Cruel efforts to stop trans people accessing bathrooms struck down in Tennessee and Indiana

A bathroom sign with a smaller sign that reads "All genders welcome"

Judges in Indiana and Tennessee have struck down anti-trans bathroom measures.

A federal judge on Tuesday (17 May) struck down a Tennessee law that would have required businesses with trans-inclusive public bathrooms to post signs letting customers know they “maintain a policy of allowing the use of restrooms by either biological sex, regardless of the designation on the restroom”.

The vile measure was signed into law by Republican governor Bill Lee in March 2021. In June of that year, the ACLU filed a lawsuit on behalf of two Tennessee businesses which argued that the law violated their First Amendment rights.

In July 2021, US district judge Aleta A Trauger granted a preliminary injunction to effectively prevent Tennessee from enforcing the law as the lawsuit works through the courts.

Almost a year later, Trauger issued a new 40-page ruling that said the bathroom bill was in violation of the First Amendment as it compelled the business owners to “endorse a position they do not wish to endorse”. 

“It would do a disservice to the First Amendment to judge the Act for anything other than what it is: a brazen attempt to single out trans-inclusive establishments and force them to parrot a message that they reasonably believe would sow fear and misunderstanding about the very transgender Tennesseans whom those establishments are trying to provide with some semblance of a safe and welcoming environment,” Trauger wrote.

Bob Bernstein, the owner of Nashville restaurant Fido, was one of the plaintiffs in the Tennessee case and celebrated the judge’s ruling against the bathroom bill as a win for “free speech”

Henry Seaton, transgender justice advocate for the ACLU of Tennessee, was “thrilled” to see the court rule in support of trans and non-binary people. Seaton described the signage law as “simple cruelty” and hoped the trans community “feels relief and hope from this ruling”. 

A sign begins with large 'NOTICE' word written in yellow on a red background. The word on the sign reads: "This facility maintains a policy of allowing the use of restrooms by either biological sex, regardless of the designation on the restroom'. This sign would have been required to be on bathrooms of businesses in Tennessee

A federal judge criticised a Tennessee law for requiring businesses in the state to post a sign with a “cartoonishly alarmist colour scheme”. (ACLU)

Across the country, an Indiana judge ordered a middle school to allow a trans student to use the boys’ restroom

US district judge Tanya Walton Pratt issued a preliminary injunction on 29 April prohibiting the Metropolitan School District of Martinsville from barring a trans seventh-grader from using the boys’ bathroom at John R Wooden Middle School. 

The boy, who is referred to as AC, alleged in the lawsuit that he was told to use the school’s single-sex restroom located in the school’s medical clinic rather than any of the boys’ bathrooms. 

As a result, AC said he was “marked tardy several times” because of the distance of the restroom to his classes and experienced “anxiety, depression and stigmatisation”.

The ACLU of Indiana, who supported AC’s lawsuit, said that denying AC access to the boys’ restroom violated the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment and Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972.

Pratt ordered the middle school to grant AC access to the boys’ facilities while the legal battle continues, finding evidence showed that he would suffer “irreparable harm” otherwise.

The judge rejected the school district’s arguments that allowing the trans youth to use the boys’ bathrooms could infringe on the privacy of other students. Pratt said the school district provided “no evidence” to support its concerns.

Pratt added the concerns were further “undermined” as the school district had “already granted permission for other transgender students to use the restroom of their identified gender” and provided no evidence that there were “problems” before.

ACLU of Indiana attorney Stevie Pactor said the law is “clear” that “denying transgender students their right to use the correct restroom is discrimination”.