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Federal judge blocks Tennessee transgender bathroom law on Friday

The law requires businesses to display signs notifying people if they allow transgender people to use bathrooms aligning with their gender identity.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A federal judge blocked a new law in Tennessee that would require businesses and other organizations to display signs if they allow transgender people to use bathrooms, locker rooms or changing rooms aligning with their gender identity.

Anyone who refused to display signs could have faced up to 6 months in jail for a misdemeanor penalty.

The owner of a performing arts and community center in Chattanooga and the owner of a Nashville restaurant filed a lawsuit against the law through the American Civil Liberties Union. It led to the judge's decision to block it.

In the decision, the court said that while restaurants and performing spaces are businesses, they are also community gathering spaces. As gathering spaces, they seek to provide safe and welcoming areas for all members of a community so that they can connect with others, including transgender people.

The law would have interfered with that goal, preventing them from providing a welcoming space, plaintiffs allege. Part of the official opinion can be read below:

Restaurants and performing spaces are businesses, but that is not all they are; they are also among the most important physical locations in which communities — so often consigned, in this era, to electronic space — can gather and grow together in a manner rooted in a particular neighborhood, in a particular city, in a particular state. The plaintiffs have presented evidence that they have strived to be welcoming spaces for communities that include transgender individuals and that the signage required by the Act would disrupt the welcoming environments that they wish to provide. That harm would be real, and it is not a harm that could simply be remedied by some award at the end of litigation.

The law was the first of its kind in the U.S. and took effect on July 1. Judge Aleta Trauger of the U.S. District Court for the Middle Tennessee District issued the ruling.

Officials said that the act's sponsor, Representative Tim Rudd, wanted to prevent hypothetical sexual predators who could use inclusive policies to hurt others. The court's opinion said he could not provide specific examples of that happening.

He later said that seeing a transgender person in a bathroom could provoke violence, according to the court's opinion.

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