NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Companies that belong to the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and even the Chamber itself, are backing off from the Chamber’s suppport for anti-gay legislation signed by Republican Gov. Bill Haslam on Monday.

UnitedHealth Group, the parent company of the United HealthCare health insurance company which is a member of the Tennessee Chamber, issued a statement that it emailed to this newspaper Monday, stating, “We did not lobby for nor support Tennessee SB632/HB600.” The company said its health plans cover domestic partnerships, and points out that it has consistently received a score of 100 on the Human Rights Campaign Corporate Equality Index, the highest score possible.

In fact, many of the companies belonging to the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce have received high scores on the HRC’s Corporate Equality Index, which makes it puzzling as to how the Chamber (initially) went forward with support for such an anti-LGBT measure.

The UnitedHealth Group email came in response to our report yesterday about a coalition of business and religious groups in Tennessee coming together to support the bill, which removes lesbian-gay-bisexual-transgender discrimination protections from Nashville, and prohibits any Tennessee municipality from taking up that issue. This legislation was a response to a Nashville ordinance, passed last month, that required any contractors that wished to do business with the city and county to comply with equal protection for sexual orientation and gender identity.

The bill was actively supported by the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce and Industry, which is chaired by Nissan. The Chamber claimed that the Nashville protections were an “additional burden” to business. The board of directors of the Tennessee Chamber includes: AT&T, FedEx, Comcast, DuPont, Pfizer, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Caterpillar, KPMG, Whirlpool, Embraer, Alcoa, and United HealthCare.

Not surprisingly, these companies have faced a wave of protest because of the Chamber’s support of the bill. Opponents of the bill, led by AmericaBlog Gay, started a petition demanding that the companies come out against the measure.

On Monday, Garden State Equality, a New Jersey LGBT group, withdrew awards they had given to AT&T, KPMG, and Pfizer in the past.

In light of the growing outrage, many of the corporations in the Chamber issued statements regarding the legislation.

The Chamber of Commerce and Industry itself issued the following statement on Monday: “The Tennessee Chamber supports a standard regulatory environment at the state level as opposed to potentially conflicting local regulations covering employment practices … That principle was the only interest the Chamber had in this bill. Because [the bill] has turned into a debate on diversity and inclusiveness principles, which we support, we are now officially opposing this legislation in its present form.”

However, the Chamber issued this statement 20 seconds before the governor signed the bill into law, rendering it basically pointless.

Americablog Gay tracked many of these corporations as they issued statements regarding the issue, and then rated the statements based on their usefulness.

Receiving a rating of “Helpful” were Alcoa and Nissan. Alcoa, an aluminum manufacturer, was the only company to issue a statement unequivocally supporting a veto of the bill. Nissan issued two statements condemning the measure, one over the weekend and one on Monday.

United HealthCare, Whirlpool,and DuPont all received “Barely Helpful” for the statements they issued. Whirlpool issued its statement hours before the governor signed the bill, stating that they will “inform” him of their position. Receiving a “Meh” were KPMG, AT&T, and FedEx for their responses. AT&T and FedEx issued responses that did not even take a stand on the bill. The Chamber, Embraer and Comcast all were scored as “Basically Useless” for issuing statements mere hours, or even seconds, before the bill was signed into law. Coming in dead last at “Totally Useless” was Caterpillar, which evidently could not be bothered for a statement.

It seems that these companies would like to project an image that they are simply members of the Chamber, as FedEx claimed. However, Nissan is the chair of the Chamber, and the corporations listed here are on its board of directors.

While many find it (almost) heartening to see these companies (belatedly) come out against such an anti-gay measure, their opposition only came after public outcry and embarrassment.


Ryan C. Ebersole
Ryan C. Ebersole

Ryan Ebersole is a mental health counselor on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Having finished his Masters degree at the University of Southern Mississippi, his undergraduate degree at the University of Evansville in Indiana, high school in the Fort Worth area of Texas and pre-K in Puerto Rico, and having been born in Florida, he has experienced several areas of the county.

While in Indiana, he worked at a social work agency for HIV+ clients, as well as a low-income community drug and alcohol rehabilitation facility - both of which caused him to take a great interest in the stigmatized and the disadvantaged in our society. Now as a mental health professional, he hopes to serve these groups, as well as continue political activism, especially for LGBT and health care rights, on the side.