KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — A federal judge struck down an anti-transgender Tennessee law that would have required businesses and other organizations to post signs if they allowed transgender people to use facilities that aligned with their gender identity.
Anyone who refused to display the signs could have faced up to 6 months in jail for a misdemeanor penalty. In July 2021, a federal judge blocked it soon after the owner of a performing arts and community center in Chattanooga and the owner of a Nashville restaurant sued over the law through the American Civil Liberties Union.
If the law had gone into effect, businesses would need to post signs that said "notice" in yellow on a red background. Below that, the sign would need to say "this facility maintains a policy of allowing the use of restrooms by either biological sex, regardless of the designation on the restroom."
The business owners said that they objected to the message, and said it would have interfered with informal policies that allow customers to choose which bathroom is appropriate for them.
In the ruling on Tuesday, judges said that the plaintiffs clearly explained why they did not want to echo the way that the government characterizes its transgender-inclusive policies.
The judge later said that instead of taking the business' objections seriously, government attorneys suggested the plaintiffs were imagining there were undertones to the signs.
"The only thing that is imaginary in this case, though, is the imagined consensus on issues of sex and gender on which the defendants seek to rely," the ruling said. "Transgender Tennesseans are real. 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, they have no authority to wish those opposing viewpoints away."
The judge said that the law was not constitutional for several reasons in a 40-page ruling. It was signed into law by Governor Bill Lee in 2021, despite LGBTQ advocates decrying it as discriminatory and saying the signs were "offensive and humiliating."
It was one of many anti-transgender bills signed into law during that legislative session. Others prevented transgender athletes from playing on teams aligning with their gender identity, and some other proposals would have blocked transgender minors from receiving healthcare.