Legalizing Transphobia: Tennessee’s Oppressive Policies

Majo James, Staff Writer

On March 2, Tennessee passed a law banning both gender-affirming care for minors and drag shows performed on public property and in the presence of minors. Minors currently undergoing hormone therapy to treat gender dysphoria must cease doing so by March 2024.

Though Tennessee is the first state to implement such policies, it is quite possible that it will not be the last, with several other states contemplating similar bills. Proponents of the law claim it intends to protect children from hasty self-mutilation and from inappropriate influences.

Such intentions would certainly be honorable, if they weren’t a transparent lie. The bill is nothing but an example of creating issues where none exist, a political strategy to pander to their voter base. If the 74 Republicans and three Democrats that voted in favor of the bill truly cared for the well-being of transgender kids, they would not have criminalized the procedures that are indispensable to them.

A clinic in Cincinnati con- ducted a study of youth aged 12- 22 with gender dysphoria. 30.3% of the participants reported at least one suicide attempt. This is a percentage that is more than three times the national average (9%) in that age group. Gender-affirming care has been proven to significantly reduce suicidal ideation and improve quality of life for people with gender dysphoria. Taking away this crucial treatment would have disastrous effects.

This is not a subjective debate. The American Medical Association (AMA) sent a letter to the National Governors Association (NGA), pleading to “its member governors to oppose state legislation that would prohibit the provision of medically necessary gender transition-related care to minor patients.”

“We believe this legislation represents a dangerous govern- mental intrusion into the practice of medicine and will be detrimental to the health of transgender children across the country,” The AMA said. “Empirical evidence has demonstrated that trans and non-binary gender identities are normal variations of human identity and expression…every major medical association in the Unit- ed States recognizes the medical necessity of transition-related care for improving the physical and mental health of transgender people.”

The AMA is joined by the World Health Organization,

American Academy of Pediatrics and American Psychiatric Association in supporting gender-affirm- ing care for minors. The AMA identifies this transphobic bill as

a “dangerous governmental intrusion,” because it is based on religious arguments, a violation of the constitutionally enumerated separation of church and state.

There is also the matter
of banning drag performances
to “protect children.” First, the most obvious problem is that this is unconstitutional. Drag shows fall under the protections of the First Amendment, the Freedom of Speech. The bill bans performances of “male and female impersonators.”

If drag shows are banned today, what is stopping Tennessee law enforcement from targeting Pride celebrations tomorrow? The ambiguous wording allows for and even encourages the targeting of people with nonconforming gender identities.

Furthermore, banning male and female impersonators is much more wide-reaching than just drag. In Shakespeare’s time, for example, all actors were male, including the ones that portrayed women. Productions today often end up casting people as a different gender than the one the actor personally identifies as, not to make a statement, but because there are not enough actors.

Treasure Island, Villanova Student Theater’s spring play, portrays Jim Hawkins as a cabin girl commonly mistaken to be a cabin boy. When asked “be you boy or be you girl,” she responds, “that be my business!” Even this relatively minor defiance of traditional gender norms could be prosecuted under Tennessee law.

The new bill has been met with widespread outrage. The Human Rights Campaign and the American Civil Liberties Union have both vowed litigation against Tennessee for its discriminatory policies. This righteous anger is prominent on our campus as well.

“[This law is] transphobic and disgusting,” junior Monroe Byer said.

The Tennessee bill heartlessly denies the fundamental rights of already vulnerable children. It codifies the wave of trans- phobia sweeping the country. This is not the first time in U.S. history where discrimination has been forged into law to use as a weapon against the innocent. Indeed, the ugly face of Jim Crow has not yet faded into memory. It was not even a lifetime ago that segregation was considered constitutional.

We must stand in defiance of this gross violation of human rights and protect our transgender children.