How Tennessee Lawmakers Paved The Way For Tracy Morgan’s Homophobic Rant

Among the onslaught of voices condemning Tracy Morgan for his recent homophobic rant in a Nashville night club, comedian Wanda Sykes pointed out on Twitter that the negative climate in Tennessee may have very well have encouraged Morgan to engage in such rhetoric:

Had time to think. Tracy is just a dumb comic. I fault the TN lawmakers. They’ve created an anti-gay environment. Don’t believe Tracy would be so ignorant in LA, because we have a mayor, a city council, and police chief who believes we are all equal. I do believe in free speech, but for a youth in TN or any other numerous place, Tracy just yelled, “Fire,” in a crowded theater.

Sykes is likely referring to the several bills recently considered by the Tennessee legislature:

BAN NON-DISCRIMINATION: The state has passed an unprecedented law that prevents its municipalities from extending non-discrimination protections based on sexual orientation or gender identity. The law was a direct response to Nashville extending those very protections, which are now void. Essentially, it’s now against Tennessee law for cities to protect LGBT people from discrimination.

DON’T SAY GAY: The infamous “Don’t Say Gay” bill would prohibit discussion of same-sex orientations before 8th grade. It passed the Senate but there was not time for it to pass the House, so it will come up again next year.

PARENTAL INTERFERENCE: A third bill discussed in both chambers would have threatened access to gay-straight alliances in Tennessee’s schools by letting parents decide which clubs students are allowed to join.

All three bills aim to either preserve opportunities to discriminate against LGBT people or block pro-LGBT resources designed to create a more positive environment. Essentially, Tennessee lawmakers are ensuring that rhetoric like what Morgan spewed can be heard loud and clear.

But Sykes’ suggestion that Morgan wouldn’t “be so ignorant in LA” doesn’t mean that Morgan has different views just because he’s in a different city. Anti-gay views are anti-gay views, and either Morgan has them (and finally felt free to share them) or his act is built entirely around pandering to his audience. Either way, Sykes’ greater point is spot on: Morgan probably wouldn’t have made the remarks if he weren’t in an environment that welcomed and encouraged them. This speaks to the importance of laws that actually do the opposite of what Tennessee lawmakers have proposed. Only by proactively discussing sexual orientation in schools and including it in anti-bullying instruction can rhetoric like Morgan’s (which is prevalent throughout schools) truly be countered so that youth can be protected.