Universities

Tennessee lawmaker calls on universities to drop LGBTQ+ policies

By Sam Stockard | NASHVILLE — The House Chairman of the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Government Operations is unilaterally ordering state universities to suspend any policies making LGBTQ students a protected class in federal litigation.

In a letter to East Tennessee State University President Brian Noland, State Representative John Ragan informed the university that because a federal court had barred the U.S. Department of Education from implementing the Biden administration’s guidelines, colleges and universities in Tennessee could violate state law if they follow the guidelines.

The Oak Ridge Republican advised the East Tennessee State President “to revoke and/or immediately remove all postings, policies, and website entries for which your institution is responsible that state or imply that LGBTQI students + are a protected class under Title IX”.

Noland is requested to notify Ragan’s office by September 2 that all “required actions” have been completed.

Rep.  John Ragan, R-Oak Ridge, center, with Sen. Kerry Roberts, R-Springfield, right.  (Photo: John Partipilo)
Rep. John Ragan, R-Oak Ridge, center, with Sen. Kerry Roberts, R-Springfield, right. (Photo: John Partipilo)

ETSU spokeswoman Jess Vodden said Monday that the university’s legal team was reviewing the letter and had yet to respond.

Chris Sanders, executive director of the Tennessee Equality Project, an LGBTQ advocacy group, acknowledged on Monday that Biden rule had been temporarily suspended, but stressed that Ragan lacks the power to “micromanage” a university.

“For Rep. Ragan to teach one of our public universities what to do is not his job. His job is to make state laws,” Sanders said. “It is not surprising that he has this point of view. It says so clearly in its legislation. We know he is prejudiced against the LGBT community.

Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery is also leading a group of state attorneys general nationwide to overturn federal guidelines, filing suit in federal court in East Tennessee.

U.S. District Court Judge Charles Atchley in eastern Tennessee reportedly issued an order in late July saying the federal guidelines ‘directly interfere with and threaten the ability of the requesting states to continue to enforce their laws of State” restricting transgender athletic competition and the use of restrooms that match students’ gender identity. .

Sanders speculated that by getting involved, Slatery could try to curry favor with lawmakers and push back against legislation to make the attorney general’s position a legislative appointment rather than one for the Tennessee Supreme Court. Slatery is expected to retire and will be replaced Thursday by Jonathan Skrmetti.

In his letter, Ragan notes that the federal government has “reprimanded” universities, telling them that LGBTQ students must be granted protection under Title IX of federal law or funding may be withdrawn. The councils have forced universities to rush to adopt new policies, Ragan claims.

Yet because the federal court ruled that the U.S. Department of Education could not implement its guidelines, Tennessee universities cannot be penalized for ignoring the letter, a situation that remains in place unless ‘a higher court does not lift the injunction,’ Ragan’s letter states. .

“As a result, college and university publications, policies, and websites have no legal authority or obligation to state or imply that LGBTQI+ is a protected class under Title IX. June 23, 2021 letter from the U.S. Department of Education is not appropriate. In fact, based on the court’s decision, it could be construed as a violation of state law,” Ragan’s letter reads.

State Representative Vincent Dixie, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, lambasted Ragan’s letter.

For Rep. Ragan to ask one of our public universities what to do is not his job. His job is to make the laws of the state. It is not surprising that he has this view. It says so clearly in its legislation. We know he is prejudiced against the LGBT community.– Chris Sanders, Tennessee Equality Project

“I think it’s ridiculous that for some reason Rep. Ragan has a personal vendetta against the LGBTQ community,” Dixie said. “…If the feds say this is what they deserve and this is the law of the land, then we have to comply. Tennessee is not its own country. We are a state within the United States.

Dixie pointed out that although the federal court suspended the rule, the case is not settled and it is premature to send a letter to the universities.

The Tennessee attorney general’s office declined to comment on the matter on Monday. But in leading the 20-state federal challenge, its lawsuit claims the Department of Education and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, “each flouting procedural requirements in their rush to go too far , have issued ‘interpretations’ of federal anti-discrimination law far beyond what the statutory text, regulatory requirements, judicial precedent and the Constitution permit.

The state argues that a U.S. Supreme Court decision in Bostock v. Clayton County, the case cited by the Biden administration in making its order, was a “narrow decision” in that the court determined that firing an employee “simply because they were gay or transgender” constitutes discrimination “on the basis of sex” under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. He claims that the federal government misinterpreted the prohibition of discrimination “on the basis of sex” in Title IX to include sexual orientation or gender identity, even though the law “expressly permits sex separation on the basis of biological sex. …”

The filing claims that the Department of Education “compounded this misinterpretation by issuing additional guidance in a ‘fact sheet’ that also ignores the plain text of Title IX. Among other things, the guidelines warn that the Department may initiate an investigation if a school prevents a student from joining a sports team or using the restroom that matches the student’s gender identity, or if a student’s peers refuse to use the student’s preferred pronouns ‘student. “

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Sam Stockard is a veteran reporter and editor from Tennessee, having written for the Daily News Journal in Murfreesboro, where he served as editor when the paper won the state’s Best Sunday Newspaper award two years in a row. . He ran the Capitol Hill bureau for The Daily Memphian. Its awards include Best Single Editorial from the Tennessee Press Association.

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The preceding article was normally published by Tennessee Lookout and is republished by with permission.

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