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Tennessee Advances Bill Legally Defining Gender Identity

Holland McKinnie
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Tennessee lawmakers are working on legislation that would prevent transgender persons from changing their driver’s licenses and birth certificates to reflect a different gender preference, citing religious and moral justifications for the move. The bill being debated would define legal gender identity based on a person’s anatomy at birth. 

By moving forward with the legislation, the state would find itself in conflict with federal rules, potentially costing the state millions of dollars in federal funding. LGBTQ advocates argue that having official documents that match a person’s identity is important for avoiding harassment and discrimination.

The bill’s sponsor, Republican state Rep. Gino Bulso, dismissed concerns about the fiscal impact, saying that the state should do what’s right regardless of cost. However, legislative officials tasked with calculating the fiscal impact of bills have warned that the legislation could open the state to “civil litigation and could jeopardize federal funding.” The potential loss of federal funding could include $1.2 billion of federal education funding and $750,000 of federal grants dedicated to helping women and children.

Transgender individuals testified against the bill, arguing that it would effectively sentence them to purgatory. They noted there is no formal definition of transgender persons or statement of their status in the Tennessee code. Medical experts called by Democrats also said that at birth, external genital anatomy can be ambiguous due to differences in sex development or intersex conditions, which affect about 1% of the population.

Other Republican-led states, including Kansas, Texas, and Oklahoma, have also proposed similar legislation. 

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee (R) has not publicly stated whether he supports the bill. However, he has previously indicated his support for other bills regulating transgenderism’s impacts on children, including a ban on genital mutilation surgery on minors and a bill limiting where drag shows can occur.

The proposed Tennessee legislation has cleared a House legislative committee. Still, it faces several hurdles in both chambers before becoming law. The debate over the bill highlights the ongoing tensions between LGBTQ rights that have become popular in recent years and traditional American religious and moral beliefs. 


State Rep. Rusty Grills said of the new bill: “God created man, He created woman. He put them in this world to procreate and replenish the world, and when we continue to spit in the face of God as a nation, we’re going in the wrong direction.”