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The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.

Lambda and VSG work to address recent anti-transgender legislation in TN

VUMC physician testifies against anti-trangender legislation and students work to advocate against discriminatory bills through Zoom events, attending house committee meetings and passing VSG resolutions.
Emily Gonçalves
Image of Tennessee State Capitol taken September 1, 2019. (Hustler Multimedia/Emily Gonçalves)

A slew of proposed legislation targeting transgender youth hit the agenda of the Tennessee General Assembly at the start of the 2021 session. The Vanderbilt Lambda Association and Vanderbilt Student Government (VSG) have been working to raise awareness for and advocate against this legislation, as well as urge Vanderbilt administration to do the same.

Lambda is a student organization dedicated to meeting the needs of Vanderbilt’s LGBTQ+ community. They have been actively advocating against the legislation through their partnership with Tennessee’s GLSEN chapter, hosting Zoom events and working with VSG. 

“Our reaction [to the new legislation] has mostly been anger, frustration and a huge drive to do something about it,” current Lambda President Oluwatobi Odugunwa said. 


Senate Bill (SB) 0228 (House Bill 0003) and SB 1224 (HB 1182), which went into effect on March 26, aim to limit transgender youths’ access to athletic teams and restrooms of their gender identity, respectively. 

SB 0657 (HB 0578), introduced on Feb. 2, addresses gender-affirming health care for transgender minors. It prohibits all “sexual identity change therapy” for prepubescent minors and mandates strict criteria for minors who have entered puberty. Three physicians must provide written recommendations for the therapy. The bill punishes violations by parents as “child abuse” and violations by healthcare professionals as “professional misconduct.” On April 14, this bill was deferred to the 2022 legislative session. 

Similarly, HB 1027 (SB 0126) initially prohibited healthcare workers from giving hormone treatments to “prepubertal minors.” This clause has since been amended. Currently, the bill mandates an increase in the training requirements (from six to seven hours) for nurses assisting with the administration of medicine. It also subjects unlicensed people administering medicine to nursing requirements in a home setting. This bill passed in the House Health Committee on April 14 and will be voted on May 3. 

The senators and representatives who proposed these bills did not respond to immediate request for comment. 

Bleu Gray, current Lambda secretary and incoming president, as well as seven other members of Lambda, went to a House meeting regarding HB 1027 on April 14. They attended in coordination with GLSEN and wore purple in support of the transgender community. 

“Even with social distancing measures in place, the audience was as full as it could be in support of trans people,” Gray said. “The vast majority of people in the audience were wearing purple, [which] made me hopeful to see that there was a lot of anger and a lot of people mobilized to attend this and make sure that representatives knew that this was not okay.”

Cassandra Brady, a pediatric endocrinologist at Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC), is a prominent advocate against anti-transgender legislation. She serves as a co-director of Vanderbilt Pediatric and Adolescent Transgender Health Clinic (VPATH). She is one of three people at the clinic who “provide the pubertal blocking and gender affirming hormone therapy” to patients. She, in consultation with a sports medicine physician, provided information to legislators opposing the anti-transgender athletics bill (SB 0228). Brady also testified at the House meeting on April 14 addressing HB 1027. 

Prior to addressing HB 1027’s effect on physicians and members of the transgender community, Brady provided an overview of the typical protocols she and her team follow when providing care to transgender minors. 

“Our protocols typically require that a patient and a family work with a mental health provider, that [the] mental health provider has confirmed gender dysphoria and that parents are involved and supportive and willing to provide informed consent for these minors,” Brady said. 

Brady noted that, in addition to these protocols, the patient must also already be in puberty to start a hormone blocker or start gender affirming hormones. She also said that HB 1027 would not change their medical practices, but is problematic to the community. 

“[The] bill rephrases our protocols that we don’t provide hormone therapies or blocking therapy to anybody who’s not in puberty and, scientifically, we wouldn’t do that anyway,” Brady said. “The bill doesn’t affect us as physicians, but it definitely affects the population.” 

Per Brady, the issue with the bill lies in how it singles out the transgender community, not the explicit protocols it proposes.

“It’s not preventing us from doing what we already do,” Brady said. “But, obviously, the negative is it’s against a group of people who are already marginalized, and it just doesn’t seem right.”

Brady believes her testimony is important, as she said that many lawmakers are usually not equipped with prior knowledge of medical issues and protocols. 

“[It was] more like an educational session and hopefully did open some people’s eyes to what we do, our protocols and how important this is for the children,” Brady said.

Furthermore, Brady said that if future research or evidence changes regarding the use of these hormones in certain populations based on puberty or age, the legislation could potentially prevent them from providing care. 

“These bills are very hard and challenging for families and patients to hear. It’s already in a group that’s marginalized and then they’re hearing about bills that are interfering with their care,” Brady said. “It’s scary for them to live in a place where they don’t feel like they can receive quality health care because there’s laws that are potentially preventing that.”

Ultimately, the bill passed through the Health Committee and will move on to the next House Committee. Following the decision, Gray described there was a large outcry in the room. 

“It felt like all the air in the room was sucked away,” Gray said. “You could just hear a pin drop momentarily, and then there was just a huge outrage.”

While the bill has still not passed overall, Gray expressed concerns about what the long-term consequences of these bills’ continued proposal will be. 

“[This decision] represents the very real threat of this kind of bigoted legislation passing, regardless of the fact that medical professionals are being brought in to testify against it,” Gray said. “Parents of transgender people are being brought in to testify against itrepresentatives are completely ignoring that.”

Lambda Events & Vanderbilt Lobbying

On April 20, Lambda hosted a Zoom event called “Anti-Trans Legislation in Tennessee: The Need for Vanderbilt to Take Action.” Odugunwa said they hoped the event would inform transgender students about the work Lambda and the Vanderbilt administration is doing to support them.

“I hope that people attended this and left knowing that this issue is urgent, but also feeling empowered to do something about it,” Odugunwa said. “Things can feel so big and so out of our purview, but we’d like to let students know the agency we have and how we can use it to make everybody safe and live in a just city.”

The event started by giving an overview of Vanderbilt’s policies regarding transgender inclusion and instructions about how to add personal pronouns to frequently used student sites.

Trans-friendly changes include the ability to add your pronouns in YES, gender inclusive bathrooms in the Black Cultural Center (BCC) and new dorms, gender inclusive housing choices in newer dorms and student health changes such as the ability to put in a preferred name on the My Health at Vanderbilt portal.  

Lambda also provided an overview of “transphobic” policies at Vanderbilt. They stated that professors are not mandated to respect pronouns, graduating seniors must have their legal name and gender printed on their diploma, gender and name are difficult to change in Vanderbilt email and transgender feminine top surgery is not covered by student health insurance while transgender masculine top surgery is covered. 

Daniel Culbreath, assistant vice chancellor for state government relations, and Nathan Green, vice chancellor for government and community relations, from the Office of Government and Community Relations were invited to speak at the event about the action Vanderbilt is taking in the legislature to fight these bills.

“These bills have no redeeming public policy. They come from a position of hate and they’re against the values of this institution,” Green said. “They’re bad for Nashville. They’re bad for Tennessee. They’re bad for America. We’re not going to back away whatsoever from continuing to oppose these bills.”

Culbreath then detailed how he has approached these bills. He explained that the Tennessee General Assembly typically comes into session the second week of January and continues until mid-May. Per Culbreath, for the first several weeks after the start of the session, his job mainly consists of sifting through hundreds of bills and flagging things of priority to the university, actively tracking around 200 bills a session. Culbreath engages with members of the legislature and either advocates to try and pass bills or stop bills depending on the university’s goals and nature of the bills. 

Culbreath mentioned that Rob Nelson, interim director of the Office of LGBTQI Life, had reached out about the anti-transgender bills and they had been flagged very quickly. Culbreath also noted that a lot of similar bills were stopped before they gained momentum. He said legislators will sometimes rush to file “caption bills,” which serve as “placeholder bills,”’ before the deadline to submit bills is over, but later change their nature toward the end of the session. Therefore, he works to identify and stop potentially problematic caption bills early in the process.  

“For every bill you see, there are probably two or three that did not advance and move forward because of some work behind the scenes,” Culbreath said. 

Green also said that, while these bills are predominantly proposed by and supported by Republicans, the larger divide in the General Assembly regarding these bills is between the urban and rural representatives. Additionally, he said, Governor Bill Lee has posed a greater challenge to fighting these bills.  

“[Bills] were easier to kill when Bill Haslam was governor, and we have a new governor,” Green said. “Even though the Tennessee General Assembly has simple majority veto power over the governor, the executive branch of state government basically controls the agenda.” 

Odugunwa further encouraged students to avoid making these bills an issue of partisanship.

“These bills are not a partisan issue,” Odugunwa said.  Democrats and Republicans and independents have done really harmful things for the LGBT community, and it’s very important that we approach politics through a lens of ethics, justice for all and equity rather than through a partisan lens.”

Beyond fighting individual bills, Green said that their office works to build coalitions with groups, such as the Tennessee and Nashville Chambers of Commerce, Amazon and the Nashville LGBT Chamber, to be better prepared for similar legislation proposals in the future. 

“We’ve got to be smart and strategic about the coalitions that we build to actually beat all these bills,” Green said. “Because of the role we play in the Nashville community we’re making sure that people who know how to engage and fight these bills, who are politically connected and have relationships, like Dan Culbreath, can be a part of a future coalition to make sure that zero bills [of this nature] pass in the legislature.”

Odugunwa shifted the conversation from what the administration is doing in the broader state of Tennessee to actions they are taking on campus. Green said his office “needs to do a better job of engaging and communicating with our internal community.” He elaborated he would like to work more with other administrators to advocate for these issues and have more regular communication with students. 

Odugunwa asked Nelson what they recommend students who are having strong emotional responses to this legislation do to take care of themselves. 

“Try not to let this overwhelm you,” Nelson said. “While it’s important to fight these things as they come up, you can’t give up when you lose one [battle]. You have to think about the long term goal, and you’re going to have setbacks.” 

VSG Involvement

In an effort to broaden Lambda’s advocacy on campus, Gray worked with Rahan Arasteh, a second-year VSG senator, to write a resolution to condemn the anti-transgender legislation and encourage the administration to do the same. The resolution passed unanimously on April 21 in the VSG senate. 

“Vandy has such power in Nashville and in Tennessee to do something about this and one of our professors is speaking against these bills in the state legislature, so why can’t we, as an organization, do the same?” Arasteh said. “We [Vanderbilt] are one of the largest employers in the state and one of the greatest economic contributors to the state. If Vandy says something, people in Tennessee listen.”

The resolution highlighted Vanderbilt’s non-discrimination policy, condemned the proposed legislation and detailed VSG’s goals in supporting transgender students. 

“VSG is committed to providing proper and equitable resources to our transgender commnuity at Vanderbilt by focusing on access to gender-affirming healthcare, protecting transgender students from structural and interpersonal discrimination, and fostering a safe and inclusive community on and off campus,” the resolution read. 

Lambda held a subsequent event on April 27 titled “State of Hate: LGBT Rights Teach-In.” The event was attended by community members, alumni and current undergraduate and graduate school students. Lambda provided an overview of the bills introduced nationally that target transgender citizens and youth. 

“The idea is to bring in experts in the bills that are targeting transgender people and educate the student body about why these bills are inherently based in discrimination and bigotry,” Gray said.

The event provided information on where transphobic legislation is being pushed. First-year Lambda member Lauren Mitchum gave a summary of the anti-transgender bills currently in the Tennessee legislature. Clips of transgender youth from around the nation testifying against this legislation were also played.

Future Lambda Initiatives

Moving forward on April 30, Lambda has planned “shit-ins”—sit-ins in restrooms—in Wilson and Buttrick Halls to encourage gender inclusive restrooms on campus.   

“We’re working with student accountability to make sure that it’s up to COVID guidelines and within university policy,” Odugunwa said. “We’re trying to protest the lack of both wheelchair accessible bathrooms on campus and the lack of gender inclusive restrooms on campus.”

Lambda plans to continue advocating against anti-transgender legislation, particularly bills proposed in Tennessee, and continue their work to make campus a safer place for transgender students.

“Vanderbilt has a significant transgender population and we want to make sure that they know that Lambda, the Office of LGBTQI Life and the Vanderbilt administration is on their side,” Odugunwa said.

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About the Contributors
Charlotte Mauger
Charlotte Mauger, Staff Writer
Charlotte Mauger ('24) is a student in the College of Arts and Science majoring in public policy with a minor in French. When not writing for The Hustler, you can find her on FaceTime with her cats, watching movies or exploring all Nashville has to offer. You can reach her at [email protected].
Emily Gonçalves
Emily Gonçalves, Former Multimedia Director
Emily Gonçalves (‘20) was the Multimedia Director of the Vanderbilt Hustler. She majored in Mathematics and Economics and minored in Latin American Studies. When she’s not taking photos, you can catch this Jersey girl making puns, singing, advocating for girls’ education and drinking lots of chocolate milk and espresso!
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