By Valerie Guenst, Special to Viewpoint
All Tennessee children, regardless of their gender identity or medical conditions, should be treated with compassion and equally under the law, which is why I am so disappointed that the Tennessee legislature has resurrected the misguided and harmful bills SB 2387 and HB 2414.
This legislation discriminates against transgender students by stopping them from using the restroom or locker room that corresponds to who they are — that matches their gender — and does nothing to increase safety in our public schools.
Last Tuesday, I accompanied my 17-year-old daughter downtown to testify against this bill. All kinds of worries and thoughts were running through my head. I wanted to be there to support my brave daughter and I also wanted to make sure lawmakers understood the harmful and dangerous consequences of this legislation.
As we were called to the podium I felt compelled to speak even though I had nothing prepared. Standing beside my attractive and feminine daughter, I blurted out our reality.
My daughter is transgender. From age 2 or 3, her friends were girls. Her favorite color was pink. She loved fashion and perfume. By third grade, she expressed to her brother that she needed to be a girl. I remember stopping everything to talk with her. I told her with confidence, “Lots of people feel that way. We can get help for that.” However, inside I was crying and unsure if I could deliver on my promise. I made sure she understood that she had value as a person and should never live a lie.
Later that night, I tossed and turned knowing that I couldn’t make my child someone she wasn’t. As a mother, I could only help her be the best person she could be.
Today, I am so proud of who she is and the courage she has. She’s a role model for the transgender community. She lives her life with integrity, kindness and compassion.
I was so proud to stand next to her on Tuesday as she told her story to state lawmakers. We left the committee room feeling that we had made an impact. We were told that the bill was sent to summer study and essentially killed. Our voices were heard — my beautiful daughter’s voice was heard.
Unfortunately, that feeling was short lived. The next day we found out the bill would be reconsidered by the House Education Committee via a procedural maneuver by its sponsor. That same day the Senate Education Committee voted in favor of the bill.
This is a mistake and lawmakers should reverse course.
I know that understanding what it is like to be transgender can be hard, especially if you have never met a transgender person.
But refusing to allow transgender students to use the facilities that correspond with their gender identity violates federal anti-discrimination law and puts Tennessee and local school districts at risk for expensive lawsuits.
Treating students differently based on gender identity is harmful and counter to the mission of educational institutions. Tennessee is better than this. On behalf of my family, we urge Tennessee lawmakers to kill this harmful bill.
Valerie Guenst of Nashville is the mother of three children and an adjunct assistant professor of biomedical engineering at Vanderbilt University.