A federal judge on Tuesday struck down a Tennessee law that required some businesses to post signs outside their bathroom doors if they allow transgender or nonbinary people to use those that match their gender identity – a policy LGBTQ advocates charged was “offensive and humiliating” for members of the community and could lead to harassment.
US District Judge Aleta Trauger of the Middle District of Tennessee had temporarily halted the state from enforcing HB 1182 last July after it went into effect earlier that month. But Trauger, in a new ruling issued exactly a year after Republican Gov. Bill Lee signed the bill into law, said the measure was in clear violation of the US Constitution’s First Amendment protections.
“It would do a disservice to the First Amendment to judge the act for anything other than what it is: a brazen attempt to single out trans-inclusive establishments and force them to parrot a message that they reasonably believe would sow fear and misunderstanding about the very transgender Tennesseans whom those establishments are trying to provide with some semblance of a safe and welcoming environment,” Trauger wrote in her ruling.
“The act fails the constitutional standard that actually applies to it, and the inquiry should end there,” the judge added, referring to the fact that the law was examined using the “strict scrutiny” standard of judicial review, which requires acts by the government to be “narrowly tailored” and serve a “compelling government interest.”
The American Civil Liberties Union filed the lawsuit last June on behalf of business owners in Nashville and Chattanooga who allow customers to use their preferred restroom.
The law required businesses to post a notice, stating: “THIS FACILITY MAINTAINS A POLICY OF ALLOWING THE USE OF RESTROOMS BY EITHER BIOLOGICAL SEX, REGARDLESS OF THE DESIGNATION ON THE RESTROOM.” LGBTQ activists in the state said that the requirement would unduly harm trans people, who may feel targeted for using the restroom that matches their gender.