Post submitted by Ryan Wilson, HRC Senior Regional Field Organizer
This week I had the distinct honor of working with local LGBT leaders in Tennessee as we collaborated together to stop the anti-transgender bills in Tennessee (HB 2414 & SB 2387). For most of this past session I have been monitoring hearings in Tennessee through the online feeds on the Legislature's website but this week I was there in person representing HRC on the ground.
On Monday, I joined two transgender youth and our coalition partners from the Tennessee Equality Project (TEP), the Tennessee Transgender Political Coalition (TTPC), and the ACLU of Tennessee, to deliver a combined 67,000 petitions to Governor Haslam opposing the anti-Transgender student bill. That same afternoon we learned that Rep. Lynn planned to withdraw her version of the bill which would have denied transgender students access to bathrooms and locker rooms consistent with their gender identity, at both K-12 and public universities in Tennessee.
Normally we would celebrate a major victory like that but fearing other last minute attempts to legislate discrimination into Tennessee law, we had to remain vigilant. I spent several days in the Tennessee State Capitol with our coalition partners and HRC Board of Governor Jenny Ford watching hearings and monitoring floor debates, listening for any last minute amendments that would be harmful to the LGBT community. Watching the local advocates walking the halls and speaking with legislators gave me a new perspective of the political process in the Volunteer State.
I also appreciated the resilience and determination it takes to fight back against a wave of anti-LGBT bills in a challenging political climate. Southern LGBT advocates have extremely challenging jobs at a time in our movement where resources in the southern states are often scarce and the opposition to equality is laser focused on restricting our rights. By uniting state and national resources together against this onslaught of hateful legislation, local leaders like Chris Sanders of TEP, Dr. Marisa Richmond of TTPC, and Hedy Weinberg of ACLU of TN proved to be a powerful barrier against a number of bills which have died now that legislative session has ended.
The other thing that matters more and more in our fight for equality is the powerful voice of businesses in standing up for LGBT rights. Less than two weeks ago, HRC’s President Chad Giffin traveled to Nashville to deliver a letter from over 60 business leaders and CEOs of companies opposing anti-transgender legislation. We also heard reports in the Capitol that local chambers of commerce from across Tennessee were calling legislators in opposition to the bill. As the House and Senate finance committees met to consider the budget for the state, they were no doubt aware of the backlash that Tennessee's neighbor to the east is facing in opposition to North Carolina’s HB2.
But I think the most important part of the victory in Tennessee was the thousands of supporters of equality who took action over and over again to contact their elected officials in opposition to anti-LGBT legislation. You and others like you, our HRC members and supporters combined with the voices of supporters of our coalition partners, became a chorus that rang loud and clear in the halls of Legislative Plaza. There can be no doubt in the Tennessee State Capitol that supporters of LGBT equality live in Tennessee and they refuse to be silent in the face of discrimination.
While the legislature has ended their session, we aren’t done yet! HB1840/SB1556 or ‘The Counseling Discrimination bill’ would allow licensed counselors in private practice to use their own religious beliefs as an excuse for terminating care or referring away clients because of moral objections to how the client identifies. The bill has passed both House and Senate and the Governor has until April 25 to take action or it will become law in Tennessee.
HRC has been on high alert this year, tracking nearly 200 anti-LGBT bills across the nation, but particularly the South. Even though some state legislatures have already adjourned, more than 80 anti-LGBT bills are still active and several state legislatures are still in session. If you live in Tennessee, click here to send a message to Governor Bill Haslam asking for him to veto HB1840/SB1556.