NASHVILLE, Tenn. - On May 18, the Republican-controlled Tennessee state legislature overwhelmingly passed a bill that would strip Nashville of its anti-bias rights protections for its lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender citizens, and ban any Tennessee city from enacting similar measures. The bill is now awaiting the Governor's signature. Perhaps even more shocking than this action is the lobbying that promoted it: a coalition of business and religious leaders.
The Tennessee Chamber of Commerce and Industry, chaired by the car company Nissan, and whose members include AT&T, FedEx, Comcast, DuPont, Pfizer, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Caterpillar, KPMG, Whirlpool, Embraer, Alcoa and United HealthCare, actively supported the measure. Those companies don't simply sit on the chamber as members - they are on the board of directors. In essence, they are the Chamber.
The bill was sponsored by Republican state Rep. Glen Casada after a meeting at the headquarters of LifeWay, a Southern Baptist affiliated company, with local religious and business leaders. According to Nashville's The City Paper, the people Casada met with include: former Republican state Rep. David Fowler who currently runs the Christian anti-gay Family Action Council of Tennessee, Lee Beaman of the Beaman Automotive Group and Stan Hardaway, president of Hardaway Construction.
The Nashville measure these business people and religious groups opposed was a bill that added sexual orientation and gender identity to the Davidson County anti-discrimination laws. In essence it simply required that contractors working with the county provide anti-discrimination protections to LGBT employees. The ordinance was approved in early April by a vote of 21-5 and signed by the mayor.
The business and religious groups teamed up to spin the Nashville anti-discrimination measure as somehow anti-business, adding "excessive government regulation." According to the Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the anti-bias protections were providing an "additional burden" which would hinder their business.
Jamie Hollin, a Nashville Metro councilman who co-sponsored the Nashville anti-bias bill, stated, "It wouldn't be as embarrassing if any of the arguments in support of the legislation held even a drop of water. They don't. It's been a campaign for the record books contrived on homophobia."
Opponents of the anti-gay-rights legislation have started a petition to the companies belonging the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce, demanding that they withdrawal their support for the bill. The petition is online here.
This comes on the heels of the Tennessee state Senate passing, by a margin of 20-10, a bill labeled by opponents as the "don't say gay bill." This bill, introduced by Republican Sen. Stacey Campfield, bars middle or elementary school teachers from discussing or mentioning sexual behavior other than heterosexuality. This would prohibit teachers from discussing gay-related issues or gay family members. Thankfully, actor and former Starfleet officer George Takei has a solution - see his video below.
Campfield has been proposing this bill for six years, as well as bills to issue death certificates to fetuses and allowing guns on college campuses. This bill, passed May 20 by the Senate, is not likely to be taken up the Tennessee House this year, as companion legislation has not advanced out of the House committee.