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Tennessee Passes Bathroom Bill; Other Hurdles Loom

Legislature punts on other bills until 2020 in “most grueling legislative session for the LGBTQ community in years”

Some of the mayhem that the Tennessee State Legislature could have committed was put off — at least for now — but the state’s indecent exposure law was amended in a clear effort to target transgender people using bathrooms and similar same-gender facilities.
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Three out of a whopping six pieces of anti-LGBTQ legislation in Tennessee’s GOP-dominated state legislature have stalled for now, but one damaging “bathroom bill” passed and advocates are sounding the alarm because some of those bills are slated to be revisited next year.

The state’s Republican governor, Bill Lee, signed into law a bill that originally targeted the transgender community more directly but was amended to remove some of the most explicitly anti-trans language. It expands the state’s indecent exposure law to include incidents that occur in restrooms, locker rooms, dressing rooms, or showers if the offender is a different sex than what is labeled on the facility’s door. Before being amended, the measure targeted trans people’s mere presence in a bathroom or similar facility more directly.

The local LGBTQ community still worries that the bill is designed to target transgender people because the state still does not allow people to change the sex designation on their birth certificates, putting trans people in legal jeopardy with authorities who don’t respect their gender identity.

“We still oppose the bill,” said Christopher Sanders, who is the executive director of the Tennessee Equality Project, told Gay City News on May 3. “Anytime you beef up an indecent exposure law, chances are it could target trans people.”

Other blatantly anti-LGBTQ bills came dangerously close to passing, with some of them at least clearing the lower chamber of the State Legislature before dying in the Senate. One of the two bills placed on the backburner until next year would direct the state attorney general to defend schools with transphobic bathroom policies in court cases pertaining to those policies, while another would prevent adoption agencies “from being required to perform, assist, consent to, refer, or participate in any child placement for foster care or adoption that would violate the agency’s written religious or moral convictions.”

A third piece of legislation that would broadly give businesses the ability to discriminate by banning state and local government agencies from taking action against the internal policies of businesses passed the House by an overwhelming margin, 68-22, but, like the other two, the Senate punted on it until 2020.

A different bill that would have given adoption agencies the right to deny couples for religious reasons did not advance from the committee.

A sixth bill seeking to define marriage as between a man and a woman never advanced from the committee level, presumably because it such a bill would not make sense in the wake of the US Supreme Court’s 2015 marriage equality ruling.

The bills faced widespread public opposition from a variety of sectors. More than 100 faith leaders signed onto a statement rejecting the package, while numerous businesses — including the Tennessee Titans NFL team — also publicly denounced the bills. The community also gained an assist from celebrities such as Tennessee native Taylor Swift, who pumped $113,000 of her own money into the Tennessee Equality Project and used her large platform to blast the State Legislature.

“This was the most grueling legislative session for our LGBTQ community in many years, Sanders said. “We’re obviously grateful for Taylor Swift’s donation, but it was her speaking out that was a turning point for us. I think that helped pave the way for businesses to speak out.”

Updated 11:15 am, May 7, 2019
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