When it comes to trans rights, the news cycle has been predominately bleak, largely thanks to Republicans who are all-in when it comes to taking away rights and protections from an extremely marginalized and vulnerable population. But we do have some (relatively) good news coming out of Tennessee.
As reported by CNN, the anti-trans bathroom bill signed into law by Republican Gov. Bill Lee in 2021 has been struck down by United States District Judge Aleta A. Trauger. As covered by Daily Kos at the time, Lee signed House Bill 1182 into law in May 2021 and it went into effect last summer in July 2021 but was blocked by a preliminary injunction just over a week after it went into effect. The bill essentially mandated that businesses that allow trans folks to use the bathroom that align with their gender identity post signs alerting customers of this fact but written in the most fearmongering way possible.
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The signs include the word “NOTICE” at the top and go on to state: “THIS FACILITY MAINTAINS A POLICY OF ALLOWING THE USE OF RESTROOMS BY EITHER BIOLOGICAL SEX, REGARDLESS OF THE DESIGNATION ON THE RESTROOM.” Businesses that allow trans folks to use the bathroom that aligns with their identity but doesn’t post such a sign were liable for criminal penalties including misdemeanor charges punishable by a $500 fine and up to six months in jail.
The sponsor of the bill, Republican state Rep. Tim Rudd, at the time used the all-too-common conservative rhetoric of saying it was about “protecting” (cisgender) women and girls from predators and groomers. Of course, he could not offer any concrete examples of trans-inclusive bathroom policies actually leading to this scenario in Tennessee.
A restaurant owner in Nashville, Tennessee, initially filed a lawsuit in objection to the required signs, arguing they were sending a stigmatizing message. Bob Bernstein, who owns Fido in Nashville, has policies that allow customers to use bathrooms that align with their gender identity, which means the signage rules would have applied to them. That injunction was in place through the judge’s call on Tuesday to strike down the law.
Davidson County District Attorney Glenn Funk also stated they would not actively enforce the rule, including after it was signed into law. Funk defended his reasoning to lawmakers via a letter last summer, saying that as a district attorney, he does have “discretion” when it comes to enforcing laws and that his office is focused on supporting victims, prosecuting violent crime, and maintaining public safety. He argued this hateful bill accomplishes none of those things.
“Transgender Tennesseans are real,” Trauger wrote in part in her decision. “The businesses and establishments that wish to welcome them are real. And the viewpoints that those individuals and businesses hold are real, even if they differ from the views of some legislators or government officials.”
“While those government officials have considerable power,” the judge added. “They have no authority to wish those opposing viewpoints away.” She said it would be a “disservice” to the First Amendment to see the act as anything other than a “brazen attempt to single out trans-inclusive establishments” and force them to “parrot” a message they believe would “sow fear and misunderstanding” about trans folks.
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