Tennessee Lawmakers: Don’t Say ‘Gay’ And Don’t Expect A Job If You Are

The state of Tennessee has undertaken a series of actions this week that amount to declaring war on its LGBT citizens. With rollbacks of employment protections and an intent to erase the existence of LGBT people in schools, Tennessee has made some sweeping attacks against people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender.

When Nashville passed a non-discrimination ordinance earlier this year inclusive of sexual orientation and gender identity, the city celebrated the fact it would be a more competitive because many businesses have similar policies. The Tennessee Chamber of Commerce — which includes leadership from Nissan, FedEx, AT&T, Comcast, DuPont, Pfizer, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Caterpillar, KPMG, Whirlpool, Embraer, Alcoa, and United HealthCare — conspired with religious right groups to advocate for a bill invalidating Nashville’s ordinance. Proponents called the bill the “Equal Access to Intrastate Commerce Act,” but opponents more accurately called it the “Special Access to Discriminate” (SAD) Act.

The SAD Act, which has now passed both chambers, dictates that no municipality can extend non-discrimination protections beyond what the state offers. Because Tennessee has no such protections for sexual orientation and gender identity, ordinances like Nashville’s would be nullified by the bill. Passed by a Republican majority in the legislature, the bill verily violates the “Tenther” philosophy popular among conservatives by having the state limit the powers of local government. With Gov. Bill Haslam’s (R) signature, Tennessee will officially deny the right of employment to members of the LGBT community.

Further, the Tennessee Senate today passed the so-called “Don’t Say Gay” bill. Luckily, the bill did not make it through the necessary House committee in time to be considered during this legislative session. Still, the Senate has sent the message that all young people should be prohibited from learning about the concepts of sexual orientation and gender identity in grades K-8. Awareness of sexual orientation can begin as early as age 11, but it would seem the bill would deny those young people access to any resources. It would also deny teachers any leeway to explain (or perhaps even recognize) same-sex families, even if they are part of the classroom community!


A third anti-gay education bill we reported on yesterday might also be approved before the day is over.

These intentions to stigmatize and discriminate are what contribute to a culture of bullying and disparities in health and economic well-being for LGBT people. Tennessee conservatives can pretend that a “see no gay” approach is “neutral,” but it’s clear these actions will have very real consequences for the very real LGBT people who live there.

(HT: John Aravosis and Joe Sudbay at AMERICAblog Gay for their reporting on the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce.)