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Tennessee’s Only Openly Gay Lawmaker Speaks Out Against Ban On Transgender Athletes

Rachel Iacovone

Rep. Eddie Mannis, R-Knoxville, has warned his House colleagues that a ban on transgender athletes could have a tremendous impact on LGBT kids.

In a letter sent to the House Education Administration Committee on Monday, Mannis — the state’s only openly gay representative — came out against a bill that would require students to play on the sports team of their birth sex, not their preferred gender.

In his letter, first reported by Knoxville News Sentinel and later obtained by WPLN News, Mannis cited statistics that show transgender youth are more vulnerable to bullying and suicide than their counterparts.

“Personally, my primary concern is finding ways to decrease the homicide and suicidal rates of our teenagers,” Mannis wrote.

He also warned this bill could make it harder for the state to recruit potential employees or companies.

The freshman lawmaker begged his colleagues to represent the interests of all of the students in the state — including those who are LGBT.

“I trust that you will extend grace and mercy to the circumstances that none of us may totally understand and remember that we are here to represent all our kids,” Mannis wrote. “That includes those who may be suffering silently, but have the access and right to participate and enjoy the same activities as their classmates.”

But so far, Mannis’ pleas have been ineffective. On Wednesday, the House Education Administration Committee moved the bill forward. The vote was split along party line.

Mannis’ concerns have been echoed by LGBT activists and organizations.

In a recent interview with WPLN News, Joe Woolley, CEO of the Nashville LGBT Chamber, said corporations across the state are worried about the economic impact this measure will have in Tennessee.

Still, the measure has the support of top Republican leaders. Gov. Bill Lee has said transgender athletes will “destroy” women’s sports.

Lt. Gov. and Speaker of the Senate Randy McNally told reporters Thursday he is likely to vote for the measure, after initially showing hesitancy towards the proposal.

But none of the sponsors of the transgender ban have shown data about how transgender athletes have made it hard for other women or men to get scholarships — an argument they have made.

On Wednesday, WPLN News asked the sponsor of the bill, Rep. Scott Cepicky, whether he could provide numbers or additional evidence to prove this is an issue. He declined to comment on the specifics.

“I can’t make any comments until this goes to the House floor and passes ’cause anything I say on the record could be use to hurt a bill,” Cepicky said. “What this bill does is states on the record of where Tennessee stands.”

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.
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