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Trans high school golfer suing Tennessee for the right to play his sport

Luc Esquivel is suing Tennessee to fight the states’ trans-student-athlete ban. He’s repped by the ACLU and Lambda Legal.

Tennessee high school freshman Luc Esquivel is suing the state in a challenge of the state’s ban on trans student-athletes
Shawn Poynter/ACLU

Luc Esquivel is a high school golfer who just wants to compete in boys golf. Because he’s trans, the state of Tennessee won’t let him.

The American Civil Liberties Union and Lambda Legal filed a federal lawsuit Thursday against the state of Tennessee in a U.S. District Court in Nashville. The suit is a challenge to a law signed by Tennessee governor Bill Lee on March 26 that excludes transgender students from participation in interscholastic sports.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Esquivel, 14, who attends Farragut High School in Knoxville, Tenn. He planned to try out for the school’s golf team in the coming season, but the law would deny him the chance.

“I was really looking forward to trying out for the boys’ golf team and, if I made it, training and competing with and learning from other boys and improving my game,” Esquivel said in a written statement. “To have the legislature pass a law that singled out me and kids like me to keep us from being part of a team, that crushed me, it hurt very much. I just want to play, like any other kid.”

Lee has repeatedly said that the measure, which states that a student can only compete in the gender that corresponds to their “original” birth certificate, was needed because transgender student participation would “destroy women’s sports.” However, the law also prohibits transgender boys from competing alongside cisgender boys.

Esquivel’s mother Shelley note the mix of heartbreak and anger over the passage of the law and the effect on her son’s hopes
Shawn Poynter/ACLU

“A mother wants to see their kid happy, thriving, enjoying being a kid,” Luc’s mother, Shelley Esquivel, noted in a written statement. “High school sports are an important part of that. I know how much Luc was looking forward to playing on the boys’ golf team. It is painful for a parent to see their child subjected to discrimination because of who they are.”

Similar laws have been passed in 10 states, starting with Idaho in March 2020. For Tennessee, the law was one of four measures that directly legalize discrimination against transgender people.

In addition to SB228, Lee, who is up for election in 2022, signed a bill requiring businesses and government facilities open to the public to post a sign if they let transgender people use multiperson bathrooms, locker rooms or changing rooms associated with their gender identity.

A second measure allows school students, parents and employees to claim monetary damages “for all psychological, emotional, and physical harm suffered” if school officials allow a transgender person into the bathroom or locker room when cisgender people are there.

Also enacted into law was a ban on gender-affirming health care for transgender youth.

Key Speakers At Conservative Political Action Conference
Gov. Bill Lee (R-Tenn.), shown at the 2021 Conservative Political Action Conference, has enacted the most anti-trans legislation of any governor this year
Getty Images

Opponents have been sharp in their criticism. The Human Rights Campaign, for example, has dubbed the group of legislation as the “Slate of Hate”.

The legal challenge is the ACLU’s fifth against anti-trans legislation in 2021, and they’ve managed to hold the line in court in other cases. Idaho and West Virginia’s efforts were blocked by federal courts. The much-discussed lawsuit against inclusive policies in Connecticut was dismissed in federal court.