Tennessee pushes to define ‘sex,’ could risk federal funding
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee Republican lawmakers on Wednesday advanced legislation that would prevent transgender people from changing their driver’s licenses and birth certificates, a move that officials warn could cost the state millions in federal funding.
“In my view, this body should do what’s right regardless of the cost,” said Republican Rep. Gino Bulso, the bill’s sponsor. “I don’t care what it costs to do what’s right.”
LGBTQ-rights advocates have long argued that having a driver’s license or birth certificate match a person’s identity is not only personally important but also beneficial to avoiding harassment.
If enacted, the proposal would define male and female in state law and base people’s legal gender identities on their anatomy at birth. A handful of Republican-led states have introduced similar bills — including Kansas, Texas and Oklahoma — as GOP lawmakers have put transgender issues at the forefront of their legislative agenda.
Legislative officials tasked with calculating the fiscal impact of bills have stated that Bulso’s bill would likely open the state to “civil litigation and could jeopardize federal funding” because it could conflict with federal rules.
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According to the fiscal review, this means Tennessee could potentially lose $1.2 billion of federal education funding and $750,000 of federal grants dedicated to help women and children. Other state and local governments could also be impacted, but the review did not detail a specific amount.
“To enact this bill’s strict binary understanding of sex is to sentence me to purgatory,” said Dahron Johnson, a transgender woman who testified against the bill on Wednesday. “Especially since there is no definition of transgender persons or other formal statement of our status, or even mentioned us in the Tennessee code.”
While the legislation cleared a House legislative committee on Wednesday, it still has several hurdles to go in both chambers.
“God created man, He created woman. He put them in this world to procreate and to read and replenish the world,” said Republican Rep. Rusty Grills. “And when we continue to spit in the face of God as a nation, we’re going in the wrong direction.”
Medical experts say that at birth, external genital anatomy can be ambiguous, sometimes because of differences in sex development, or intersex conditions, which affect about 1% of the population.
Intersex conditions can involve external genitals that don’t match a person’s sex chromosomes. In one condition, testes develop internally but external genitals and breasts appear female. These babies are usually assigned female at birth, but their bodies will never produce eggs.
Republican Gov. Bill Lee hasn’t publicly said if he supports the legislation, but he has previously said he plans on signing a bill that would ban gender-affirming care for most transgender youth and a bill that will limit where drag shows can take place.