sanders, spokesman for the Tennessee Equality Project, which advocates for the LGBT community, said advocacy and business groups are lobbying heavily against the bill.

“I think it’s a major setback for the bill, but of course the bill is not dead,” Sanders said.

The legislation, which is sponsored in the Senate by Sen. Mae Beavers, received a couple of negative responses in the last two weeks, one from Lt. Gov. Randy McNally, who said it was unnecessary based on a directive by the Trump administration. It issued a guidance order reversing an Obama administration directive requiring schools to make allowances for student use of restrooms based on their sexual identity.

Education Commissioner Candice McQueen also sent a letter to Tennessee school systems 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.

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 states.

In addition, the U.S. Supreme Court this week 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.

Joydianne Damiani-Moore, mother of transgender student Matthew Navarre-Moore of West Creek High in Clarksville, said she felt Pody took the bill off notice because he didn’t want to get any “backlash” until the federal courts make a decision on the Virginia case.

Asked why she thinks the matter is coming up in the Legislature, she said, “Because I think people are uneducated. They’ve never met a trans person. They have no idea, and I think that – I’m going to put myself out there – I think that their values they’ve been raised on do not allow them to be open.”

The mother contends transgender students are more afraid to go to the restroom than other students who are in the restroom with them.

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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