Tennessee lawmakers are pushing to ban transgender athletes from colleges

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee would ban transgender athletes from participating in female collegiate sports under legislation gaining prominence in the state‘s GOP-controlled General Assembly.

The measure is one of 17 bills introduced this year in Tennessee that target LGBTQ people — more than any other state in the country, according to civil rights advocates.

“Even in the midst of one of the most extreme periods of anti-LGBTQ policy in our nation’s history, Tennessee legislators have commanded one of the most anti-LGBTQ legislative agendas in the nation,” said Sam Ames, director of advocacy and government affairs at The Trevor Project , in a recent statement.

In the past year, no other state passed more anti-transgender laws than Tennessee. This included banning transgender athletes from participating in public high or middle school sports for girls.

That year, lawmakers returned to the Nashville-based statehouse to extend that ban to colleges and universities. The proposal authorized key legislative hearings in both the House and Senate on Wednesday, despite objections from Democratic lawmakers.

Separately, a Senate committee introduced a bill that would allow teachers and school districts to use the pronoun that a transgender student does not prefer, thereby exempting teachers from punishment through employment and protecting schools from civil liability. It could get a Senate vote in the coming days, but still requires more committee work in the House of Representatives. Meanwhile, a bill that would impose penalties on K-12 public schools that violate bans on transgender athletes was also brought out of legislative committees a day earlier.

Tennessee’s Republican Gov. Bill Lee has not commented publicly on either bill, but he has previously said that allowing transgender athletes to participate in women’s sports would “destroy women’s sports.”

Screening of transgender athletes has come to the fore again after University of Pennsylvania swimmer Lia Thomas began breaking records this year. She was on the men’s team for the first three years, but she’s joining the women’s team this season after the move.

The NCAA instituted a sport-by-sport approach to transgender athletes in January, but Republicans in a handful of states have chosen to push for strict bans. Proponents argue that such bans are necessary to ensure a level playing field.

“Yes, the (NCAA) has rules, but we’ve seen cases in collegiate athletics where a biological male competed against females and won multiple medals. We feel they have an advantage,” said Sen. Joey Hensley, a Hohenwald Republican and supporter of the transgender ban in colleges.

Also on Wednesday, Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt signed a similar ban on transgender athletes from middle and high school athletics and college.

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Associated Press writer Jonathan Mattise contributed to this report.

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