Legacy of Fear

Renee Richards

1977 was a big year in LGBT history: the Log Cabin Republicans were established, Arkansas reinstated its sodomy law, Anita Bryant was the scourge of LGBT equality and she received her pie in the face, and Harvey Milk was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.

It’s probably arguable that the Republican Party of 1977 was basically the Democratic Party of today and they didn’t get the memo.

However, these events aren’t what has recently piqued my interest.

Last year, when celebrity sports icon, Caitlyn Jenner announced her transition it was met with a wave of anti-transgender legislation across the country. Transgender people finally received the visibility their equality movement had always hoped for, but such visibility had a cost and it has polarized our country.

This is not a new phenomenon.

While not as widespread as the Jenner backlash, something similar occurred in Tennessee in 1977.

You may not know that while several states do not allow transgender people to change the sex on their birth certificate, Tennessee is the only state with a bona fide law that prevents such, while the other jurisdictions maintain only anti-trans policy.

I must be honest, I’m transgender and in 1977, I didn’t even know what a transsexual was so how did this topic come to weigh on the mind of the 90th session of the Tennessee General Assembly?

Renee Richards, an ophthalmologist and accomplished tennis player, transitioned in 1975. After she disclosed her gender reassignment, the United States Tennis Association, the Women Tennis Association, and the United States Open Committee all instituted policies that required female players to take a medical chromosome test to determine eligibility.

Richards sued in New York state court alleging discrimination by gender in violation of the New York Human Rights Law.¬†On August 16, 1977, Judge Alfred M. Ascione found in Richards’ favor. He ruled: “This person is now a female” and that requiring Richards to pass the Barr body test was “grossly unfair, discriminatory and inequitable, and a violation of her rights.” He further ruled that the USTA intentionally discriminated against Richards, and granted Richards an injunction against the USTA and the USOC, allowing her to play in the US Open.

I would love to know how to research this further. I would like to know the exact date the Tennessee law was proposed and passed. I would love to know what discussions took place in committee. One thing is for certain, this was not a topic in 1977 until Renee Richards stood up for herself.

It’s way past time for use to stand up for ourselves here in Tennessee. It’s time for this law to go. In the coming months, when the Tennessee general Assembly convenes once again, I’ll be sure and tell you how you can help defeat Tennessee Annotated Code 68-3-203.