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Tennessee GOP-Sponsored Bill Requires Schools to Out Trans Students to Parents

Experts say such laws threaten the mental and physical well-being of transgender children.

The Tennessee State Capitol building.

A Tennessee bill that would require schools to out transgender students to their parents is nearing passage in the Republican-dominated state legislature and may soon advance to the governor, who will likely sign it into law.

The measure, Senate Bill 1810, passed the Tennessee House of Representatives on Monday. It now goes to the Senate, which passed a similar version of the bill earlier this year and is expected to pass it again, possibly later this week.

Once the legislation is passed by the Senate, Gov. Bill Lee (R), who has signed a multitude of anti-trans bills over the past years, will likely enact it into law.

The bill requires all school employees, including teachers, to alert administrators if a student asks to be referred to by a different name or to be “addressed using a pronoun that does not correspond with the sex listed on the student’s official birth certificate.” The measure also allows parents to sue a school district if they believe the policy isn’t being carried out.

The sponsor of the House version of the bill, Rep. Mary Littleton (R), has framed the legislation as protecting “parental rights,” echoing language used by right-wing lawmakers to promote bills that target transgender youth across the country. Democrats in the state House chamber decried the bill’s passage, noting it will likely cause harm to marginalized students.

“These are the most vulnerable kids in our state who are just trying to make it out of middle school alive. And we are weaponizing their identities instead of actually passing bills that help Tennesseans,” Rep. Aftyn Behn (D) said.

Five states in the U.S. — North Dakota, Iowa, Indiana, Alabama and North Carolina — have enacted laws that require parental notification for trans kids who come out in school. Six other states have laws that “promote” schools to out transgender children to parents.

Such laws can have dire impacts on the mental health of trans students, and can even threaten their physical well-being if they are living in an abusive home, experts say.

“When a school does this, do they have an idea like who they’re potentially outing a student to? There is probably a reason why that youth has not come out to their parent at that time,” Stephanie Camacho-Van Dyke, Director of Advocacy and Education at the LGBTQ Center of Orange County in California, told Time in September. “It should be up to that young person to decide when they want to and when they’re ready to do so.”

Laws that require outing students also harm the teacher-pupil relationship, as students will view teachers as being untrustworthy.

“Students wouldn’t trust teachers anymore. You’re putting educators in a very, very bad position,” Emilly Osterling, a high school special education teacher in Wake County, North Carolina, told The Associated Press last year.

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