The K.C. Potter Center for LGBTQ life, as photographed on Aug. 28, 2022. (Hustler Multimedia/Amelia Simpson)
The K.C. Potter Center for LGBTQ life, as photographed on Aug. 28, 2022. (Hustler Multimedia/Amelia Simpson)
Amelia Simpson

Vanderbilt creates task force on Tennessee laws restricting gender-affirming care for minors and drag shows, community reacts

The gender-affirming care ban was created in response to allegations against VUMC’s transgender clinic in September 2022.

UPDATE: This piece was updated on March 19 to include a comment from Vanderbilt College Democrats.

Editor’s note: This piece includes anti-trans comments.

Chancellor Daniel Diermeier, Provost C. Cybele Raver and Vice Chancellor for Outreach, Inclusion and Belonging André Churchwell announced the creation of a task force to address recent Tennessee legislation affecting transgender and gender-nonconforming people in a March 6 email to the Vanderbilt community.

The announcement came four days after Tennessee Governor Bill Lee signed SB 3, which restricts public adult cabaret shows, effective April 1, and SB 1, which bans gender-transition care for minors, effective July 1. Youth will no longer be able to access gender-affirming care beginning July 1, and youth already receiving care will lose access after March 31, 2024.

The bills overwhelmingly passed through the state legislature, backed by Republican super-majorities in both chambers. The university’s email stated that it is “deeply concerned” by these laws, as well as by other bills currently moving through the Tennessee legislature and nationwide.

At Vanderbilt, we are now, and will always be, committed to supporting the success, health and well-being of our LGBTQI+ community,” Diermeier said. “We will continue to foster a supportive and inclusive environment for all members of our community.”

The national American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Tennessee and Lambda Legal stated that they plan to challenge these two laws in court. In a message to The Hustler, the ACLU of Tennessee urged anyone who may have been “harassed or negatively affected” as a result of the laws to contact them.

Tennessee is the first state to restrict drag performances and the fourth state to ban gender-affirming care, after Utah became the first to do so in January 2023. As referenced in the university’s email, over 380 bills concerning the LGBTQ+ community have been considered by state legislatures across the country as of March 2023 — more than the total number proposed in 2022. All but seven states have introduced anti-LGBTQ+ bills this legislative session according to the ACLU.

Other bills moving through the Tennessee legislature include HB 30, which requires businesses that “host adult cabaret performances” to obtain a special license to do so. This bill passed the Tennessee House on March 7 and will be sent to the Senate for consideration. Additionally, HB 878, which allows government employees to refuse solemnizing marriages based on personal belief, passed the Tennessee House on March 9.

In total, 22 bills that are being tracked by the ACLU of Tennessee as “anti-LGBTQ bills” have been introduced by the Tennessee legislature, ranging from limiting trans students’ participation in youth sports to establishing a legal definition of sex as “immutable.”

Graphic depicting the status of anti-LGBTQ bills in the Tennessee state legislature. (Hustler Staff/Katherine Oung)
Graphic depicting the status of anti-LGBTQ bills in the Tennessee state legislature. (Hustler Staff/Katherine Oung)

Vanderbilt task force

According to the email, Vanderbilt’s LGBTQI+ task force will evaluate the legislation’s effects on Vanderbilt community members’ health care, education and overall well-being. It will “implement interventions” accordingly, although the university stated in a message to The Hustler that it does not currently have additional information to share about specific initiatives the task force plans to implement.

The task force will be led by economics and health policy professor Kitt Carpenter, the founder and director of Vanderbilt’s LGBTQ+ Policy Lab. Carpenter’s research has focused on issues such as healthcare access for people in same-sex relationships and the socioeconomic outcomes of LGBTQ+ individuals. He stated in a message to The Hustler that he plans to “be in dialogue” with students, faculty and staff about how the task force should serve the community.

The four other members of the task force include law professor and Co-Director of the George Barrett Social Justice Program Jessica Clarke, Associate Vice Chancellor for Health and Wellness Pam Jones, Dean of Students G.L. Black and Director of the K.C. Potter Center and Executive Director of Human Resources Stephanie Mahnke.

“I am optimistic about this task force,” junior Chandler Quaile, who self-identifies as a member of the LGBTQ+ community, said. “I know that each person who has been tasked with serving on it is deeply committed not just to LGBTQI life at Vanderbilt but really committed to LGBT policy here in Tennessee and across the nation.”

Quaile urged the task force to set an example for universities, policymakers and students across the nation.

“We’re all living in extremely dire circumstances brought about by right-wing fascism. If Vanderbilt is going to prove to be a real light in all of this, it is an amazing place to be as an institution and as a student body,” Quaile said. “Yes, things are bad, but we can have a hand in making it better.”

The university established a similar reproductive rights task force in July 2022 following the Supreme Court overruling of Roe v. Wade. The university hired a Reproductive Health and Parental Resource Coordinator and established several financial support funds per this task force’s recommendations. 

Details of bills

SB 3 designates “male or female impersonation” as an “adult cabaret performance.” If a person engages in such a performance on public property or where it can be viewed by a minor, they can be charged with a Class A misdemeanor on a first offense and a Class E felony on subsequent offenses. While Vanderbilt’s campus constitutes private property, the ACLU of Tennessee confirmed to The Hustler that public universities in Tennessee are considered public property.

The ACLU of Tennessee stated it has “constitutional concerns” about this law. It also explained that it does not consider family-friendly drag performances or transgender people existing in public spaces as applicable to this law.

“The legal definition for ‘harmful to minors’ is very narrow and only covers extreme sexual or violent content with no artistic value. We are concerned that government officials could easily abuse SB 3/HB 9 to censor people based on their own subjective viewpoints of what they deem appropriate,” the ACLU of Tennessee stated. “Being trans and performing in drag do not constitute obscenity, regardless of what some of our legislators think.”

SB 1 specifically bans healthcare providers in the state from “enabling a minor to identify with, or live as, a purported identity inconsistent with the minor’s sex.” This provision includes prohibitions on gender transition surgeries, hormone therapies and puberty blockers for both cisgender and transgender patients under 18 years old. The law allows no exceptions for treatment with parental consent and gives individuals who might later regret receiving gender-affirming care received as minors the right to sue their parents and healthcare providers.

The Tennessee General Assembly passed this ban in response to allegations against VUMC’s transgender clinic in September 2022. Conservative political commentator Matt Walsh’s claims that the VUMC transgender health clinic operated primarily to make a profit and did not accommodate employees’ religious and personal objections to gender-affirming care for minors, garnered national attention. 

Community reactions to bills 

Junior Lauren Mitchum, president of Vanderbilt Lambda Association, a student organization that supports the Vanderbilt LGBTQ+ community, stated that the organization is “appalled” by the bills Lee signed, but “not surprised.”

“Those of us impacted by the ‘slate of hate’ anti-LGBT and anti-trans legislation introduced have been begging people to pay attention,” Mitchum said. “Every day, queer students on this campus, especially trans students, have to confront the fact that the Tennessee legislature is determined to legislate us out of existence. We are exhausted.”

Mitchum said Lambda currently does not intend to change its plans to hold the Vanderbilt drag show, which occurs annually during the fall semester. 

Dean Undergraduate Advisory Board member Tayo Fasan, a junior, stated that attending Vanderbilt was the right decision for her but urged prospective students to consider the political environment of Nashville when making their college decisions. Vanderbilt is set to release the results of the regular decision cycle for the Class of 2027 in the coming weeks, after completing the early decision process in February. Fasan self-identifies as a member of the LGBTQ+ community.

“If you really want to come to Vanderbilt for a specific major or opportunity, you have to weigh that against if you will be safe going out in public or walking around off-campus. Do you think you can handle the mental weight of living in a state that is explicitly legislating against queer people?’” Fasan said. “If you decide that you do not want that mental burden and you can find similar resources in a different state that is more accepting, please go there. It is much, much better to choose your safety than the name of a school.”

Vanderbilt College Democrats stated in a message to The Hustler that they oppose the LGBTQ+ bills being considered by the Tennessee legislature. 

"The Tennessee legislature’s obsession with policing gender identity and expression is deplorable," VCD President Claire Reber said.

VCD hosted an informational event about anti-LGBTQ+ bills currently in Tennessee’s legislature on March 7. VCD urged attendees to be an advocate for LGBTQ+ students in their academic disciplines, especially students planning to enter medical, educational and public policy fields. The organization also suggested that students should support organizations such as Nashville LAUNCH PAD and The Trevor Project as well as local LGBTQ-owned businesses such as Yellow and Lavender, D’Andrews Bakery and The Turnip Truck.

Vanderbilt College Republicans Secretary Noah Jenkins, a first-year student, voiced support for the ban on gender-affirming care for minors. Jenkins stated that this opinion is his own and that VCR does not have an official stance on the bills. 

“It is a shame that such a bill even had to be passed and a greater shame that our very own VUMC was the reason behind the legislation,” Jenkins said. “I believe we ought to be loving and compassionate to youth who have discomfort with their gender, but the way we do this is by helping them gain comfort in who they actually are — the same boy or girl they were from birth — not with scalpels and hormones.”

According to Nat Martinez-White (‘22), who is now a staff member at Play Dance Bar, local 18+ drag establishments are popular destinations for Vanderbilt and other college-age students in Tennessee. 

“When I was a student, Play was definitely a place for the queer community, because there was really nowhere else to go,” Martinez-White said. “Now I work with a bunch of gay men, trans women and genderqueer people that like to dress up and dance.”

Big Drag Bus, which operates a Nashville party bus tour, said it will continue operating despite the new law. Play Dance Bar also plans to continue normal operations.

Martinez-White explained that recent anti-LGBTQ+ legislation and shootings at LGBTQ+ establishments across the country — such as in Colorado Springs — have made their job “scary.”

“I will be in the audience [of a show] and think about where I would exit if someone came to shoot up the place, for lack of better words,” Martinez-White said. “But as one of the biggest drag bars in America, we’re [Play] not going to back down. We’re not going to go down without a fight.”

Current gender-affirming care options at Vanderbilt

In response to a request signed by 39 members of the Tennessee General Assembly, VUMC paused gender-affirmation surgeries for minors on Oct. 7, 2022. 

As of publication, VUMC’s Clinic for Transgender Health website states that it provides care for “transgender and gender-diverse adults.” VUMC did not immediately respond to The Hustler’s request for comment on if it currently provides resources for minors to receive gender-affirming surgery, hormone replacement therapy or other gender-affirming care.

In a message to The Hustler, Black confirmed that Vanderbilt's Student Health Insurance Plan (SHIP) has no relationship with TennCare, the state’s Medicaid program. He stated that students on SHIP with questions regarding options for gender-affirming care contact the plan administrator or a SHIP representative. SB 1339, which has been introduced to the legislature, would prohibit TennCare contractors from providing medical assistance for gender-affirming surgeries for patients of all ages.

Vanderbilt employees on the university healthcare plan may be eligible for coverage of hormone replacement therapy through Navitus and gender reassignment therapy through Aetna. They can also receive free counseling through the employee assistance program.   

Community resources and events

The email pointed to existing university resources for LGBTQ students, such as the Transgender and Genderqueer Affinity Group, drop-in counseling at the K.C. Potter Center and clinical care at the Student Health Center. A processing session for transgender and nonbinary community members occurred at the UCC on March 6.

In partnership with the Looking Out Foundation, Tennessee-based artists Jason Isbell and Ashley Russel are organizing Love Rising — a benefit concert that will be held at Bridgestone Arena on March 20 and feature Hozier, Hayley Williams and a number of other musicians and drag queens — to raise proceeds for various LGBTQ+ support organizations in the state.

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About the Contributors
Matthew Shipley, Former Senior Staff Writer
Matthew Shipley (‘25) is from Hendersonville, Tenn., and is majoring in economics, mathematics and political science and minoring in data science. He enjoys closely following the U.S. Supreme Court, playing basketball and being involved in his faith community. He can be reached at [email protected].
Katherine Oung, Data Director
Katherine Oung ('25) is majoring in political science and computer science and minoring in data science in the College of Arts and Science. They are from West Palm Beach, Fla., and were previously Deputy News Editor and Managing Editor. Katherine enjoys working on freelance journalism projects and making incredibly specific Spotify playlists. They can be reached at [email protected].
Amelia Simpson, Staff Photographer and Graphics Staffer
Amelia Simpson ('25) hails from Brisbane, Australia and is a student in the College of Arts and Sciences majoring in public policy. Outside of her work in the Hustler’s multimedia sections, Amelia is a member of the club rowing and equestrian teams. You can reach her at [email protected]
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