Tennessee transgender bathroom bill put on pause due to ongoing lawsuit

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(WJHL) — Legal trouble continues for a new law signed by Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee which mandates signs on transgender-inclusive public restrooms.

The law that took effect July 1 requires Tennessee businesses and government facilities to post a sign if they allow transgender individuals to use a restroom, locker room, or changing room associated with their gender identity.

Just eight days after the bathroom bill became Tennessee law, it was blocked by a federal judge from being enforced statewide. That is because of a lawsuit filed, arguing it is unconstitutional and discriminatory.

“We feel that this was a law that was targeting the trans community,” said Thomas Castelli, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Tennessee.

They are suing state agencies on behalf of two Tennessee business owners, one out of Nashville and one of Chattanooga, saying a law requiring the posting of a transgender-inclusive bathroom sign is a violation of their free speech.

“The First Amendment comes in and says the government cannot force people to convey the government’s message on an ideological or controversial issue,” said Castelli. “You’re asking businesses to post something they don’t want to post that doesn’t seem to address a real government interest at all.”

Constitutional law professor at Lincoln Memorial University Stewart Harris said the constitution requires governmental action to have a legitimate purpose, which he questions of the new bathroom law. He believes this law does not have clear governmental purpose and is instead singling out one community.

“If you think trans people present some specific danger, then where is your evidence for that? I don’t think there is any evidence for that, I suspect this will be struck down as an unconstitutional, illegitimate action that is simply designed to stigmatize trans people,” said Harris.

He said the law is also likely in violation of the Equal Protection Clause and the Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment.

The law requires businesses to post a sign outside their restroom or facility reading: “This facility maintains a policy of allowing the use of restrooms by either biological sex, regardless of the designation on the restroom.”

Tennessee State Rep. Bud Hulsey of Kingsport voted for the bill, which he says is about awareness, not discrimination.

“I don’t think that is discriminatory, it doesn’t prevent a transgender from doing anything, nothing at all. In fact, I think it is very reasonable,” said Hulsey.

He cited examples of it being appropriate for females, especially the elderly and for parents of very young children, to have a right to know if they are using a gender-inclusive restroom.

“The bill doesn’t say anything about transgender people. If it is your policy as a business owner that any sex, either sex can use either bathroom, if that’s your policy, then yes people need to know it,” said Hulsey.

The law will remain temporarily blocked until a decision is made in federal court. Initial hearings are set for August.

Gov. Lee has also recently signed other bills regarding transgender Tennesseans. Those include a law on transgender bathroom use in schools and a law barring transgender athletes from participating in school sports.

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