Tennessee is a step away from requiring some businesses in the state to post signs indicating that they allow transgender and other non-binary people to use the bathroom in their establishment that matches their gender identity, a policy LGBTQ advocates say is “offensive and humiliating” for members of the community and could lead to harassment.
The bill, which would also apply to locker rooms and other dressing areas that are separated by sex, says the signs must read: “THIS FACILITY MAINTAINS A POLICY OF ALLOWING THE USE OF RESTROOMS BY EITHER BIOLOGICAL SEX, REGARDLESS OF THE DESIGNATION ON THE RESTROOM.” The legislation states that the mandate would not apply to “a unisex, single-occupant restroom or family restroom intended for use by” people of either sex.
While the legislation is reminiscent of the so-called bathroom bills a few years back — when Republican lawmakers around the country pushed to restrict trans students from using the bathrooms that correspond to their gender identities — it doesn’t explicitly ban trans people from using the facility that matches their gender identity, but is still harmful to trans people, LGBTQ advocates stress. They argue the signage could inadvertently lead to harassment of trans people and businesses with inclusive policies.
It also comes at a time when GOP-controlled states have been passing laws that advocates say restrict trans rights.
Tennessee’s GOP-controlled Senate passed HB 1182 on Thursday by a party-line vote of 21-4. The House previously passed the bill by a vote of 62-25 and the legislation now heads to Republican Gov. Bill Lee.
CNN has reached out to Lee’s office for comment on the bill and whether he plans to sign the measure. The governor has 10 days from when the bill is received to sign or veto it, or take no action, which allows the bill to become law.
The legislation states that “a public or private entity or business that operates a building or facility open to the general public and that, as a matter of formal or informal policy, allows a member of either biological sex to use any public restroom within the building or facility shall post notice of the policy at the entrance of each public restroom in the building or facility.”
Though the legislation doesn’t define what “biological sex” means, the term has been used by conservative lawmakers around the country to refer to one’s sex as determined at the time of birth based on their reproductive biology and genetics. While sex is a category that refers broadly to physiology, a person’s gender is an innate sense of identity. The factors that go into determining the sex listed on a person’s birth certificate may include anatomy, genetics and hormones, and there is broad natural variation in each of these categories.
For this reason, the language of “biological sex,” as used in this legislation, can be overly simplistic and misleading.
“House Bill 1182 is a discriminatory piece of legislation crafted to generate the maximum amount of harm to Tennessee’s transgender community,” Human Rights Campaign president Alphonso David said in a statement, which said the bill is forcing trans-inclusive businesses to “post offensive and humiliating signage.”
And Hedy Weinberg, the ACLU of Tennessee’s executive director, called the legislation “another attempt by state legislators to erase trans people and could lead to harassment and aggression against trans people and trans-inclusive businesses” and called on Lee to oppose the bill.
But Jennifer Easton, a spokeswoman for the Tennessee House Republicans, argued in a statement to CNN that the bill “does not prohibit anyone from using a bathroom of their choosing or discriminate against any person or group.”
“The only thing this legislation does is require public places with unisex bathrooms to post signage letting people know if bathrooms are unisex. That’s it. Nothing more,” she added.
In March, Lee approved an anti-trans sports bill that requires students to compete on sports teams based on their birth certificate’s gender identification. That law is part of a pattern of anti-trans sports bans that multiple states have enacted this year.
The governor is also considering a bill passed by lawmakers in April that, among other things, allows parents and guardians to excuse their student from part or all of a “sexual orientation curriculum or gender identity curriculum” by submitting a request to the student’s teacher, counselor or principal.
The bill comes as more than half the country’s states have introduced more than 100 bills that aim to curb the rights of transgender people across the country, with advocacy groups labeling 2021 as a record-breaking year for such legislation.