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Civil rights group sues Tennessee over transgender sports ban

3 states ban transgender athletes from sports
3 states ban transgender athletes from sports... 09:49

Tennessee LGBTQ+ civil rights groups filed a lawsuit Thursday against the state's controversial transgender sports ban. The suit, filed by Lambda Legal, the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Tennessee on behalf of transgender 14-year-old Luc Esquivel, argues that banning transgender students from their desired sports teams is unconstitutional and discriminatory. 

The suit argues that preventing transgender children from playing on sports teams that align with their gender identity encourages bullying in schools, denies transgender children the benefits of participating in sports and ultimately acts as "a solution in search of a problem" that does not exist. 

"For some transgender students, being required to play on a team that does not match their gender identity would have the additional consequence of revealing private medical information, as not all students who are transgender are known to be transgender by their peers," the suit reads. 

"I was really looking forward to trying out for the boys' golf team and, if I made it, training and competing with and learning from other boys and improving my game," Esquivel said in a press release Thursday. "Then, to have the legislature pass a law that singled out me and kids like me to keep us from being part of a team, that crushed me, it hurt very much. I just want to play, like any other kid."

The ban, which was signed into law by Governor Bill Lee, was touted as a way to preserve fairness in women's sports. 

"I signed the bill to preserve women's athletics and ensure fair competition," Lee tweeted in March. "This legislation responds to damaging federal policies that stand in opposition to the years of progress made under Title IX and I commend members of the General Assembly for their bipartisan work."

But the bill requires schools to make both female and male transgender athletes play on teams that match their gender assigned at birth, something opponents say is discriminatory and unfairly targets transgender or gender non-conforming athletes. 

The law is part of a larger, nationwide trend in state legislation to prevent transgender participation on school sports teams. Over 27 states have proposed bills or laws that would stop teens from playing on sports teams that match gender identity. 

For Esquivel, a freshman at Farragut High School in Knoxville, Tennessee, the bill prevents him from joining the school golf team, something his mother says is "heartbreaking" and "painful" to see. 

"There is endless research demonstrating the short-term and long-term benefits that flow from participating in team sports for kids growing up," Sasha Buchert, a senior attorney at Lambda Legal, said in the press release. "For trans kids, who often experience alienation and stigmatization, participating on teams with their peers is especially important. Luc just wants to play golf with other boys, to be part of the team, and to improve his game. Like all kids, he just wants to play."

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