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NRPA is deeply committed to ensuring that all people have fair and just access to high-quality local parks and recreation. That is why when the state of Tennessee enacted a rash of anti-LGBTQ+ laws earlier this summer, we had a decision to make. The 2021 NRPA Annual Conference — a national gathering of park and recreation professionals from across the country — was set to take place in Nashville, Tennessee, at the end of September.
These newly enacted discriminatory laws — including SB 228, SB 1229, HB 1182, HB 1027 and HB 1233 — stand in direct opposition to NRPA’s values of equity and inclusion by cruelly harming an already marginalized community and promoting the exclusion of some children from enjoying the myriad benefits of public recreation spaces and programs.
Our initial thought was to move our conference to a state without discriminatory laws. However, this action would only further harm Tennesseans already negatively impacted by this legislative decision through no fault of their own, and also would not solve the root cause of discrimination. Instead, we channeled our efforts into publicly standing with the LGBTQ+ community by making a public statement to affirm, unequivocally, that legislation seeking to discriminate and marginalize any group of people has no place in our communities. We outlined our opposition in a letter to Tennessee’s state leadership, including Governor Bill Lee, Lieutenant Governor and Speaker of the Senate Randy McNally, and Speaker of the House of Representative Cameron Sexton.
Such discriminatory laws are not an isolated incident. Since the passage of Idaho’s controversial law in 2020 banning transgender (or trans) student athletes, more than half of the states in the country have introduced laws that would ban transgender athletes from playing on school sports teams that correspond with their gender identity, several of which have passed. However, many LGBTQ+ advocates and allies have mobilized to challenge these laws in court as violations of students’ privacy and right to equal protection under the law. As these challenges move forward, we also must speak out in the court of public opinion. For us, that effort begins with educating ourselves and others on how these discriminatory laws are unfair to trans youth who deserve to be treated with respect and fairness. We encourage our readers to learn more and discover what gender-inclusive sports policies from across the United States look like. One resource to get started is transathlete.com/k-12.
Not only have we added our voice to this effort, but also we have directed some of our advocacy resources to complement the work of local civil rights organizations that are working to overturn these unjust laws. Such groups as Athlete Ally, The Trevor Project, PFLAG, GLSEN, TransAthlete and The National Center for Transgender Equality are doing the critical work of organizing their communities to stand against hate and prejudice. We are proud to stand with allies who share this vision.
While we ultimately decided to hold our conference in Nashville, NRPA has committed to not holding future conferences in Tennessee while these anti-LGBTQ+ laws remain on the books. We also will continue to push for trans-inclusive policies and strongly oppose any efforts that attempt to exclude trans youth from being able to play sports.
As historical social change and civil rights movements demonstrated, this goal will take considerable time, energy and dedication to be realized. Yet, we are encouraged that this movement already has strong public backing as demonstrated by a recent national poll, which shows that two-thirds of people support the rights of transgender students to play on the sports teams aligned with their gender identity. We are committed to putting in the time and energy to ensure that all people have fair and just access to the benefits of high-quality, local parks and recreation.
Elvis Cordova is Vice President of Public Policy and Advocacy for NRPA