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A federal judge strikes down a state law as ‘a public jab at transgender Tennesseans’

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A federal judge has ruled in favor of a Nashville business owner opposing Tennessee's bathroom signage law.

A federal judge has struck down a Tennessee law that would’ve required businesses and schools to post a warning sign if they allow transgender people to use the restroom that aligns with their gender.

The same judge had granted a temporary injunction against the law, stopping it from taking effect last summer. Judge Aleta Trauger ruled that the law violated the First Amendment rights of trans-friendly businesses.

“Transgender Tennesseans are real,” Trauger wrote. “The businesses and establishments that wish to welcome them are real. And the viewpoints that those individuals and businesses hold are real, even if they differ from the views of some legislators or government officials.”

The lawsuit was filed by the ACLU on behalf of Nashville business owner Bob Bernstein, who runs Bongo Java and Fido cafe in Hillsboro Village. Bernstein says he hasn’t had any complaints or concerns about the cafe’s restroom policies.

“As a former journalist, I believe strongly in free speech,” Bernstein said. “The government can’t just force people to post discriminatory, inaccurate and divisive signs in their places of business.”

The law, which passed the state legislature in 2021, lays out specific language for the signs. They would’ve had to say that the facility “maintains a policy of allowing use of the restrooms by either biological sex, regardless of the designation on the restroom” printed in bold, block letters under a red-and-yellow heading.

Tuesday’s ruling found issue with the exact phrasing of the signage law, since “few, if any” public restrooms in Tennessee reference biological sex in their signage.

“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.