Tennessee Stands Up for Women and Girls, Honoring Pat Summitt’s Legacy by Passing the Women’s Bill of Rights
This op-ed was written by Michelle Parker, chapter leader for the Nashville Chapter of Independent Women’s Network.
Tennessee demonstrated its commitment to championing the rights of women and girls by becoming the second state in the U.S. to pass legislation inspired by the Women’s Bill of Rights (WBOR). The bill, introduced by state representative Gina Bulso and state senator Kerry Roberts, helped close a loophole in the Tennessee Accommodation for All Children Act of 2021, which failed to add “sex” as a defined term for statutory construction purposes.
With the passage of this legislation, there is now clarity across Tennessee law which mentions “sex” hundreds of times. The bill was signed by Governor Bill Lee on May 17th and became law on July 1st.
This legislation was inspired by the Women’s Bill of Rights, model legislation drafted by Independent Women’s Voice, Independent Women’s Law Center, and Women’s Liberation front, and defines basic sex-based terms like ‘woman’ and ‘man,’ and protects the existence of single-sex spaces, such as rape crisis centers, domestic violence shelters, prisons, athletic teams, locker rooms, and sororities. By passing this legislation, Tennessee secures important protections for women and girls, preventing judges, unelected bureaucrats, and administrators in Tennessee from unilaterally redefining the word ‘sex’ to include ‘gender identity’ or from redefining the word ‘woman’ to mean anyone who “identifies as a woman.”
This law pays homage to the legacy of Pat Summitt, a trailblazer in the fight for women’s rights in athletics.
As an executive recruiter specializing in placing C-suite executives, I’ve witnessed the positive impact of athletics on the careers of the candidates I place. According to research compiled by EY, 94% of women in the C-suite participated in athletics. The WBOR-inspired legislation ensures females have equal opportunities to develop resilience, teamwork, and leadership skills through sports, contributing to their professional success.
Even a decade ago, the need for such legislation would have been unimaginable. However, the inclusion of trans-identified males in women’s sports categories and the Biden Administration’s attempts to expand Title IX to include protections based on gender identity have threatened opportunities for female athletes. In the past 18 months alone, numerous examples have emerged of male athletes winning women’s competitions at all levels of competition.
Critics often argue that trans-identified males represent a small portion of the population and therefore have minimal impact on female athletics. However, allowing male athletes to compete in women’s divisions replaces and even harms female athletes in head-to-head competitions. In cases such as Connecticut track and field, where two trans-identified males competed in the girl’s division, fifteen state championships were won by these athletes. Chelsea Mitchell, one of the affected athletes, lost two All-New England awards and four state championships. According to Mitchell, 85 girls were directly impacted by the males competing.
Over twenty peer-reviewed studies have demonstrated the competitive advantage male athletes have over women. Additionally, biological sex differences make male competition against women and girls unsafe. Examples like Fallon Fox, a trans-identified male M.M.A. fighter, who broke the skulls of two female opponents, and Payton McNabb, a female athlete who suffered a concussion while competing against a trans-identified male opponent, highlight the safety concerns.
Pat Summitt, a native of Tennessee and nationally renowned Lady Vols basketball coach, played a pivotal role in promoting and implementing Title IX, a landmark federal law enacted in 1972 to address gender inequality in educational institutions, including athletics.
When Title IX was enacted, female high school student participation in athletics was less than 5%. In 2019, that number rose to 43% . At the collegiate level, female student participation in athletics increased from 30,000 in 1972 to 226,323 in the 2022 season.
The Women’s Bill of Rights legislation enacted by Tennessee lawmakers is a significant step forward in preserving the achievements made possible by Pat Summitt and other champions of Title IX by ensuring fair competition through separate categories for male and female athletes.
Furthermore, the WBOR safeguards women’s spaces, including prisons, shelters, and clubs. According to data obtained by Keep Prisons Single Sex USA from the Bureau of Prisons, nearly 50% of trans-identified male federal inmates are in custody for sex offenses compared to 18% of non-trans male inmates. Maintaining single-sex spaces for prisons, women’s shelters, locker rooms, and bathrooms is essential for the safety of females in these environments.
Tennessee’s passage of the Women’s Bill of Rights serves as a testament to the state’s dedication to upholding the rights and freedoms of its female citizens. By honoring the legacy of Pat Summitt, Tennessee sends a powerful message about its commitment to fairness, equal opportunities, and the well-being of women and girls. The Women’s Bill of Rights secures a fairer and safer society where women and girls can excel, free from discrimination and unfair challenges caused by male athletes invading our sports and safe spaces. With Kansas and Tennessee leading the way, other states have followed suit; Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt and Nebraska Governor Jim Pillen both issued an executive order to stand against radical gender ideology and with women, and the Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves has called on the state legislature to act when its session begins next year.
Let us celebrate this occasion, embracing the spirit of Pat Summitt and continuing the journey toward a future where all women and girls can pursue their dreams, both on and off the court.