Bill Lee Agrees With Gov. Haslam That Transgender Bathroom Issue Does Not Need Leadership From the State

Bill Lee

Governor Haslam and Bill Lee propose the same approach to the use of school bathrooms and locker rooms by students whose choice of gender and anatomy may not match. Both Haslam and Lee have said that this issue does not require leadership from the state but instead, should be problem-solved at the local level.

Shortly after a May 2016, “dear colleague” letter was issued by the Obama Department of Education advising school districts to protect access by students to bathrooms and locker rooms “consistent with their gender identity” or risk violating federal law and jeopardizing federal funds, Haslam issued the following statement:

The White House itself has said what they issued last week is not an enforcement action and does not make any additional requirements under the law. Congress has the authority to write the law, not the executive branch, and we disagree with the heavy-handed approach the Obama administration is taking. Decisions on sensitive issues such as these should continue to be made at the local level based on the unique needs of students, families, schools and districts while working closely with the local school board counsel, understanding that this is an emerging area of law that will ultimately be settled by the courts.

The first Tennessee bathroom bill filed in 2016, requiring students to use bathrooms and locker rooms consistent with the sex indicated on their original birth certificate, was withdrawn after Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery opined that the bill would jeopardize federal funding and result in the state being sued for discriminating against individuals identifying as transgender.

The Family Action Council of Tennessee (FACT), a proponent of the bill noted the “consistent opposition from the governor’s office and others.”

A 2017 video posted of Bill Lee’s answer to a question about his position on state action on the transgender bathroom issue shows his position is consistent with Haslam’s:

Why do you not believe in a ban of –or support–transgender bathrooms?

Because I believe that a statewide policy on an issue like that is not in the best interest of Tennesseans. It’s divisive and destructive and…that’s government intervention into areas of life that I don’t think we ought to intervene.

I think that those are best decided locally. Those decisions are best decided locally. And that we’ve handled personal decisions locally like that in the past, and that’s why I’m not advocating for or against a transgender bathroom bill.

I’m a very conservative guy who has very conservative principles who thinks that we often times create divisive subjects that play into the hands of more chaotic policy than if we allow local authority to make decisions on things.

Just like in education, I’m generally an advocate of pushing those decisions out.

Lee affirmed his position in a video response released by FACT after April 15, 2018. FACT’s question #6 asked each participating candidate:

In 2016, the ACLU filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education against a local school district for discrimination because it had designated its multi-person locker rooms and bathrooms for use based on the student’s biological sex, even though it made accommodations for students who do not want to use those facilities based on their biological sex. What are your thoughts about whether schools should be allowed to have such a policy and whether the state should protect local schools from complaints and lawsuits over such policies?

Bill Lee’s answer transcribed from video:

Local leaders need to be able to make decisions at the local level, and too often, outside groups come in trying to intimidate communities, burying them with litigation that they can’t afford. As Governor, I will do whatever it takes to defend that local decision-making process, including defending local school districts against intimidation or lawsuits.

Randy Boyd’s answer to FACT’s question #6 suggests he supports state-level action:

I do not believe in a movement toward open bathroom policies that put our children and students in potentially harmful and dangerous situations. And as your next Governor, I will work to promote policies that protect our students and our children throughout the state.

There are no posted videos or answers to the FACT questions from Beth Harwell. The FACT website explains that Harwell’s video submission did not comply with FACT’s guidelines and that “it would be unfair to the other candidates who complied with the requirements and did answer the specific questions to make an exception for Speaker Harwell and post her submission.”

Diane Black’s answer suggests there should be no question about which bathrooms students use:

So, this is pretty simple to me. I will go back to God made us. He made individuals. He made a man and He made a woman. And I say, for the men, they go into the men’s room, and for the women and the girls, they go into the women’s room. And you do your thing that’s a biological thing. You wash your hands and you come out. That’s it. It’s that simple.

The day after Obama’s bathroom guidelines were temporarily suspended by a Texas-led lawsuit which Tennessee had joined, Black issued the following statement:

‘I applaud the court’s decision to temporarily block this heavy-handed and politically motivated directive that had no right to be forced upon our schools in the first place,’ said Congressman Diane Black. ‘I have long said that a federal government so big and so powerful that it has extended its reach all the way to the school bathroom stall is a government that has lost its way. Tennesseans know that our educators and school administrators are better equipped than any DC bureaucrat to care for the unique needs of their student population, and I am pleased that our state is among those challenging this senseless decree.’

‘We all agree on the rights of students to be treated with dignity and respect, but that right must also exist alongside the rights of students to maintain their privacy and safety in their own schools,’ added Congressman Black. ‘By forcing young children into situations where they may share a bathroom with someone of the opposite biological sex, the Obama Administration has failed to strike that balance and will put our students at unnecessary risk. We must continue fighting this dangerous and coercive directive on all fronts, which is why I am a cosponsor of legislation invaliding the President’s orders and have sought to defund implementation of these actions through the appropriations process.’

Proactively defending the authority of state and local governments to protect students from being forced to share the bathroom with members of the opposite biological sex, Black cosponsored the Prohibiting the Usurpation of Bathroom Laws through Independent Choice School Act (PUBLIC School Act) of 2016

Absent support for state level leadership, the Haslam-Lee approach leaves school districts vulnerable to actions like the federal complaint filed by a Nashville TN-ACLU cooperating lawyer against the Sumner County school district over its transgender bathroom policy. The TN-ACLU is likely to challenge any other bathroom policy which they believe discriminates against a transgender student.

The Haslam-Lee approach also means that in more liberal school districts like Metro Nashville students may be forced to share bathrooms with members of the opposite biological sex because of district policy that endorses gender identity decision-making to accommodate transgender students and employees.

Former Nashville Mayor Megan Barry whose campaign Lee financially supported, opposed the 2016 bathroom bill – “[t]his legislation doesn’t reflect Nashville’s values and doesn’t do anything to improve the quality of life for citizens of our city or state.”

In 2018, a bill intended to provide legal resources to help defend school districts that get sued over bathroom and locker room use policies, was criticized as being too costly and failed to pass out of all the committees in both the House and the Senate.

Lee has not provided any details as to how he would defend local jurisdictions that might be sued for alleged discriminatory bathroom policies.

The Trump administration in early 2017, rescinded the Obama “dear colleague” letter guidelines leaving it up to states and school districts to determine policies.

However, the issues raised by the Obama “dear colleague” letter are much broader than bathroom and locker room use by transgender students and extend to school athletics and competitions, preferred name and pronoun usage, and any other program or activity in which schools make available and in which students may participate.

Despite Haslam’s opposition to leadership from the state on the issue of transgender students in schools the issue is not going away in Tennessee.

Lee’s lack of a position on the transgender bathroom use issue has recently been the target of a billboard campaign paid for by Jobs4TNNow.






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16 Thoughts to “Bill Lee Agrees With Gov. Haslam That Transgender Bathroom Issue Does Not Need Leadership From the State”

  1. Randall

    Metro police arrested a naked man doing jumping jacks in the WOMENS restroom at a McDonald’s. Do we really want our daughters and wives exposed to naked jumping jacks? (true story)

  2. lb

    Honestly I am sick of this guy. It is back to back commercials full of pablum–he is such a phony. No policies and he doesnt address the issues brought against him–that tells you they are true. No WIshyWashy Lee, no La Raza Randy, no Gas Tax Harwell–that leaves Diane Black and she got our votes

  3. Ron W

    So Bill, any male who simply “self-identifies” as a female, whenever he feels like it, may have access to female restrooms, locker rooms and showers as far as the State of Tennessee is concerned?

  4. John Bumpus

    As I explained in my earlier post below, if the Tennessee General Assembly wants to ‘take up’ this cause—and I personally would not be opposed to the legislature doing so—then there is not much that the Governor can do to stop it because he would not have the assistance of a state constitutional supermajority mandate to help enforce his veto of such legislative action if he did, in fact, veto the legislation.

  5. Dave Vance

    The state needs to step up on this issue without a doubt! Maybe the Star could do a story on the legislators that opposed these bills in committee for the past three years? And if they pass our feckless oxygen theif of an AG wont defend them anyway so the legislature will likely have to pass a resolution to have Thomas More defend it. But stepping up also has to mean telling the feds to include the Supreme Court and other Federal Courts to butt out of this and the marriage issue. We probably wouldnt be dealing with this if our immoral and worthless Governor hadnt rolled over on the marriage issue three years ago. Oh but wait a few in our legislature did actually believe in the 10th Amendment and our state marriage Amendment and tried to have the legislature do the right thing but couldnt get the bill out of Civil Justice Sub. A certain organization mentioned in the article led the way in sabatoging the efforts to actually defend Biblical marriage in favor of more litigation. How is that working out for us? Bottom line is neither the bathroom issue or marriage issue will be solved by our state bowing to the feds whch includes the Courts and not one of the remaining candidates will do anything but wait on the Courts and hope it goes our way.

  6. David James

    Hope all of you wanting local control to keep boys out of girls bathrooms and the girls out of the boys bathrooms have money to shell out for the lawsuit that the Tennessee ACLU has promised to bring. Just ask Sumner County – they’ve been hounded by the ACLU on this issue and other issues and have folded every time. That’s where Bill Lee is wrong on this issue – this is just one of those issues that needs the state to take on. Too bad that he and his supporters don’t get it. He runs from the culture war issues – the very problems that find their way into schools and eventually the workplace. Just look at what is happening in other states and ask yourself why don’t Tennessee voters want strong state leadership like they have in Texas????

    1. Silence Dogood

      Absolutely, David. Governor Greg Abbott of Texas is a super hero for Conservatives. Texas is leading the country in creating a great place to live and work. We have Haslam…. Maybe it’s time for Texas to send Tennessee some hero’s to help us win this cultural battle that Haslam, Boyd, Lee, and Harwell seem bent on losing. MAGA! Vote Diane Black!

  7. JustLearning

    What percentage of TN voters think this is really an issue even worth discussing – much less being considered merit for deciding a vote? I hope it’s close to zero. Absurdity. Why is this even a thing? And if you’re even remotely interested in this then stay home on your couch watching CNN so the rest of us don’t have to know you exist.

  8. BE18Teach

    Black is a master of half-truths. It’s called proof texting. Take out words…leave in words…spin the message to your advantage. Conservative, honest Americans are worn out with political power brokers. The vote will tell the story.

  9. Howie

    Wow – there are a lot of big-government/big-brother “conservatives” out there! Lee’s answer is that it should be a local decision. Isn’t that exactly what conservatives should hope to hear on a broad range of issues? Of course, that requires that we all stay involved… maybe one of the other candidates would “get it” and not require the rest of us to keep paying attention…

  10. Stuart I. Anderson

    Bill Lee is just clearing a spot in the tall grass in case the voters are foolish enough to elect him governor. I tell you, that bleeding heart of his constitute a clear and present danger that it will lead him to support more liberal policies than his conservative supporters would like to imagine. How any conservative can be enthusiastic about anyone like Lee who wants to buy the governorship but has no political background whatsoever is a mystery to me.

    Conservatives, after eight years of a cool tepid conservative administration of Haslam let’s move definitively to the right with a much warmer tepid conservative administration which is exactly what we know we will get with Diane Black. Might as well!

  11. John Bumpus

    In Tennessee, under our State Constitution, if a Governor vetoes a legislative enactment the General Assembly can override that veto with a mere simple majority vote (the same simple majority vote that enacted the vetoed measure in the first place). In this respect, the Tennessee General Assembly vis-à-vis the Tennessee Governor is called a ‘strong’ legislature, and the Tennessee Governor is called a ‘weak’ governor. In effect, in this state when the Governor vetoes a bill he is merely saying to the legislature, ‘take another look’ at the bill before you ‘pass’ it.

    I think that Tennessee is blessed in this regard. I think that the Tennessee General Assembly better reflects the will of the people (with its many elected voices, at least 115—out of 132—of which are elected/re-elected every two years) than the state’s Governor, and especially so in that in Tennessee a political party’s gubernatorial candidate can be chosen by a party primary plurality vote rather than by a party primary majority vote as would be the case if Tennessee had a party primary ‘runoff’ election plan (i.e., in the event that no candidate in the party primary election initially received a majority of the vote).

    In some states, under the state constitution of each of those states, where there is a ‘strong’ governor vis-à-vis a ‘weak’ legislature, those states often get themselves into trouble when a supermajority (i.e., either ⅗ or ⅔ etc.) of the legislature is required to override a gubernatorial veto of legislation, and the legislative leaders there just cannot get the needed votes to override the veto. Then the state may be ‘stuck’ with bad law, all because of the opinion of one man—albeit, the Governor.

    Thus, to me, one of the most important things when choosing a Governor for our state is whether the person chosen is an honest person. Can you depend upon him (or her) to say what he means, and to mean what he says? If so, then I think that most problems will work out ‘o.k.’ And after all, isn’t this one of the reasons why people seem to like President Trump so much?

  12. Cannoneer2

    Do we have any documented cases of this problem here in Tennessee? I think that there are plenty of other problems that need to be dealt with before this.

  13. Silence Dogood

    Being in Government Service as an Elected Official will clearly be a social thing for Bill Lee. Like a hobby. A LEADER, with a clear vision of what makes our American culture special and unique, would not be passing the buck on a serious cultural issue to some poor defenseless school system. Bill has no vision. He has no cultural roots. He is strictly a rich guy bored with being rich, and stuck in Williamson County. I again state, for you undecided voters:
    Diane Black has:
    1) Endorsement from the NRA
    2) Endorsement from the Tennessee Right to Life
    3) Endorsement of the American Conservative Union
    4) A Heritage Lifetime Score of 78% & 86% for the last year
    This is easy. Vote Dian Black and MAGA!

  14. Angelito

    The only platform that this beady-eyed millionaire has is to be elected.

  15. 83ragtop50

    This is an area where we voters can actually evaluate Mr. Lee’s idea of right vs wrong and leadership. For a man touting to be a staunch Christian I cannot understand why he would make such an absurd statement. If he were to pass the buck on this issue down to the local level (and how local is “local”) Tennessee parents would soon find their local schools in a state of chaos regarding this very serious topic of morality and safety. This shows me his true heart and it is one of a non-leader – a man covering to cover his rear on a very important topic. He, along with Haslam and Attorney General Slatery are prime examples of why this country continues in a moral decline. I cannot vote for a man that refuses to take a positive stand against this insanity.