The first, openly-gay Republican elected to the Tennessee General Assembly has written a letter to colleagues urging them not to support legislation that would ban trans participation in school sports.
Knoxville Rep. Eddie Mannis was elected to represent Tennessee’s 18th District last November. The Tennessee House and Senate are dominated by GOP lawmakers.
The House is currently considering SB228/HB3. The legislation would restrict young people to compete in school sports according to the sex they were assigned at birth.
The legislation makes no exception for trans students receiving gender-affirming care, such as hormone blockers.
Mannis wrote a letter to his colleagues on the House Education Administration Committee on Monday. He released the letter yesterday to the media.
In it, he says, “As we strive to represent ALL of our students, this legislation could very well marginalize a percentage of our kids and have a tremendous impact on them both physically and mentally,” he wrote.
“I trust that you will extend grace and mercy to the circumstance that none of us may totally understand and remember that we are here to represent all our kids … that includes those who may be suffering silently but have the access and right to participate and enjoy the same activities as their classmates.”
He goes on to say that if passed, “This issue will be divisive and will be used against us in general elections for years to come, and likely lead to costly legal battle in the courts.”
Mannis points to the high incidence of trans teens attempting suicide as one of the main factors behind his reasoning.
“Research has shown that nationally, 65% to 75% of transgender adolescents think about suicide and 15% to 30% make a suicide attempt,” Mannis said. “In contrast, roughly 17% nontransgender adolescents have reported thinking about suicide and 7.4% make an attempt.”
He also said such legislation might dissuade some employers from establishing businesses in the state.
In a Facebook post that reprinted the letter, Mannis said his decision to send it, “was not made in haste.”
Besides attempting to curb the levels of teen suicide, he also suggested that this was not a pressing issue that needed addressing as he didn’t know of any trans athletes competing in Tennessee schools.
“My challenge with this bill is that the issue currently does not exist in our state. And if so, there is no documented scenarios. I don’t disagree that it may not be the best idea for boys to play on girls’ teams. My issue is that transgenders, that have gone through transition therapy, should be exempt from this status.”
He concluded, “I respect the tough decisions of my colleagues in the General Assembly. At the end of the day we must be brave enough to make our own individual decisions and for that, I will have no regret.”
Despite Mannis’ letter, the legislation cleared both the Senate Education Committee and the House Education Administration Committee on Wednesday and will now head to debate on the House and Senate floor.
ACLU Tennessee was among the advocacy groups to blast the legislation’s progress.
“Today Tennessee lawmakers voted to advance a harmful and unconstitutional bill that discriminates against transgender children by barring them from participating in the school sports that they love,” said Chase Strangio, deputy director for Trans Justice,with the ACLU LGBT & HIV Project, said in a statement Wednesday night.
“Without a single example of a Tennessee student facing any harm, lawmakers still insist on leveraging these misguided attacks on some of the most vulnerable youth in the state.”
Similar legislation was passed in Idaho last year but was blocked by a federal judge and is now subject to court wranglings.
Tennessee GOP Lt. Gov. Randy McNally has given the legislation only a lukewarm reception, and also said his colleagues should “move with caution.” Governor Bill Lee (Republican) has previously voiced the belief that trans athletes would “destroy women´s sports”, but has not yet promised he would sign the bill if it reaches his desk.
Eddie Mannis is a businessman who established a successful dry-cleaning business, Prestige Cleaners, in the mid-80s. Before his election to the House, he was Deputy Mayor for Knoxville and unsuccessfully stood to be Mayor in 2019. He was one of two openly LGBTQ lawmakers to enter the House in 2021: the other being Democratic, Memphis Rep. Torrey Harris.