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Tennessee Senate Leaders Offer Lukewarm Response To Limiting Transgender Athletes


GOP leaders in the the Tennessee Senate say they want to be cautious when considering an anti-transgender bill making its way through the state’s general assembly.

Senate Speaker Randy McNally told reporters Thursday he wants to hear the discussion of HB 3/SB 228 to see if it’s actually necessary.


The measure seeks to limit transgender youth to play on sports teams that match their sex assigned at birth.

“If it’s not occurring in Tennessee, probably (should) not address it,” McNally said.

McNally is the first Republican to show some resistance to the idea. The bill has already received praise from Republican leaders in the House and Gov. Bill Lee, who said the day before that transgender athletes “will destroy women’s sports.”

But McNally said the state needs to be careful.

“Whatever we do would probably be review by the federal government and they can cut funding to the state,” McNally said.

When asked if he had data to back whether there have been complaints, or how many transgender athletes are in Tennessee, McNally acknowledged he didn’t know.

“I don’t think we have any transgender athlete in the state that are playing on the opposite of their biological gender,” he said.

He added that in other states, female athletes have sued the states for losing scholarships.

Sen. Ken Yager, the chairman of the Senate GOP Caucus, said he expects the data to come up during committee hearings.

“It is certainly legitimate to ask for statistics to look at those,” Yager said. “I view it as a women’s issue, so we have to look at it very closely.”

Tennessee not in unique position

Over a dozen states are considering similar legislation — ranging from Montana to Utah to Georgia.

And if passed, it’s likely the future of the measures will end up in the courts.

Last year, Idaho passed a similar proposal and was blocked by a federal judge.

House Speaker Cameron Sexton told reporters Thursday he thought that potentially spending money to defend these types of bills would be worth it.

“This is protecting the integrity of women’s athletics, of women versus women,” Sexton said. “So, if someone wants to sue us, so be it.”

The proposal has received pushback from Democrats and supporters of the LGBTQ community.

Chris Sanders, the executive director of the Tennessee Equality Project, called the comments about the measure “very damaging.”

He’s concerned with how quickly the bill is moving, and how it might end in a lawsuit.

But one of his biggest concerns is the rhetoric used.

“Just like any population, most teenagers don’t participate directly in their official school sports teams, but the fact that the opportunity would be closed off would be devastating,” Sanders said. “Imagine yourself as a trans teen not interested in sports at all, but hearing your governor on the radio, on TV, saying your community will destroy sports … is devastating.”

Sergio Martínez-Beltrán is Nashville Public Radio’s political reporter. Prior to moving to Nashville, Sergio covered education for the Standard-Examiner newspaper in Ogden, Utah. He is a Puerto Rico native and his work has also appeared on NPR station WKAR, San Antonio Express-News, Inter News Service, GFR Media and WMIZ 1270 AM.