On August 22, Tennessee State Representative John Ragan sent a letter at several Tennessee universities where he advised them to remove any policy indicating that LGBTQIA+ students are a protected class under Title IX.
The most notable recipient of the letter was East Tennessee State University President Brian Noland. In a September 2 public statement, the university said its Title IX protections would remain in effect.
This decision follows a document the US Department of Education released new regulations to protect LGBTQIA+ students, particularly from discrimination based on a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity.
The directive follows a decision by the United States Supreme Court in Bostock v. County of Clayton. The court case, decided in 2020, expanded Title IX protections and said an individual’s “homosexuality or transgender status is not relevant to employment decisions.”
As a result of this court case, the Biden administration decided to release the document which reinterpreted Title IX by stating that sex discrimination includes discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
Attorney General of Tennessee, Herbert Slatery filed a complaint seeking to stop the directive. According to that lawsuit, which was filed in a 20-state coalition, the order usurped “authority that properly belongs to Congress, the states, and the people.”
According to the court document, “the plaintiffs have identified a conflict between the defendants’ guidelines and what their national laws require.” The referenced state laws specifically reference two laws regarding transgender students and their rights to identify.
A Tennessee bill prohibits “male students” from participating in female-only varsity sports. Another one schools are put at risk of being sued if they allow transgender people in restrooms or locker rooms.
University of Tennessee President Randy Boyd responded to Ragan by stating that no policies were changed in response to the Department of Education’s letter, and he does not believe Title IX policies of the university violates state or federal law.
Donna Braquet, a librarian at UT, is currently teaching a freshman studies seminar on queer history. She believed that this decision set a bad precedent for the restriction or removal of other rights.
“I think the fact that we have a member of our state legislature calling for the rollback of federal protection — how can that not make the university unsafe?” Braquet said.
Along with this directive, UT also had to deal with class as “the most LGBTQIA+ student-unfriendly university in the country.” This headline comes from The Princeton Review and is based on student surveys.
Braquet has been an LGBTQIA+ rights advocate on the UT campus for over a decade and was a founding member of the Pride Center. The Pride Center provides resources for students who identify as LGBTQIA+ and has a checkered history on campus. It was vandalized and defunded in 2016.
Greer Henry, a junior at UT and resident assistant on campus, identifies as non-binary trans. They have dedicated time to fighting for LGBTQIA+ protections and queer housing. However, their experience as a queer student on campus left them vulnerable.
“Besides being literally dubbed in class and on Canvas…I’ve had a few instances of being like on the strip or in a POD market and someone called me the ‘F’ insult. That m Happened about three times now,” said Henri.
Henry didn’t take any of the things further or report the incidents.
“I don’t really feel like the university would care that much,” Henry said.