Just weeks after the state Attorney General became the first in the South to affirm Tennessee’s hate crimes law covers transgender people, the state capitol in Nashville is preparing to vote on no less than six anti-LGBTQ bills.
“The Slate of Hate,” as local advocates are calling it, goes after LGBTQ students and the ability of transgender people to live our lives in peace and without fear of prejudice. While state after state is abandoning efforts to restrict the rights of transgender people, it’s clear the Tennessee state legislature is ready to force prejudice on over 31,000 of its residents who are transgender.
License to Discriminate
While freedom of and from religion is among the most valued of principles in the U.S. Constitution, our country decided long ago there is no excuse for businesses to categorically treat an entire group differently because of who they are. The Tennessee state legislature, however, is prepared to ignore that well-worn principle.
SB364, if passed, would prohibit any state agency from taking action based on the “internal actions” of a private business, including hiring and firing of employees. While seemingly neutral on its face, the bill is designed to prevent the state from, for example, acting in defense of transgender people who lose their job because of their gender identity — something one in five of Tennessee’s transgender residents have experienced according to our 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey.
Putting Transgender People at Risk of Arrest
In many ways, HB1151 in Tennessee is no different from the many failed attempts to spread fear about transgender people using public restrooms. Framed as a bill banning “indecent exposure” (which is already a crime under state law), the bill’s text goes a step further than even the most restrictive of “bathroom bills.” It says that someone using the restroom of “the opposite sex” could be charged with indecent exposure in some cases — and it explicitly states that a diagnosis of gender dysphoria would not protect someone from being charged.
Dragging transgender people into a conversation about indecent exposure is needless and irrational. In fact, transgender people are far more likely to be the victims of harassment and sexual violence than the perpetrators, with nearly half experience the latter. Transgender people’s presence in a restrooms doesn’t put anyone’s safety or privacy at risk — period.
HB1151 wouldn’t solve a real problem — the only thing it is meant to do is spread more fear and encourage people to target transgender people as deviants and criminals. It would put transgender people at risk of being arrested and charged with a crime for simply existing in a changing room, locker room, or public bathroom.
Such myths about transgender people and the laws that protect us have been thoroughly debunked, and proactive, inclusive laws are supported by the entire mainstream of organizations and advocates fighting to end sexual violence. In fact, even people who have pushed the myth admitted it was nothing more than a political ploy to take away the rights of transgender people. HB1151 is a harmful, needless attempt to perpetuate this myth and write it into Tennessee state law.
Over the last two decades, transgender students have racked up victory after victory after victory in the federal courts. Despite this consistent consensus, however, lawmakers in Tennessee want to tie the hands of state officials, preventing them from enforcing the law and mandating they defend harmful and prejudiced school policies.
SB1499, if passed, would require the state attorney general to defend school policies that exclude transgender students from equal access to locker rooms and restrooms. This is particularly alarming because Herbert Slattery, the current attorney general, has shown some promising signs of recognizing the harm faced by transgender Tennesseans every day.
According to our friends at GLSEN, transgender students in Tennessee remain alienated by school officials. A survey by GLSEN found three out of every four transgender students in Tennessee is denied access to locker rooms and restrooms consistent with their gender identity. Policies protecting their right to do so are proven to improve their academic performance and reduce the alarming rates of bullying, harassment, and physical violence endured by LGBTQ students.
Preventing law enforcement from acting on the facts could be disastrous. SB1499 wants to adhere the state to a philosophy that not only ignores the well-being of transgender students — it completely ignores their existence.
This slate of anti-LGBTQ bills combined represent a “perfect storm” of ignorance, fear, and prejudice that could prove disastrous for every Tennessean. States that have enacted similar laws have suffered severe political and economic consequences, including major employers and pro sport leagues pulling jobs and events from the state. One analysis of the cost of HB2 to the state of North Carolina found it cost the state economy nearly $4 billion.
Tennessee cannot afford these bills, and transgender Tennesseans deserve better than a state government acting to encourage businesses to fire them, criminalize their existence in public spaces, or enforce dangerous policies excluding them from schools.
If you live in Tennessee, click here to tell your representative to vote against these bills. And if you live anywhere else in the country, show your support for our transgender siblings in Tennessee by talking about these bills on social media or with your friends and families.