Tennessee Senate passes chilling bill that redefines sex and legally erases trans people

A person holds up a sign reading "trans rights are human rights" during a protest as lawmakers across the US including Texas and Tennessee file bills attacking LGBTQ+ rights

A “cruel” bill that would define trans people out of Tennessee state code has inched closer to reality after it passed through the Senate.

In the latest attack on LGBTQ+ rights in Tennessee, the state’s Republican-controlled Senate passed the SB 1440 bill on Monday (13 March) with a 27-6 vote. 

The insidious bill attempts to discriminate against LGBTQ+ Tennesseans by defining “sex” as a person’s “immutable biological sex as determined by anatomy and genetics existing at the time of birth and evidence of a person’s biological sex” throughout state code. 

The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) warned that SB 1440 could have a chilling impact on Tennessee’s LGBTQ+ community as it could prevent them from being covered by state nondiscrimination laws. 

Sarah Warbelow, legal director for the HRC, condemned “extremist” lawmakers in the Tennessee Senate for continuing their “assault of LGBTQ+ Tennesseeans’ ability to live their lives openly and honestly”. 

“This is their latest cruel attempt to stigmatise, marginalise and erase the LGBTQ+ community, particularly transgender Tennesseans,” Warbelow said. 

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“Let’s be clear: the goal of this bill is to exclude the LGBTQ+ community from nondiscrimination protections in the state of Tennessee and to perpetuate a false narrative of who transgender people are.”

SB 1440 will now make its way through the Tennessee House, which also has a Republican majority so it is likely the bill would pass. If it passes through the House, it will land on Republican governor Bill Lee’s desk to be signed into law. 

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A person wearing a white face mask holds up a sign reading "hate not welcome here!" during a protest in support of the LGBTQ+ community and trans people
Over 410 anti-LGBTQ+ bills have been filed in the US thus far in 2023, and the HRC said a large number directly target the trans community. (Getty)

The Tennessee governor signed a bill that will prevent trans youth from accessing life-saving, gender-affirming healthcare in the state on 2 March. The law takes effect on 1 July.

On the same day, Tennessee became the first state in the US to ban drag performances in public places where a minor might see them. 

Memphis-based drag queen Bella DuBalle told PinkNews that the state’s drag community is “fearful” and “angry” after the ban was signed into law, but she said they won’t stop fighting as “revolution must be upheld”. 

“It’s not a coincidence that all of these things are coming after the entire LGBTQ+ community en masse,” she says.

“It’s a concerted attack against all of us, and it’s going to take all of us together fighting back to overcome it.”

The new law came amid attacks by Republicans on the rights of trans and LGBTQ+ people across the US. According to the HRC, there have been more than 410 anti-LGBTQ+ bills introduced in statehouses across the US in the first few months of 2023. 

Approximately 180 of those bills would target the trans community – the highest number of anti-trans bills in a single year since the HRC began tracking. 

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