from US District Judge Aleta Trauger of the Middle District of Tennessee has temporarily halted the state from enforcing the law, which went into effect earlier this month. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a lawsuit
last month to challenge the law on behalf of business owners in Nashville and Chattanooga who allow customers to use their preferred restroom.
It’s a short-term victory for trans Tennesseans and potentially indicative, advocates hope, of the outcome of future legal challenges to legislation that targets trans people.
The law, sponsored in the Tennessee House by Republican Rep. Tim Rudd, would have required businesses to post a notice that reads
, “THIS FACILITY MAINTAINS A POLICY OF ALLOWING THE USE OF RESTROOMS BY EITHER BIOLOGICAL SEX, REGARDLESS OF THE DESIGNATION ON THE RESTROOM.”
LGBTQ activists in the state said the requirement would unduly harm trans people, who may feel targeted for using the restroom that matches their gender.
“This law is harmful because it attempts to create a stigmatizing fear around trans people and restrooms,” said Chris Sanders, executive director of the LGBTQ organization the Tennessee Equality Project, in an email to CNN. “It is also harmful because it compels trans-inclusive businesses to put up a disparaging sign that actually makes going to the restroom more dangerous for trans people.”
Rudd stated in a March meeting of the state’s public service subcommittee
that the bill was designated for the “protection of women and children against sexual predators” who enter the restroom of the opposite sex. He said the bill was not specifically aimed at keeping trans Tennesseans out of restrooms that align with their gender.
After fellow members of Tennessee’s Congress challenged him about equating trans people with sexual predators, Rudd said he was “in no way accusing” trans people of predation (he used the word “transgenders” to refer to trans people, which, according to GLAAD
, can be problematic and should not be used).
A spokesperson said Rudd was unavailable to comment on the matter.
The “sexual predator” language Rudd used in the March subcommittee meeting is similar to the language used by proponents of North Carolina’s infamous “bathroom bill,”
passed in 2016 and repealed the following year. That bill blocked trans people from using the restroom of the gender they identified with.
Safe access to a restroom is critical for everyone’s daily functioning but can be an unsafe experience for trans and nonbinary people. In a 2013 study from the Williams Institute
, UCLA Law’s LGBTQ policy research center, 70% of trans and nonbinary respondents reported being denied access, verbally harassed or physically assaulted in public restrooms. Trans people are also four times more likely than cisgender people to be violently victimized in everyday life, the Williams Institute
reported in March.
Tennessee has introduced — and passed — several anti-trans bills
More than 30 states
have introduced legislation that targets trans residents during the 2021 legislative session. Tennessee has introduced 12 such bills this year, according to the advocacy group Freedom for All Americans
, including one that has since become law that requires students to prove their sex at birth
to play middle and high school sports and another that bans young children from accessing gender-affirming care. (With the latter law, the New York Times reported
that LGBTQ advocates said young children already cannot access gender-affirming hormones, indicating that the bill addresses a nonexistent situation.)
Sanders said that, while the injunction against the bathroom law is promising, he expects lawmakers will introduce more anti-trans bills when the legislative session resumes.
“Court challenges are absolutely necessary, and we also need to engage legislators in every part of Tennessee so that voices for equal protection are loud and clear,” he said.
In its filing, the ACLU asked the judge to recognize the restroom notice law as unconstitutional, but until then, the injunction will keep the state from enforcing the law while the lawsuit proceeds. The initial injunction “bodes well for the future of the case,” Sanders said, but LGBTQ advocates will still be watching closely.