In a sweeping attack against its LGBT community, the GOP-dominated Tennessee legislature overturned a Nashville non-discrimination ordinance that prohibits businesses that contract with the state from discriminating against sexual orientation and gender identity. The legislature responded by passing what’s being called the “Special Access to Discriminate” (SAD) Act, a bill that prohibits any municipality from extending non-discrimination protections to LGBT people because state law does not currently cover sexual orientation or gender identity as a protected class.
Though many businesses already have similar policies, the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce joined with religious-right groups to push the SAD Act into law. “Our position is now, and has historically been, that employment standards from the government should be consistent across the state and not create an additional burden on companies that are endeavoring to be competitive and provide jobs to all Tennesseans based on their individual qualifications and merit,” the Chamber said in a statement earlier this month.
But, after significant blowback from the LGBT community, as well as the Chamber’s member companies, the business lobby swiftly reversed its position on the bill, stating yesterday that because the bill “has turned into a debate on diversity and inclusiveness principles, which we support, we are now officially opposing this legislation”:
The campaign led the executive committee of the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce and Industry, which had supported the bill while it was in the legislature, to reverse its position Monday.
“The Tennessee Chamber supports a standard regulatory environment at the state level as opposed to potentially conflicting local regulations covering employment practices,” the executive committee said in a statement released late Monday.
“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.”
Unfortunately, the Chamber’s reversal is too little too late. Yesterday, Gov. Bill Haslam (R) signed the SAD Act into law. Haslam’s spokesman confirmed the signing “without additional comment.”
Meanwhile, as the Wonk Room’s Zack Ford notes, Tennessee Republicans are cueing up what’s known as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill and another anti-LGBT education bill to send to Haslam. Ford pointed out that, whatever Republicans may say, “it’s clear these actions will have very real consequences for the very real LGBT people who live there.”