Tennessee State Capitol, Credit – Wikimedia
Tennessee lawmakers are attempting to pass six bills that advocates are calling a “Slate of Hate” because they target LGBTQ people for various forms of discrimination.
The first two bills would institute a South Carolina-style law allowing private adoption agencies that receive taxpayer money to discriminate against prospective parents.
One, sponsored by Sen. Joey Hensley (R-Hohenwald) and Rep. John Ragan (R-Oak Ridge), would allow that discrimination so long as the agency cites sincerely held religious beliefs as justification. The other, sponsored by Sen. Mark Pody (R-Lebanon) and Rep. Tim Rudd (R-Murfreesboro), is broader and would allow child placement agencies to discriminate against prospective parents based on religious or moral objections to their identity or lifestyle.
The Hensley-Ragan bill has been taken off notice, meaning it may not receive a vote this session. The Pody-Rudd bill passed the House last week but stalled in the Senate. It has since been deferred to the last calendar day of the legislative session, on April 11.
“We have to keep watching it and see whether they put it back on notice, and see when they decide to run it, if they decide to run it,” Chris Sanders, the executive director of the Tennessee Equality Project, says.
The ACLU of Tennessee has condemned the bill as discriminatory, arguing it would have negative ramifications for children in state custody.
“Turning away good families simply because they don’t satisfy one agency’s religious preferences would deny thousands of Tennessee children access to the families they urgently want and need,” Hedy Weinberg, the executive director of the ACLU of Tennessee, said in a statement. “We urge members of the Senate to put the best interests of Tennessee’s children first and vote down this bill.”
Another bill would target transgender students by requiring the state Attorney General to defend any school district that refuses to allow trans youth to use facilities matching their gender identity. Sanders says that bill has since been amended to allow taxpayer dollars to prop up districts that engage in this type of discrimination. The bill passed the House Civil Justice Subcommittee last week and is expected to receive a vote in the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday.
Still another measure quickly progressing through the legislature is one that would prevent local government from providing business incentives to companies on the basis of their internal policies, such as LGBTQ-inclusive nondiscrimination protections. That bill has passed the House but has also stalled in the Senate.
Another bill that is part of the “Slate of Hate” is a measure concerning indecent exposure that, in its original text, would have allowed law enforcement to arrest transgender and gender-nonconforming people for using facilities that match their gender identity. The bill’s language has largely been amended to remove portions targeting the transgender community, but advocates are trying to ensure that the amended language isn’t removed. And the final bill is one that would allow Tennessee to refuse to recognize legal same-sex marriages.
“Tennessee is on the brink of becoming the next North Carolina — and the first state in the nation to pass anti-LGBTQ legislation this year,” Kasey Suffredini, the president of strategy at Freedom for All Americans, said in a statement. “Tennessee can’t afford to face the economic consequences of passing laws that discriminate against LGBTQ people. The anti-LGBTQ bills advancing in Tennessee are some of the most dangerous in the nation, and we stand with our local partners in opposition to these dangerous attacks on LGBTQ Tennesseans.”
Chris Sanders of the Tennessee Equality Project says the organization will be mounting phone and email campaigns where supporters of equality will contact their legislators and ask them to vote against the bills. The organization is also trying to get clergy and local businesses to speak out against the bills publicly.
“Year after year, a small group of Tennessee lawmakers appear bound and determined to undermine the rights of LGBTQ people,” Sanders said in a statement. “This anti-LGBTQ slate would have catastrophic consequences for our state — and those consequences would hit our young people the hardest…. This slate strikes at the dignity of LGBTQ people in Tennessee and adopting any of these bills would do lasting damage.”