Lee completed the final step in the passage of the legislation just one day after Arkansas’s governor signed a similar bill. That makes the Volunteer State the third state in the nation to sign such a measure this year.
“I signed the bill to preserve women’s athletics and ensure fair competition. This legislation responds to damaging federal policies that stand in opposition to the years of progress made under Title IX and I commend members of the General Assembly for their bipartisan work,” Lee said in a statement on March 26.
A coalition of Republican-led states has introduced or enacted similar measures that seek to protect female athletes, who are likely to have a biological disadvantage if forced to compete against male-born students. Mississippi was the first state this year to enact the law.
Meanwhile, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, who initially had said she would sign a similar bill, has sent the law back to the legislature over what she said were unrealistic requirements “in the context of collegiate athletics.” Noem has since been criticized for not approving her state’s version of the bill in its current form.
Tennessee’s lawmakers have justified passing the transgender sports legislation, known as Senate Bill 228 (pdf), by acknowledging the inherent biological differences between male and female student-athletes. They declared in the bill that allowing boys to compete in girls’ athletic competitions would discriminate against girls, as the boys could displace girls in competitive events and opportunities to compete at higher levels.
Tennessee’s law only applies to students participating in a public middle school or high school interscholastic athletic activity. At the time of the event, a student must prove her gender at birth.
The passage of the law comes amid opposition from LGBTQIA+ rights and civil rights groups. The Tennessee chapter of the left-leaning civil rights advocacy group American Civil Liberties Union indicated that they’ll challenge the law in court.
“Governor, our trans youth have a right to live full lives—just like everyone else—and we will continue to fight for them. We will see you in court,” the organization said in a statement.
Similar laws in other states have been challenged in federal court. A federal judge last year blocked Idaho from enforcing its version of transgender sports legislation that barred transgender student-athletes from competing in women’s and girls’ sports. The legal challenge has since been appealed in the 9th Circuit Court and a hearing for oral arguments has been scheduled for May 3.