NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A day after the governor said transgender athletes would “destroy women’s sports,” Tennessee’s Senate GOP leaders on Thursday offered tepid support for legislation that would ban them from participating in girls’ sports.
“I think we need to adequately review the issue in committee and if it’s not occurring in Tennessee (we should) probably not address it,” Senate Speaker Randy McNally, a Republican from Oak Ridge, told reporters, flanked by the chamber’s other top leaders.
The comments add some uncertainty to the bill’s prospects one day after Republican Gov. Bill Lee entered the debate. He said transgender athletes would “destroy women’s sports” and stressed that transgender athletes would put “a glass ceiling back over women that hasn’t been there in some time.”
However, as the legislation is debated inside the GOP-dominant General Assembly, neither Lee nor legislative leaders have revealed how many transgender students are participating in public school sports in Tennessee — sparking criticism from opponents that prioritizing the proposal is offensive when the state continues to be wracked by the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to the bill, student athletes would be required to prove that the student’s sex matches the student’s “original” birth certificate in order to participate in public school sports. If a birth certificate is unavailable, then the parents must provide another form of evidence “indicating the student’s sex at the time of birth.”
The proposal has already made some early traction in the House but it remains unknown how far it will advance in the Senate after McNally’s remarks.
Like Lee, McNally also said he opposed transgender girls participating in girls sports but said he’s unsure it’s an issue that should be a top concern for the state.
“We need to move very carefully. I think probably that issue is best addressed on the local level and allow the locals to address that issue,” he said.
Senate GOP Caucus Chairman Ken Yager added that he expects questions on how widespread transgender athletes are currently participating in Tennessee’s middle and high schools when the bill is debated in a committee hearing.
In contrast, Republican House Speaker Cameron Sexton told reporters Thursday that the state should take a “proactive approach” regardless of whether transgender athletes were actually participating in middle and high school sports in Tennessee.
“Whether it is now or not, it could very well be in the future. You’ve seen national things happening,” Sexton said. “I think we’re being more proactive knowing that it could be a problem today or in the future.”
Sexton added that he believed the legislation is supported by his Republican caucus and that it will likely pass the House.
Currently, a similar 2020 Idaho law has been blocked by a federal judge as a lawsuit makes it way in court.