ACLU challenges Tennessee law over transgender bathroom warning signs

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Tennessee is facing a lawsuit from local business owners challenging a law requiring public places to post warning signs outside of restrooms about both sexes using the facilities, claiming the requirement stigmatizes transgender people.

Business owners, including restaurants, coffee shops and an entertainment venue, filed a federal lawsuit on Friday arguing the recently enacted state law violates the First Amendment.

“Forcing plaintiffs to display a government-mandated warning notice with which they disagree … violates the plaintiff’s First Amendment right against compelled speech,” reads the 19-page complaint. 

A spokesman for Tennessee Fire Marshal Carter Lawrence, the named defendant, declined to comment on the lawsuit, citing the ongoing litigation. 

Under the new statute which goes into effect Thursday, a sign must be posted outside restrooms where transgender individuals may be present, reading: “This facility maintains a policy of allowing the use of restrooms by either biological sex, regardless of the designation on the restroom.”

If a business owner doesn’t display the sign, he or she could be punished with six months in jail and a $500 fine. 

Tennessee state Rep. Tim Rudd sponsored the law and said it was aimed to protect children and women from people who may take advantage of policies allowing the opposite sex to enter group restrooms and locker rooms, according to the court filing. 

The businesses are asking the court to rule that the law runs afoul of the Constitution and halt its enforcement. 

“Forcing businesses to display a stigmatizing message for political expedience is unconstitutional,” said Hedy Weinberg, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee, which is representing the businesses. “By targeting the transgender community, these government-mandated signs marginalize and endanger transgender individuals.”

Since March, there have been about half a dozen new laws implemented in the Volunteer State that involve the rights of transgender individuals and biological women.

One law bans trans athletes competing in women’s sports, while another allows individuals to sue a school if they are in the same bathroom with a transgender individual, reasoning that schools should offer transgenders a single-person restroom option.
And in May, the governor signed a bill that bans transgender minors from receiving gender-affirming medical treatment.

Tennessee also requires parents to be given 30 days’ notice when a school district plans to teach students about gender identity or sexual orientation. That legislation was enacted in April.

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