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Gov. Lee signs transgender athlete bill, preventing students from playing on teams aligning with gender identity

The bill says that student-athletes in middle and high school teams can only compete in sports under the gender they were assigned at birth.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee said Friday he signed a bill into law prohibiting transgender student-athletes from competing in sporting events on teams that align with their gender identity.

It requires that a student's gender be determined by their sex at the time of their birth when it comes to athletics, and says they must provide evidence of their birth sex if it doesn't appear on their birth certificate.

The bill was proposed by GOP lawmakers and had been discussed several times. It led to an uproar from LGBTQ+ communities and human rights advocates who said it directly discriminated against transgender students.

Most said there was no evidence supporting even the need for the legislation.

Middle Tennessee Republican Scott Cepicky introduced the bill. He said that the bill was meant to maintain a competitive balance in athletics. Lee said that it would "preserve women's athletics and ensure fair competition."

Lee said that the bill was meant to oppose federal policies, but did not specify which ones. The House of Representatives voted 71-16 to pass it March 22.

Rep. Eddie Mannis, R-Knoxville, called on lawmakers to reconsider the bill in late February. He said that it would only further marginalize teens and do more harm.

"When we look at things like this we need to look at the risk versus the reward, or the cost and benefits, so to speak," Mannis said. "The cost is continuing to marginalize, even more, a community and the suicide rate can continue to increase, and the benefit is what? There's not a measurable problem here."

He said there is no data supporting claims that transgender athletes are preventing other athletes from earning scholarships, or that they intentionally play for a competitive advantage.

However, he said that the marginalization of the LGBTQ+ community -- and against transgender people at large -- can lead to an increase in assaults and suicides. He would have rather seen the legislature's effort put into suicide prevention.

Other advocates warned that the bill could cost the state tourism revenue after boycotts took place against states that passed similar bills during a meeting hosted by the American Civil Liberties Union in early March.

"That Tennessee is talking about this and looks on the verge of passing this -- conventions will go elsewhere," said Joe Woolley, CEO of the Nashville LGBT Chamber of Commerce. "They will not take their attendees to a place that is not welcoming ...  We are about to step in front of a speeding bus and get ran over if we are not careful."