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LGBT Advocates Deliver Letter From 60 Major Business Leaders To Top Tennessee Elected Officials

by Stephen Peters April 13, 2016


Today, HRC, the nation’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) civil rights organization, the Tennessee Equality Project, the ACLU of Tennessee, and the Tennessee Transgender Political Coalition hand-delivered to Tennessee House Speaker Beth Harwell and Senate President Ron Ramsey a letter from 60 major CEOs and business leaders urging the state’s elected officials to scrap discriminatory, anti-transgender legislation.

Earlier, Griffin was joined at a press conference by Chris Sanders, Executive Director of the Tennessee Equality Project; Dr. Marisa Richmond, lobbyist for the Tennessee Transgender Political Coalition; Hedy Weinberg, Executive Director of the ACLU of Tennessee; and Dr. Renee McLaughlin, Senior Medical Director, Cigna HealthCare.

The open letter from top executives calling on Tennessee lawmakers to abandon their legislative assault on transgender students now has 60 signatories, a dramatic increase since the letter’s first release last week with support from business leaders at the Dow Chemical Company, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Choice Hotels International, Inc., and Alcoa Inc. Major executives are increasingly speaking out because they know the legislation is bad for business and bad for Tennessee. They have been joined by country music stars including Emmylou Harris, Chely Wright, Ty Herndon, and Miley Cyrus, who are publicly condemning these discriminatory bills, as is Country Music Television and its parent company, Viacom.

“Tennessee has an opportunity to learn from the mistakes of those who have planted themselves on the wrong side of history,” HRC President Chad Griffin said at a morning press conference in the shadow of the State Capitol. “Lawmakers must listen to fair-minded Tennesseans, to child welfare groups warning of the harm that will be inflicted on transgender youth, and to the growing coalition of businesses calling for this bill to be stopped. And Tennessee lawmakers must ensure this state does not follow in North Carolina’s disastrous footsteps.”

Chris Sanders, of Tennessee Equality Project, said: "Community voices have sounded the alarm in Tennessee about the wave of attack legislation. Now is the time for allies to speak out and act."

“Since we first learned of the possible reintroduction of a Transgender Bathroom Harassment Bill in Tennessee in 2016, the Tennessee Transgender Political Coalition and our allies have been working hard to help educate legislators and Tennesseans of all walks of life of the potential dangers posed by this bill,” said Dr. Marisa Richmond, lobbyist for the Tennessee Transgender Political Coalition. “We have fought this bill on a number of fronts. We believe it is dangerous, not just to those who identify as transgender, but also to those who are gender non-conforming or variant. We believe adoption of SB2387/HB2414 would lead to an increase [in harassment of transgender students], as well as an increase in dropouts and suicide.”

“This legislation should be long gone. It should have been stopped by legislators when, repeatedly over the last four weeks, transgender student after transgender student and their parents testified in committee, explaining how this legislation would humiliate and marginalize them and their peers,” said Hedy Weinberg, Executive Director, ACLU of Tennessee. “It should have been enough to stop this legislation when mental health professionals testified about the high rates of suicide in the transgender community….It should have been enough to stop this legislation when the Tennessee General Assembly Fiscal Review committee issued a fiscal note for this legislation stating that should this bill be passed, ‘federal funding to the state for education could be jeopardized,’ an assertion reinforced by our own state attorney general. It is now the time for Tennessee lawmakers to uphold our Tennessee values and ensure that all students are treated with respect and dignity, fairly and equally under the law.”

Dr. Renee McLaughlin, Senior Medical Director, Cigna HealthCare, said: “I am a physician and a healthcare executive and I live in Chattanooga. I am also transgender. As an individual, I know first hand the challenges that face transgender people. I know the discrimination, the harassment, and the bullying.  And I know how hard these are on our young people, who might happen to be different. Especially if their medically-confirmed gender identity does not match their birth certificate.  HB2414 and SB2387 will only intensify these ugly realities and put transgender children in harm’s way.  That is not what civilized people do to their kids.”

“As a doctor, I know that there are compassionate and effective ways to treat and support transgender people,” McLaughlin said. “That does not include forcing them into situations that put them at increased risk of physical violence and harassment. HB 2414 and SB 2387 would do this to our children. As an employee and employer I know how important it is to be able to attract the best talent to our organizations.  I also know that a diverse workforce and a diverse community make us stronger and more successful.  I know this because I work for a Tennessee employer, CIGNA HealthCare which employees over 3,000 Tennesseans and has embraced a diverse and diversely inclusive workforce….We the people of Tennessee are better than what the proponents of these bills would have us be.”

The Tennessee General Assembly’s Fiscal Review Committee has warned that the discriminatory legislation would lead to $800,000 in lost revenue, $324,000 in expenses - in addition to the potential loss of billions in federal funding.

The state’s top lawyer has also sounded the alarm about the potential dire financial consequences of the discriminatory legislation. In an opinion released last week, Attorney General Herbert Slatery III writes: “In sum, if a transgender student is required by a school district in Tennessee to use a restroom or locker room facility that is consistent with his or her anatomical gender rather than his or her gender expression or gender identity, and if that student files a complaint, [the U.S. Department of Education], applying its current interpretation of Title IX, will almost certainly require the school district to permit the student access to the facility consistent with his or her gender expression, and refusal to do so could very well result in loss of federal funding — at least until [Department of Education’s] interpretation is overruled by authoritative and binding judicial decision.”

Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam has also voiced concerns that these discriminatory measures would compromise the state’s $3 billion in federal funding for its schools and universities. His spokesperson has said that the governor “trusts our teachers and local school boards to make necessary accommodations” for transgender students. The legislation offers costly supposed “solutions” to non-existent problems, and would force schools to choose between complying with federal law -- while also doing the right thing for their students -- or complying with a state law that violates students’ civil rights.

Several federal departments have announced that they are looking into whether to cut federal funding for North Carolina following the recent passage of their anti-LGBT laws. Read more about how these bills put federal funding at risk here.

Over the past month, bills with language similar to Tennessee’s discriminatory proposal were vetoed in South Dakota, but enacted in North Carolina, where lawmakers are facing fierce backlash. In South Dakota, Republican Governor Dennis Daugaard vetoed a similar bill after listening to child welfare organizations, pediatricians, and parents, and meeting with transgender children.

In North Carolina, Governor Pat McCrory and the state legislature rammed through a measure that, among other discriminatory provisions, includes a similar appalling attack on transgender students. More than 140 business leaders are calling on North Carolina’s elected officials in their upcoming legislative session to repeal that law, which puts thousands of youth, citizens, employees, and visitors to the state at risk. In the meantime, a number of businesses have begun removing investments from the state.





Stephen Peters
Stephen Peters

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