from Delia McDevitt and Chloe Miller
As an ally growing up in rural Henry County and a lesbian living in Williamson County, we witness blatant discrimination against transgender students far too often in our schools and communities. Our transgender friends and peers face daily bullying, mis-gendering, and other acts that further dehumanize them in a world where their existence is already questioned and debated through public discourse.
House Bill 1274, and its companion Senate Bill 1149, reflects one such tactic, aiming to encourage and protect school districts that adopt policies that bar transgender students from using restrooms, locker rooms, and other public facilities that align with their gender identity.
Before writing this, we were angry. Angry that we, like many trans and queer young folks, feel hopeless. Angry that elected “leaders” in our state—a state that holds both of our hearts so dearly—don’t hold the people closest to us in equal regard. And angry that, instead of upholding their sworn duty to do what is best for ALL Tennesseans by expanding and enhancing protections for everyone—especially those who already have the fewest resources, rights and protects amongst us—lawmakers are choosing to side against those who need help, support, and love the most.
As we tried to put ourselves in the shoes of others, we realized the best option and most productive resource we have is education. We chose to believe that our legislators are open to learning, but only if they have a teacher. So, let us be your teachers.
Here are the facts: If written into Tennessee law, House Bill 1274 and Senate Bill 1149 would use taxpayer dollars to endorse and defend discrimination that is wounding to the community and wasteful for the state. Discriminatory bills such as these, as well as the district level policies it would defend, are routinely overturned through the judicial system. This bill would spend valuable resources litigating both this law and district policies in court. It seems to us that Tennessee’s “ALL means ALL” focus on education is a conflicting priority with some legislators’ obsession with marginalizing children.
Moreover, this bill puts an even larger target on the backs of young people, who already jump through endless loops and endure daily torment in their schools. Instead of supporting trans students—who are already at substantially higher risk of dropping out, mental and physical health issues, rejection and homelessness, etc.—this bill instead creates a safety net for the powerful institutions that are choosing to further endanger these already vulnerable young people.
Transgender and gender nonconforming students are experiencing extremely hostile and unsupportive environments in Tennessee schools. According to GLSEN’s 2017 National School Climate Survey Tennessee state-level data, 71% of LGBTQ students in Tennessee experienced verbal harassment at school based on gender expression, and 35% experienced physical harassment based on gender expression. Moreover, nearly 3 in 4 transgender students in Tennessee were unable to use the school restroom aligned with their gender.
The bottom line is this: transgender people are no less valid than their cisgender peers. They are no less deserving of safety or privacy or liberty. To pass any measure which would threaten any of these is reckless, irresponsible, and cruel.
For this reason, we implore our state lawmakers to stop House Bill 1274 and Senate Bill 1149 from moving forward. We implore them to uphold the core American values of diversity, equality, and standing up for the underdog. And finally, we implore the voters to hold our lawmakers accountable at the voting booth if they choose hate first.
Delia McDevitt is a senior at Henry County High School and Chloe Miller is a junior at Independence High School. Both students are members of GLSEN Tennessee SHINE Team – a student action and advocacy team committed to making schools safer and more inclusive for all students regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity/expression.