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An upcoming ruling will determine whether Tennessee’s anti-trans ‘bathroom bill’ stays in place this school year

Attorney General Jonathan Skrmetti is suing to defend Tennessee's ban on transgender students using the bathroom that aligns with their gender.
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Unsplash via WPLN News
Attorney General Jonathan Skrmetti is suing to defend Tennessee's ban on transgender students using the bathroom that aligns with their gender.

Lennon Freitas was 13 years old on a family trip to Universal Studios in Orlando when he realized he wanted to use the boys’ bathroom.

After a long day of drinking butterbeer, his family took turns in the bathroom, but Freitas didn’t join them.

“I started crying. My mom was like, ‘What’s wrong?’ I was like, ‘I don’t want to go to the girl’s bathroom.’ She was like, ‘Do you not have to pee?’ I was like, ‘No, I have to pee really bad. I just — I don’t want to go. I want to go to the boys’ bathroom,’” Freitas said.

His mom asked a family friend to let him use the men’s restroom in the employee offices.

“It was such a euphoric, comforting experience. Because, even though it was a gross bathroom — because if you don’t know, men’s bathrooms are really gross in general — I was just so happy and … comforted by being able to go into the restroom that I feel most comfortable with,” Freitas said.

As a rising senior in Nashville, Freitas hasn’t been able to use the bathroom that aligns with his gender for most of his high school career. A 2021 state law barred trans K-12 students from using their preferred bathroom.

Two families sued to block the law but later moved states to give their children a more trans-friendly environment.

“There are so many families that don’t have the luxury of saying, ‘Well, if things get bad, we can (leave).’ We have that luxury and other families don’t,” former plaintiff Amy Allen told WPLN News.

New plaintiffs have since filed another lawsuit seeking to block Tennessee’s so-called “bathroom bill.”

But new regulations from the Department of Education could nullify the law even earlier. In August, rules could take effect that would enshrine protections for transgender students and faculty.

Tennessee Attorney General Jonathan Skrmetti has joined several other states in challenging the DOE’s decision.

In many cases where state governments are suing to block protections for LGBTQ people, Rutgers law professor Katie Eyer said the case can come down to one thing:

“They were filed before particular judges who are routinely sympathetic to these types of anti-LGBTQ arguments,” Eyer said.

Skrmetti has argued that the federal government is improperly redefining sex discrimination to include gender identity. Eyer disagrees.

“If you punish a transgender girl for showing up to school in a skirt, you are treating them differently than you would if they were assigned female at birth. And that’s just the traditional definition of sex, right? It doesn’t require redefining sex as gender identity,” Eyer said.

Eyer expects a preliminary ruling before the start of school.

Although the ruling will be temporary, it puts Tennessee trans students like Freitas in a tricky position. As a rising senior, he won’t be in school long enough to see a final decision. He’ll just have to wait and see if the judge will allow the protections to go into effect for his last year.

Marianna Bacallao is a Cuban American journalist at WPLN and the new afternoon host for Nashville Public Radio. Before coming to Nashville, she was the morning host and general assignment reporter for WVIK Quad Cities NPR, where she hosted through a record-breaking wind storm that caused statewide power outages. A Georgia native, she was a contributor to Georgia Public Broadcasting during her undergrad years and served as editor-in-chief for Mercer University’s student newspaper.
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