Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee, who served on Belmont’s Board of Trustees from 2011 to 2018, passed House Bill 1233 in 2021. Which states that transgender students or employees at public schools must use bathrooms or locker rooms that match their sex assigned at birth.
It was the first restriction on transgender bathroom usage in the country to be passed in five years, according to an article from NBC.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis passed a similar bill in May requiring students and employees to use restrooms that correlate with their sex assigned at birth, regardless of their gender identity.
Theo Cawgin, vice president of Bridge Builders, an LGBTQ organization on campus, is troubled by Lee’s LGBTQ legislative record and the looming Florida legislation.
“The current political climate of chaos makes me think that whatever is happening in Florida is going to try to make its way to Tennessee,” said Cawgin.
Florida’s new law like Tennessee’s is only applicable to public universities, so it is unlikely that a similar piece of legislation would affect Belmont, a private university, directly.
“Policies don’t exist in a vacuum., They have a really wide-reaching influence, even if they don’t directly impact you,” said Taylor Sanderson, president of Bridge Builders.
Florida’s legislation also applies to dormitory situations, since there are communal bathrooms and changing spaces in residence halls.
Virgil Jovanovich, secretary of Bridge Builders, has experienced living in a dormitory hall that doesn’t match his gender identity.
Jovanovich was placed in an all-girls hall his freshman year.
“At the end of the day, it's a bunch of girls, and I’m a guy. What other guy at Belmont has to live with girls, just because I have an F on my birth certificate?” Jovanovich said.
“It’s just uncomfortable, and one more thing that makes people feel like they aren’t accepted.”
Despite an uncertain future for transgender students in both Tennessee and Belmont, Jovanovich remains hopeful.
“Trans joy is resistance, and I very much believe in that. The fact that I exist is rebellion-in-itself, and that does help me sleep at night,” Jovanovich said.
This article was written by Anna McCoy and Kathleen Harrington