Wednesday, June 23, 2021

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — After signing two bills into law targeting transgender people over the past week, Tennessee’s Gov. Bill Lee has approved legislation that bans gender-confirming treatment for young minors despite objections that the series of bills unfairly discriminate against an already vulnerable population.

The move makes Tennessee just the second state in the United States to enact such a ban after Arkansas approved a similar version earlier this year over a veto from Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson.

Tennessee’s version, which goes into effect immediately, is slightly different. Under the new law, doctors would be banned from providing gender-confirming hormone treatment to prepubescent minors. Arkansas’ ban applies to anyone under the age of 18 and also specifically bans doctors from providing gender-confirming surgery.

READ MORE: U.S. restores transgender health protections, reversing Trump policy

It’s unclear how many will be affected by the new law. Advocates argue that no doctor in Tennessee is currently providing hormone therapy to youths before they enter puberty. Meanwhile, the Endocrine Society also does not recommend offering puberty blockers or hormone treatments until children reach puberty.

However, with Lee signing off on the legislation, Tennessee continued its streak of being on the front lines of Republican statehouses across the country targeting the LGBTQ community through legislation. Only Texas has filed more anti-LGBTQ proposals this year than Tennessee.

Lee, who is up for reelection next year, quietly signed the measure on Tuesday without commenting on why he approved of the contentious legislation. Such bans have been opposed by several medical and child welfare groups, including the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Medical Association.

Just a day earlier, the first-term Republican governor signed off on legislation that would require businesses and government facilities open to the public to post a sign if they let transgender people use multiperson bathrooms, locker rooms or changing rooms associated with their gender identity. The law, which goes into effect July 1, is the first of its kind to be signed.

In a statement, American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee Executive Director Hedy Weinberg said the group is “prepared to challenge” the bathroom sign requirement in court, and asked businesses affected by it to contact the organization.

Lee also signed legislation late last week that puts public schools and their districts at risk of losing civil lawsuits if they let transgender students or employees use multiperson bathrooms or locker rooms that do not reflect their sex at birth. It was the first bill restricting bathroom use by transgender people signed in any state in about five years, according to the Human Rights Campaign.

Additionally this year, Lee approved banning transgender athletes from playing girls public high school sports or middle school sports after declaring that allowing transgender girls to participate would “destroy women’s sports.”

Lee then signed legislation to require school districts to alert parents 30 days in advance before students are taught about sexual orientation or gender identity, which includes allowing parents to opt their student out of the lesson.

READ MORE: New poll shows Americans overwhelmingly oppose anti-transgender laws

The Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBTQ rights group, said Wednesday that Lee has made Tennessee “a pioneer in anti-transgender discrimination” due to his signing the slate of bills targeting transgender people.

“If lawmakers really care about the best interests of trans youth, they would focus on improving access to quality health care instead of playing doctor themselves,” said Alphonso David, president of Human Rights Campaign, in a statement. “Patients, parents and health care providers should be guided by science and medical best practices rather when seeking treatments, not the whims of the state legislators.”

Nationally, the group said more than 20 anti-LGBTQ bills have been enacted into law this year.

Jonathan Mattise in Nashville contributed to this report.

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