NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Legislation to ban transgender athletes from participating in girls' sports would likely result in vulnerable students being marginalized while also harming Tennessee's ability to recruit athletes and businesses, the state's only openly gay Republican lawmaker recently warned his fellow GOP colleagues.
“This issue will be divisive and will be used against us in general elections for years to come, and likely lead to costly legal battle in the courts,” wrote Rep. Eddie Mannis, a Republican from Knoxville, in a Feb. 22 letter.
The letter, which was first reported by the Knoxville News Sentinel, was sent to the House Education Administration Committee and later provided Thursday to The Associated Press by Mannis' office. The freshman lawmaker is not a member of the House panel but said he wanted his comments known ahead of a possible House floor debate.
“As we strive to represent ALL of our students, this legislation could very well marginalize a percentage of our kids and have a tremendous impact on them physically and mentally,” Mannis wrote.
Mannis' remarks stand out inside the GOP-dominant Tennessee Statehouse, where several legislative leaders have expressed strong support of the measure despite criticism from Democratic members and civil rights advocates.
According to the bill, student athletes would be required to prove that their sex matches that listed on the student’s “original” birth certificate in order to participate in public school sports. If a birth certificate is unavailable, then the parents must provide another form of evidence “indicating the student’s sex at the time of birth.”
Republican Gov. Bill Lee has held off promising he'll sign the bill should it land on his desk, but has said that transgender athletes would “ destroy women’s sports ” and stressed that transgender athletes would put “a glass ceiling back over women that hasn’t been there in some time.”
House Speaker Cameron Sexton has conceded that while there may not actually be transgender students currently participating in middle and high school sports, the bill was necessary so the state could be “proactive” on the issue. In the Senate, the bill has received more tepid support, but it's still cleared enough hurdles that the measure is headed to a vote by the full Senate.
Meanwhile, Mannis pointed out that there were a “staggering number” teenage suicide rates in Tennessee and across the country, particularly among transgender students, and stressed the need to reduce those numbers.
Research has shown that nationally, 65% to 75% of transgender adolescents think about suicide and 15% to 30% make a suicide attempt, Mannis said. In contrast, roughly 17% nontransgender adolescents have reported thinking about suicide and 7.4% make an attempt.
“I don’t disagree that it may not be the best idea for boys to play on girls’ teams. My issue is that transgenders, that have gone through transition therapy, should be exempt from this status,” Mannis said in a separate statement.
Tennessee is among roughly a dozen of states with lawmakers backing restrictions on athletics or gender-confirming health care for trans minors this year.
Currently, a similar 2020 Idaho law has been blocked by a federal judge as a lawsuit makes it way in court.