NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WJHL) — A bill protecting school teachers who don’t use a student’s preferred pronouns if they don’t correspond to the student’s assigned sex at birth was approved by a Tennessee House committee.

The legislation would prevent teachers from being fired for not using a student’s preferred pronouns “if the preferred pronoun is not consistent with the student’s biological sex.” It would also clear teachers and school districts of civil liability.

During a House Education Administration Committee hearing on Wednesday, Rep. Sam McKenzie (D-Knoxville) expressed concern about the bill potentially violating Title IX and the risk of losing over a billion dollars in federal education funding as a result.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Mark Cochran (R-Englewood), downplayed that risk.

“In 50 years of Title IX, no school system, no LEA has ever lost federal funding due to a Title IX violation,” Rep. Mark Cochran (R-Englewood) said. “And I would argue to the exact opposite, that there’s far more court precedent in favor of protecting a teacher’s First Amendment rights than in favor of the current administration’s opinion of Title IX.”

Discussion of the bill often became heated during the hearing. Three citizens spoke against the legislation.

A similar bill passed the House last year but never made it through the Senate.

The House Education Administration Committee approved the legislation Wednesday and referred it to the Finance, Ways, and Means Committee. The bill’s companion in the Senate is awaiting a date before the Senate Education Committee.

In November 2022, the Sullivan County Commission passed a resolution in support of the bill prior to the legislative session.