Tennessee lawmakers OK bill penalizing adults who help minors receive gender-affirming care

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee’s GOP−controlled Statehouse on Thursday gave their final approval to legislation penalizing adults who help minors receive gender−affirming care without parental consent, clearing the way for the first−in−the−nation proposal to be sent to Gov. Bill Lee’s desk for his signature.

The bill mirrors almost the same language from a so−called anti−abortion trafficking proposal Tennessee Republican lawmakers approved just a day prior. In that version, supporters are hoping to stop adults from helping young people obtain abortions without permission from their parents or guardians.

Lee, a Republican, hasn’t publicly commented on either bill, but supporters are confident he will sign them into law. Lee eagerly approved a sweeping abortion ban and a ban on gender−affirming care for children. He has also never issued a veto during his time as governor.

While the Republican supermajority touted the proposed statutes as necessary to protect parental rights, critics warned about the possible broad application. Violations could range from talking to an adolescent about a website on where to find care to helping that young person travel to another state with looser restrictions on gender−affirming care services.

The original bill included criminal penalties, but supporters agreed to civil penalties for violators.

“This is a parent’s rights bill, nothing more, nothing less,” Republican Rep. Bryan Richey, the bill’s sponsor, said during House debate earlier this week. “At the end of the day, parents should have final say what medical procedures their children are receiving, and nobody else.”

The Human Rights Campaign says Tennessee has enacted more anti−LGBTQ+ laws more than any other state since 2015, identifying more than 20 bills that advanced out of the Legislature over the past few months.

That included sending Gov. Lee a bill banning the spending of state money on hormone therapy or sex reassignment procedures for prisoners — though it would not apply to state inmates currently receiving hormone therapy — and requiring public school employees to out transgender students to their parents.

Republicans in the state also passed a measure that would let LGBTQ+ foster children be placed with families that hold anti−LGBTQ+ beliefs. Lee signed it into law this month.

"Tennessee lawmakers are on the verge of enacting more than twice as many anti−LGBTQ+ laws as any other state, a staggering assault on their own constituents,” Cathryn Oakley, senior director of legal policy at the Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement.

To date, no state has placed restrictions on helping young people receive gender−affirming care, despite the recent push among more than 20 Republican−led states — including Tennessee — to ban such care for most minors.

Instead some Democratic−led states have been pushing to shield health care providers if they provide services that are banned in a patient’s home state. Most recently Maine’s Democratic governor signed a bill Wednesday protecting providers of abortion and gender−affirming care from legal action brought by other states.

The proposal has created a disagreement between Maine Attorney General Aaron Frey and attorneys general in several other states, including Tennessee. The other states have warned of legal action over the law; Frey dismissed such threats as “meritless.”

Kimberlee Kruesi, The Associated Press

Photo: AP