gender-neutral restroom
A sign marks the entrance to a gender-neutral restroom at the University of Vermont in Burlington, Vt. (Toby Talbot/AP/Shutterstock)

Tennessee Judge Stops New Transphobic Bathroom-Sign Law From Going Into Effect

In their ongoing attack of transgender citizens within Tennessee, lawmakers have attempted to enact a law that would require businesses to post signs outside their restrooms “warning” customers they supported transgender rights — thereby potentially turning customers away from their businesses. However, just days before the bill was set to go into effect, a federal judge stepped in and ruled it unlawful.

Jo Yurcaba of NBC News reported that on Friday, July 9, a federal judge “blocked a Tennessee law that required businesses to post a notice if they allow transgender people to use bathrooms that match their gender identity.”

According to Yurcaba, “the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit on behalf of two business owners — who own Sanctuary, a performing arts and community center in Chattanooga, and Fido, a restaurant in Nashville, among other businesses — in an effort to block the law from taking effect July 1.”

After hearing details of the case, Judge Aleta A. Trauger of the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee decided to grant a preliminary injunction keeping the law from going into effect while litigation proceeded.

In the judgment, Trauger wrote: “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,” Trauger continued. “That harm would be real, and it is not a harm that could simply be remedied by some award at the end of litigation.”

In a statement following the district court’s preliminary injunction, Hedy Weinberg, the executive director of the ACLU of Tennessee, said, “we are glad the court saw that this law is likely unconstitutional and hope that the state gives up the wasteful effort to defend discrimination and a violation of the First Amendment.”

Kye Sayers, owner of Sanctuary Performing Arts, also expressed gratitude for the decision, saying she was happy that the court saw that “forcing businesses to display a sign that hurts transgender and intersex people is unconstitutional.”

“These signs would have damaged our businesses and the environment we have tried to create for our community, customers and staff,” Sayers said.

The ACLU suit is one of two recently filed against the state over the new law. The other was filed by Nashville record label owner Mike Curb, whose case is being represented by GLBTQ Legal Advocates and Defenders. Curb claims that the law would compel his business and other Tennessee businesses to endorse a climate of fear and nonacceptance of LGBTQ people, in contradiction to their company values of integrity, respect for diversity and nondiscrimination.

Yurcaba reported that “the new law requires business owners with even an informal policy that allows people to use whichever bathroom they want to post a sign that reads, ‘This facility maintains a policy of allowing the use of restrooms by either biological sex regardless of the designation on the restroom,’ at the entrance of single-sex public restrooms, locker rooms, dressing areas or other facilities that are ‘designated for a specific biological sex … where a person would have a reasonable expectation of privacy.’”

Rep. Tim Rudd, who sponsored the bill, has claimed that it isn’t meant to discriminate. Instead, the purpose of the bill is to protect women and children “against sexual predators that could be taking advantage of policies, executive orders or legislation that may allow the opposite sex to enter a restroom, shower or locker room.”

Unfortunately for Rudd, his argument doesn’t hold any water. Numerous studies and research, including a 2018 study from the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law, have found that there is absolutely no evidence or proof of trans-inclusive policies or facilities resulting in safety risk for any specific group or the public as a whole.

Instead, researchers and advocates say these bills are simply one more way to discriminate and show bias against transgender people who are, in reality, looking for nothing more than the right to use the restroom in peace.

Related: For more recent diversity and inclusion news, click here.


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