Transgender bill fails in subcommittee, headed to summer study

(Graphic: WKRN)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) – A bill that would require transgender students to use bathrooms that match their sex at birth has failed.

The bill died in a House Education Administration and Planning Committee meeting Tuesday that was packed with transgender youth who opposed the measure.

Transgender students who testified before the committee were elated and said they felt like sharing their personal stories had impacted the vote.

“It feels great to know that my voice is counting,” Henry Seaton, an 18-year-old student who attends Beech High School in Hendersonville, said after the vote. Seaton, who was born female but identifies as male, testified last week in a subcommittee and then spoke to committee chairman Mark White, R-Memphis, before the meeting. Seaton, who said he has to use a teacher’s restroom that is locked half the time, said he thought White listened to him when he spoke with the lawmaker in the legislative cafeteria.

Rick Womack, R-Rockvale, said he had actually changed his mind about the bill and would no longer support it after hearing more about the issues. He invited Dr. John and Valerie Guenst and their daughter Jennifer to speak.

Jennifer, who was born male but identifies as female, is a 17-year-old Franklin High School student who has been using the female restroom. John Guenst said the bill would be harmful to transgender students, who already have a high rate of suicide. And the family raised questions about whether Jennifer, who looks very much like a girl, should be using a urinal in the boy’s room.

Religious conservatives had pushed the legislation, which was sponsored by Rep. Susan Lynn, R-Mt. Juliet, and Mike Bell, R-Riceville. But there was concern that the proposal might create more confusion. Local schools already have their own policies on use of bathrooms for transgender students.

“Maybe we’re making things a little worse than they already are,” White said of the proposal after hearing the testimony. He also said the bill would surely die later because of the potential costs. A revised fiscal note on the bill said the federal government could withhold education money if the bill passed. The fiscal note said Tennessee had received $1 billion in federal education funds last year.

Gov. Bill Haslam had objected to the bill because he was concerned that Tennessee could lose federal funding if it passed.

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