Tennessee has become the latest state to attack transgender rights in 2019, as anti-LGBTQ lawmakers expand their efforts from targeting bathrooms to allowing government contractors to discriminate against LGBTQ people. So far this year, 12 anti-LGBTQ bills have been introduced in Tennessee's legislature, as NBC News reports.
Six laws were proposed in each legislative chamber, and some will advance to committee votes as soon as this week. The ACLU of Tennessee's executive director, Hedy Weinberg, said in a statement provided to Bustle that these laws are "mean-spirited" and "won't make anyone safer." In fact, they could open up transgender people to more harassment, she said.
The main anti-trans legislation focuses on restrooms, locker rooms, and other such areas — even though a study from the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law released in September found no safety risks from allowing transgender people to use bathrooms that corresponds with their gender identity and expression. And yet Tennessee's proposed law would make using the locker room a potential indecent exposure violation for trans people.
That measure, HB 1151 and SB 1297, would expand the indecent exposure statutes to include "incidents occurring in a restroom, locker room, dressing room, or shower, designated for single-sex, multi-person use, if the offender is a member of the opposite sex than the sex designated for use." The bills clearly target trans people, as they specify that "gender dysphoria" is not an acceptable defense.
"Bills that make it a crime to be transgender or that give government contractors a license to discriminate have no place in our state," Weinberg's statement said. "Transgender people in Tennessee should not fear criminal prosecution just for using the restroom. This mean-spirited law won’t make anyone safer and may in fact make it more likely that transgender people will face harassment and discrimination."
Weinberg also took issue with the bill allowing government contractors to discriminate. She said such employers should "be setting a standard" for workplaces in the state — a standard which means "evaluating employees on their ability to do their job" and nothing more. That bill, dubbed by LGBTQ advocates as the "Business License to Discriminate" bill, will be heard by the Commerce Committee on Tuesday.
Other bills that were introduced include one that focuses on rolling back marriage equality in the state. The Tennessee Natural Marriage Defense Act would make it easier for clerks to deny marriage licenses and require the state's attorney general to defend marriage laws in federal court, were they to be challenged.
Another few bills aim to make it easier for adoption agencies to discriminate against same-sex couples based on their religious beliefs.
Nick Morrow, a spokesperson for the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), told NBC News that lawmakers should be trying to improve their constituents' lives, not ruin them. "Let’s be clear: this 'slate of hate' aims to use LGBTQ Tennesseans as pawns to win cheap political points," Morrow told NBC News. "These lawmakers are supposed to look out for all of us, not just some of us, and they certainly shouldn’t be using their power to make life worse for LGBTQ Tennesseans."
LGBTQ advocates are pushing for high public turnout in the committee hearings to show the strength of the community opposing such bills. If you go, wear red to signify which side you're on.