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Tennessee lawmakers’ targeting of transgender athletes runs afoul of the federal administration

The ACLU is challenging a Tennessee law that requires transgender athletes to play on the team that matches their sex assigned at birth.
Courtesy of Davey Nin
The ACLU is challenging a Tennessee law that requires transgender athletes to play on the team that matches their sex assigned at birth.

Tennessee lawmakers have set themselves on a collision course with the federal government over whether transgender women should be able to compete in sports with cisgender women.

This is one of several attempts being made to ban transgender athletes.

A bill progressing through the Tennessee General Assembly aims to prevent colleges from allowing trans athletes from competing in women’s sports. State lawmakers have hinted at such a bill when referencing Lia Thomas, a trans female swimmer who has since become the first transgender athlete to win an NCAA Division 1 national championship.

In a recent committee hearing, Rep. John Ragan, R-Oak Ridge, spoke about his sponsorship of the bill.

“It is an absurdity to expect sporting competitions involving speed, strength and endurance with males competing against females to be fair,” Ragan said.

But Dahron Johnson, a transgender athlete, says that’s a simplistic narrative.

“They are planting an image of a type of competition in our minds that is actually not the case in point,” said Johnson. “So, somebody who’s gone through transition, like me for example, does not have the same advantages as the person they’re describing.”

Johnson says she’s had to submit blood work to the sport’s governing body to compete in women’s sports.

“I had to submit lab tests and testosterone tests and so on to show that my numbers stayed below a certain level,” said Johnson.

The legislation also goes against the stance of the federal administration. In March, the U.S. Department of Justice sent a letter to state attorneys general, reminding them that discrimination of trans youth is considered sex discrimination.

Chris Sanders, with Tennessee Equality Project, believes that with such federal backing, a lawsuit or administrative action could prevent the law from taking effect.

“Through administrative action there is some risk to federal funding for Tennessee if we engage in this kind of sex discrimination,” Sanders said.

A similar bill — but for public grade schools — would withhold money from districts that refuse to ensure student athletes play in the sport of the gender they were assigned at birth.

Blaise Gainey is a Political Reporter for WPLN News. He is the youngest of three siblings, husband and father of two. He previously held the State Government Reporter position for WFSU News in Tallahassee. He is from Apopka, Fla., and graduated from The School of Journalism at the Florida A&M University. He previously worked for The Florida Channel and WTXL-TV. He is excited to move to another capital and report on state government. In his spare time, he enjoys watching sports, outdoor activities and enjoying family time.
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