To the relief of transgender Tennesseeans and their supporters, a federal judge last week struck down a state law that required businesses and other entities that allow transgender people to use the public restroom that matches their gender to post a government-prescribed warning sign.
Shannon Brown, founder and owner of Psychotherapy & Forensic Services LLC in Maryville, said the very idea of trying to police someone’s gender is “absurd” and discriminatory.
“Bathrooms are not the issue,” Brown said. “Transgender, nonbinary, and intersex people are not the issue. Being LGBTQ+ is not the issue. The danger with bathrooms has always been germs. The greater danger exists when people don’t wash their hands.”
If the law had gone into effect, any business that allowed transgender and intersex people to use the restroom that most aligns with who they are would be forced to post signs with the word “NOTICE” in yellow on a red background at the top, followed by text stating, “THIS FACILITY MAINTAINS A POLICY OF ALLOWING THE USE OF RESTROOMS BY EITHER BIOLOGICAL SEX, REGARDLESS OF THE DESIGNATION ON THE RESTROOM,” or face criminal charges.
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Bob Bernstein and his restaurant Fido, who objected to the stigmatizing message that would have been required by this law. The Nashville eatery has informal policies that allow customers to determine which restroom is appropriate for them and has not had any complaints or concerns about their restroom policies.
“As a former journalist, I believe strongly in free speech,” said Bernstein. “The government can’t just force people to post discriminatory, inaccurate, and divisive signs in their places of business. I am glad that the court recognized that this law violates the First Amendment.”
On July 9, 2021, the court granted a preliminary injunction blocking the law from going into effect, and last week’s ruling will be the law unless Bernstein’s legal adversaries successfully appeal the decision.
“Transgender Tennesseans are real,” the decision concluded. “The businesses and establishments that wish to welcome them are real. And the viewpoints that those individuals and businesses hold are real, even if they differ from the views of some legislators or government officials.”
Attorneys for the defendants didn’t return phone calls seeking comments on the ruling or whether they plan to appeal. Representative Tim Rudd of Murphreesboro, author of the law, also did not return calls seeking comment.
According to Brown, the belief that LGBTQ individuals are sexual predators is a particularly damaging— and clearly false — myth.
“There is an unfounded myth that transgender, nonbinary, and/or intersex individuals are sex predators in bathrooms. The reality is that sexual predators have a mental health disorder called Pedophilic Disorder, which is a type of paraphilia. Being transgender, nonbinary, and/or intersex is not a mental health disorder. Those with Pedophilic Disorder are more commonly (heterosexual) males,” Brown continued.
“Various law enforcement and other official agencies from across the United States (according to a variety of resources) have pointed out that states with protections in place for transgender, nonbinary, and intersex (as well as other LGBTQ+) people have not reported any bathroom assaults. What is sadly true is that transgender, nonbinary, and/or intersex persons are more likely to be assaulted in bathrooms while doing what the rest of us are doing — trying to discreetly use the restroom and wash our hands (hopefully).” Brown reported.
“Policing bodies creates mental health issues for everyone. There’s nothing that justifies these types of human rights violations. These laws are based solely on the misguided belief that what is perceived to be different, should be feared,” according to Brown. “Criminalizing contributing members of society sabotages the good that is proclaimed in our Bill of Rights. The victory is clear: trying to pass discriminatory laws such as this one is wrong. Erasing these egregious efforts to oppress our LGBTQ+ people allows us to return our attention to a very real danger: germs.”
James Stewart, creator of “The Devil Came Knocking,” a true crime podcast currently covering the 1997 Lillelid family murders in Greene County, described the law as a distraction from far more dangerous social problems.
“With a state that has one of the highest incarceration rates in the world and a state with the third highest overdose rate in the country, we have much bigger concerns than where transgender people are using the bathroom. The bigotry in this area never ceases to amaze me. Tennessee will always come out to hate but do nothing to better their communities. I am 36 and half my graduating class is dead or in prison. We are losing whole generations while we argue over abortion, guns, and bathrooms,” Stewart said.
“We applaud the court for recognizing that this law violates the First Amendment and harms transgender people,” said Hedy Weinberg, the ACLU of Tennessee’s executive director. “Transgender individuals should be able to live their lives free of harassment and discrimination. Today’s decision ensures that the businesses who welcome them are not forced to become instruments for politicians’ discrimination.”
Jennifer Stambaugh can be reached at email@example.com.
Published on May 26, 2022.