Civil rights groups sue Tennessee for banning transgender athletes in school sports

by Reuters
Friday, 5 November 2021 01:21 GMT

So Sato, 25, a deaf and transgender pole vaulter, works out during a camp training with other deaf athletes in Utsunomiya, north of Tokyo, Japan July 10, 2021 REUTERS/Issei Kato

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Earlier this year, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee signed into law SB 228, which requires public middle and high school students to play sports based on the sex listed on their original birth certificates.

By Kanishka Singh

Nov 4 (Reuters) - Civil rights groups sued on Thursday to challenge a law in Tennessee that restricts transgender students' participation in school sports, arguing that it is unconstitutional and discriminatory.

"Today, Lambda Legal, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the ACLU of Tennessee filed a lawsuit challenging a Tennessee law excluding transgender youth from participating in school sports," the American Civil Liberties Union said in a statement.

Earlier this year, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee signed into law SB 228, which requires public middle and high school students to play sports based on the sex listed on their original birth certificates. Lee's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the lawsuit.

Supporters of such legislation say it is aimed at protecting fairness in school sports by eliminating what they see as an inherent physical competitive advantage of transgender athletes playing on female teams.

The lawsuit is on behalf of a student in the state who says the law prevents him from trying out for the boys' golf team at his school.

"SB 228 was passed not to protect female athletes but to marginalize transgender people. The law amounts to a bare desire to harm a politically unpopular group, which is an impermissible government purpose and fails any level of equal protection scrutiny," said the lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee.

At least 35 bills to exclude transgender youth from athletics have been introduced in 31 states this year, up from 29 in 2020 and two in 2019, according to a tally earlier this year by the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Equal rights advocates decry such restrictions as discriminatory and whose real purpose is to energize social conservatives.

"The emotional cost of this law to transgender student athletes is tremendous," said Hedy Weinberg, ACLU of Tennessee executive director.

(Reporting by Kanishka Singh in Bengaluru; editing by Grant McCool)

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