Live from Music Row Monday morning on The Tennessee Star Report with Michael Patrick Leahy – broadcast on Nashville’s Talk Radio 98.3 and 1510 WLAC weekdays from 5:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. – host Leahy welcomed State Representative Jason Zachary (R-Knoxville) to the newsmaker line to discuss his letter and conversations with Vanderbilt Pediatric Transgender Clinic to stop the genital mutilation of minor children, and an expected response by the week’s end.
Leahy: We welcome to our newsmaker line our good friend, State Representative Jason Zachary. Good morning, Representative Zachary.
Zachary: Good morning, Mr. Leahy. How are you, sir?
Leahy: I’m great. You’re a good friend from many years ago, early involved in the Tea Party movement. Now you represent East Tennessee, I guess, in the Knoxville area. You’ve served how long? Is this your third term?
Zachary: This is my fourth term. Time flies when you’re having fun.
Leahy: Time flies when you’re having fun! (Zachary chuckles) I remember your first congressional campaign. I met you up in Blount County in Maryville. Remember that?
Zachary: That’s a great memory. It was at the Beat Lamar rally (Leahy laughs), not realizing it’s a Beat Lamar rally, and I’m literally the only person not dressed in a red shirt. And that was one of my first experiences in politics, and I had no idea what I was getting myself into.
Leahy: You’ve done pretty well since then. You have spearheaded this letter to Vanderbilt basically saying, stop doing the genital mutilation of children. Tell us about how you put that letter together and how has Vanderbilt responded?
Zachary: Sure. Yes. And I appreciate you bringing this issue to the spotlight for your listeners. And Michael Patrick, just like many of your listeners, when I saw those reports, specifically the videos from Vanderbilt with their employees directly talking about the mutilation abuse of children for profit, and then also something that continues to get overlooked in this – the statement from the doctor about conscientious and religious objectors and how there would be consequences and there was no place for you at Vanderbilt if you objected to participating in such abuse.
And, man, there are so many things over the last two and a half years that have just grated on me, infuriated me, and I couldn’t let it go. And this was one of them. And honestly, I watched those videos over and over again. I took notes.
And one thing I’ve learned in my four terms: words matter. Every word that you use matters. And so I literally took notes, kind of pulling pieces out of those videos. And the more I looked at that – and to be really transparent, the more I prayed about it – I thought, you know what? No, we have to do something.
The people elected us to be their voice. I started getting emails. People start texting, calling legislators, and texting us like, man, have you guys seen this? And William Lamberth is really kind of taking this, and he’s been spearheading this. He’s our majority leader.
And so something needs to be done. I’m in my bonus room right now at 7:15 a.m. here in Knoxville. Here in my bonus room last week, William and I were talking about options, and he’s like, this is what I’m going to do. We’re going to take these steps.
And I said, William, you know what? I’m going to write a letter. I’m going to put a letter out and ask our colleagues to join us, and we’re going to ask them to stop. We represent the people. This is the abuse of children, and we’re going to ask them to stop.
And I think it’s also important to remember that Vanderbilt is a respected institution. People from all over the world come to Vanderbilt, and there are so many incredible servant doctors there that love people and want to do what’s right.
But there are also situations like this, even with institutions like Vanderbilt, where we as the legislature are the recourse for the people and we have to step in. And especially when society has lost its mind.
Our pastor used to say society is becoming so open-minded, their brains have fallen out. And that’s literally where we are to take this step with children. Again, we’re talking about children.
If you’re 18, you’re an adult, and you want to mutilate your body, man, we should pray for those people. But when you’re a minor, we as the legislature have a responsibility. We deem what’s constitutional, we deem what’s lawful and appropriate.
Based on the number of people that sign that letter, we as a Republican caucus deemed this completely inappropriate. And so that’s why we wrote the letter. And I have had some conversations with Vanderbilt, two different conversations.
They have been very productive conversations. And again, so many times we see kind of rhetoric on TV. But, man, this is not about us having a personal vendetta or being mad at Vanderbilt. This is about addressing a serious issue. We have had very productive conversations.
I had another conversation about 9:00 p.m. Eastern last night, and I feel very good about the direction we’re moving. And Vanderbilt’s going to respond to us in writing. And I feel very confident that they are going to take the steps necessary to stop the procedures on minors.
I really do. And I’m very comfortable, based on some commitments I’ve already gotten that they’re going to certainly honor conscientious and religious objectives and address that. So we’ll see here in the next couple of days. I have 10 days to respond from when we sent that letter.
Leahy: So you broke a little bit of news here. You said you’ve been having conversations with Vanderbilt. At what level have those conversations been held?
Zachary: They have been held directly with Vanderbilt. I’m going to keep some of that close. But they have been with the administration. They have been very productive conversations. And that is a credit to Vanderbilt for immediately engaging.
And then I know some of our other members have had conversations as well with heads of departments, and we have been told they’ve taken this very seriously, as they should.
And forgive me, this won’t be completely accurate, but I believe it was Friday I read that the University of Oklahoma or Oklahoma State, the legislature there was discussing going into a special session, and that institution also punted on doing these mutilation surgeries to minors.
Florida has taken some steps. Ron DeSantis was here in Knoxville two weeks ago. He discussed the steps Florida is getting ready to take specifically related to this. I know the Alliance for Defending Freedom is all over it.
They’ve been involved in Arizona, Alabama, and Arkansas. I’ve had conversations with them. I think we’re seeing something here where it is really a unifier among Republicans, among our spectrum of moderates, mainstreamers, far-right conservatives – tt’s something that’s kind of coalesced everyone and brought some of us together.
It’s shown by the letter that we signed with Vanderbilt, where we have a vast majority, almost the supermajority of our caucus that signed on to ask Vanderbilt to stop these surgeries on minors.
Leahy: You’ve given them 10 days to respond. So that will be what? That’ll come like, October 8th is when you expect their letter to come?
Zachary: I believe that’s correct. Yes. Without having the date in front of me, I believe that’s correct.
Leahy: So my sense is, in the event that Vanderbilt gives a response that’s not completely ending transgender surgeries and hormone treatments for children 18 and under, or 21 and under, my guess is – this is me talking, not you – we are likely to see legislation that would ban genital mutilation for children under the age of 21 or 18 coming from the Tennessee General Assembly in this next general session. How warm am I with that guess?
Listen to today’s show highlights, including this interview:
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Tune in weekdays from 5:00 – 8:00 a.m. to The Tennessee Star Report with Michael Patrick Leahy on Talk Radio 98.3 FM WLAC 1510. Listen online at iHeart Radio.
Photo “Jason Zachary” by State Representative Jason Zachary. Background Photo “Vanderbilt” by Vanderbilt.