April 18, 2016

CONTACT: Lindsay Kee, ACLU-TN communications director, (615) 320-7142

NASHVILLE – Tennessee transgender students and their families delivered petitions today with more than 67,000 signatures on them urging Tennessee lawmakers not to pass legislation that prohibits transgender students from accessing restrooms and other sex-segregated facilities that correspond with their gender identity.

Two Tennessee public high school students, Henry Seaton and Jennifer Guenst, delivered the petitions to the governor’s office, along with a series of postcards that included personal messages from Tennesseans across the state opposing the legislation. Nearly 6,000 of the signers self-identified as clergy or people of faith when signing.

The students were joined by representatives from the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee, the Tennessee Equality Project, the Tennessee Transgender Political Coalition, and the Human Rights Campaign. Believe Out Loud and the Religious Institute also collected petition signatures.

“I’m a boy – I live my life as a boy, my friends know me as a boy, my parents accept me as a boy. I shouldn’t have to use the teacher’s bathroom because some politicians feel uncomfortable with who I am,” said Tennessee public high school senior Henry Seaton. “This drastic bill would legalize bullying and stigmatize and humiliate transgender students like me. That’s not what laws should do. Personally, I think our elected officials should spend their time making sure that every student can be safe and feel welcome.”

“I appreciate that I attend a school that does not treat me like a second class citizen, try to segregate me, or invade my privacy like this bill tries to make schools do,” said Tennessee public high school student Jennifer Guenst. “I have been a public school student for two years and haven’t had any issues using the same restroom as other students – it’s this bill that would create a lot of problems for me and my friends. It means a lot to me to be carrying this message of opposition from thousands of people to lawmakers.”

“The signers of these petitions represent Tennesseans of all walks of life who recognize that the bathroom bill is dangerous,” said Dr. Marisa Richmond, lobbyist for the Tennessee Transgender Political Coalition. “They do not want to make life more difficult for transgender students who are trying to get an education. The thousands of Tennesseans whose signatures we deliver here today know that this legislation is bad for Tennesseans and bad for Tennessee.”

“Today’s petition supports the governor’s statement that he has heard from many more people who oppose this discriminatory and harmful bill than support it. Henry and Jennifer’s courage and willingness to meet with lawmakers and share how this measure would hurt them personally has sent a clear message: In addition to its significant financial ramifications, this measure would have a devastating impact on young people in our state,” said Hedy Weinberg, ACLU-TN executive director. “Across the country people are watching Tennessee in the hopes that lawmakers put an end to this bill.”

Governor Bill Haslam told reporters last week that he has not heard that bathroom use requires legislative action, nor has he heard from school districts or from parents that bathroom use is a problem in schools. He has also expressed concerns about loss of federal funding from this legislation.

Photos of the petition delivery are available here.