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The Surprising Sexual Harassment Scandal Accompanying Tennessee’s Anti-Transgender Bill

CREDIT: AP PHOTO/ERIK SCHELZIG
CREDIT: AP PHOTO/ERIK SCHELZIG

Despite it previously being “killed” in committee, a resurrected anti-transgender bill is still pending in the Tennessee legislature. Like its counterparts in other states, it poses a number of economic risks and comes with its own unique controversies, including some hypocritical sexual harassment.

HB 2414/SB 2387 is narrower than North Carolina’s HB2 and its South Carolina copycat. It specifically targets public schools and universities, requiring them to block transgender students from accessing the restrooms that match their gender identity. Because Tennessee does not provide any mechanism for individuals to change their sex marker on their birth certificate, it would discriminate against all transgender individuals.

The bill was expected to receive a committee hearing Tuesday afternoon, but sponsor Sen. Mike Bell (R) was thrown off by a damning fiscal analysis issued Monday by State Attorney General Herbert Slatery (R). Slatery estimated that because the legislation would put all of the state’s schools and universities in violation of Title IX of federal law, the state risked losing its federal education funding — to the tune of $1.2 billion.

Bell pushed the hearing back because, “I’m still trying to digest and understand the impact of the attorney general’s opinion.”

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Considering proponents of the bill claim that it’s necessary to protect women and children, one of its other sponsors, Rep. Jeremy Durham (R), has ironically been exiled from various House offices because of accusations of recurring sexual harassment. House Speaker Beth Harwell (R) announced last week that she was moving his office and limiting his access to committee rooms and the House chamber because of a “pattern of conduct” toward women that allegedly includes sexual comments and inappropriate physical contact.

The move follows an investigation of Durham’s conduct by Attorney General Slatery. “Representative Durham’s alleged behavior may pose a continuing risk to unsuspecting women who are employed by or interact with the Legislature,” said in his memo to Harwell. Durham denies any wrong-doing.

Though there continue to be zero cases of transgender women abusing their access to women’s restrooms to harm others, 34 women have expressed complaints about Durham’s behavior. Durham does not identify as transgender.

Durham’s hypocrisy won’t help protect the bill from increasing public pressure against its passage. For example, Nashville Mayor Megan Barry (D) has warned that the legislation could similarly hurt the state’s tourism industry, “resulting in a potential loss of over $10 million in state and local tax revenue and nearly $58 million in direct visitor spending removed from our economy.” Likewise, many of Nashville’s musicians have begun speaking out against the legislation as well.

But the anti-trans bill isn’t the only legislation that could hurt the state’s reputation. Lawmakers passed HB 1840 on Monday, which gives any counselor or therapist the right to refuse treatment on the basis of their religious beliefs. If they do, the victim of that discrimination shall have no right to sue. Gov. Bill Haslam (R) has said not said if he will sign or veto the bill.