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TN bill protecting employees in schools who refuse to use preferred pronouns advances in House

The bill, HB 1269, was introduced by Rep. Mark Cochran (R - Englewood).

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A state bill that would protect teachers and other employees of public schools if they choose not to use a student's preferred pronouns advanced in the Tennessee House of Representatives.

HB 1269 passed the House Education Administration Commission on March 1 and was referred to the Finance, Ways and Means Committee. The bill was introduced by Representative Mark Cochran (R - Englewood), and Senator Paul Rose (R - Lauderdale, Shelby and Tipton Counties) introduced the bill's Senate version.

The bill specifically says "teachers and employees of public schools and LEAs do not shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression while at work" and says they are not civilly liable for using a pronoun other than what a student prefers.

Two other anti-LGBTQ bills passed the Tennessee legislature recently. The first effectively banned public drag shows across the state, another banned some gender-affirming care for minors.

Erica Bowton, an assistant professor of medicine at Vanderbilt University, spoke against the bill.

"This bill is ridiculous. This bill emboldens teachers, the ones we trust to guide our children, to air their biases openly, to deny our children their true selves, and to publically misgender them," she said. "It puts a target on their backs. They will be bullied, taunted, and shamed. Instead of an education, these children will be given anxiety, depression and adjustment disorders."

Two other people spoke against the bill during an Education Administration Committee, and one shared testimony who they said was from a person scared to appear at the committee.

According to the testimony, that person chose not to attend college because they felt unsafe in educational environments and were worried more students would feel unsafe because of the bill.

"We are not stupid. None of us believe this is about protecting children," Bowton said. "Stop lying. This is about intolerance for an entire group of humans."

Representative Sam McKenzie (D-Knoxville) asked Cochran if he believed the bill would violate Title IX rules, which protects some students from discrimination. He said around $1.3 billion could be lost if the state violated that federal law.

"I would argue to the exact opposite, that there is far more court precedent in favor of protecting a teacher's First Amendment rights, than in favor of the current administration's opinion of Title IX," said Cochran.

McKenzie emphasized that Title IX is a federal law that "transcends" administration or political leaning. He said that because of the state's compliance with Title IX, women's athletics and other aspects of schools are the way they are now.

Cochran said that court precedent showed that teachers could not be compelled to speak.

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