LGBT Advocates Deliver Letter from 60 Business Leaders To Top Tennessee Elected Officials

by Ianthe Metzger

HRC President Chad Griffin joins Tennessee Equality Project, ACLU of Tennessee, and Tennessee Transgender Political Coalition at State Capitol in urgent call to stop legislation targeting transgender youth

NASHVILLE, TENN. - Today, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the nation’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) civil rights organization, the Tennessee Equality Project, the ACLU of Tennessee, and the Tennessee Transgender Political Coalition hand-delivered to Tennessee House Speaker Beth Harwell and Senate President Ron Ramsey a letter from 60 major CEOs and business leaders urging the state’s elected officials to scrap discriminatory, anti-transgender legislation.

Earlier, Griffin was joined at a press conference by Chris Sanders, Executive Director of the Tennessee Equality Project; Dr. Marisa Richmond, lobbyist for the Tennessee Transgender Political Coalition; Hedy Weinberg, Executive Director of the ACLU of Tennessee; and Dr. Renee Mclaughlin, Senior Medical Director, Cigna HealthCare.

The open letter from top executives calling on Tennessee lawmakers to abandon their legislative assault on transgender students now has 60 signatories, a dramatic increase since the letter’s first release last week with support from business leaders at the Dow Chemical Company, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Choice Hotels International, Inc., and Alcoa Inc. Major executives are increasingly speaking out because they know the legislation is bad for business and bad for Tennessee. They have been joined by country music stars including Emmylou Harris, Chely Wright, Ty Herndon, and Miley Cyrus, who are publicly condemning these discriminatory bills, as isCountry Music Television and its parent company, Viacom.

“Tennessee has an opportunity to learn from the mistakes of those who have planted themselves on the wrong side of history,” HRC President Chad Griffin said at a morning press conference in the shadow of the State Capitol. “Lawmakers must listen to fair-minded Tennesseans, to child welfare groups warning of the harm that will be inflicted on transgender youth, and to the growing coalition of businesses calling for this bill to be stopped. And Tennessee lawmakers must ensure this state does not follow in North Carolina’s disastrous footsteps.”

Chris Sanders, of Tennessee Equality Project, said: "Community voices have sounded the alarm in Tennessee about the wave of attack legislation. Now is the time for allies to speak out and act."

The Tennessee General Assembly’s Fiscal Review Committee has warned that the discriminatory legislation would lead to $800,000 in lost revenue, $324,000 in expenses - in addition to the potential loss of billions in federal funding.

The state’s top lawyer has also sounded the alarm about the potential dire financial consequences of the discriminatory legislation. In an opinion released last week, Attorney General Herbert Slatery III writes: “In sum, if a transgender student is required by a school district in Tennessee to use a restroom or locker room facility that is consistent with his or her anatomical gender rather than his or her gender expression or gender identity, and if that student files a complaint, [the U.S. Department of Education], applying its current interpretation of Title IX, will almost certainly require the school district to permit the student access to the facility consistent with his or her gender expression, and refusal to do so could very well result in loss of federal funding — at least until [Department of Education’s] interpretation is overruled by authoritative and binding judicial decision.”

Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam has also voiced concerns that these discriminatory measures would compromise the state’s $3 billion in federal funding for its schools and universities. His spokesperson has said that the governor “trusts our teachers and local school boards to make necessary accommodations” for transgender students. The legislation offers costly supposed “solutions” to non-existent problems, and would force schools to choose between complying with federal law -- while also doing the right thing for their students -- or complying with a state law that violates students’ civil rights.

Several federal departments have announced that they are looking into whether to cut federal funding for North Carolina following the recent passage of their anti-LGBT laws. Read more about how these bills put federal funding at risk here.

Over the past month, bills with language similar to Tennessee’s discriminatory proposal were vetoed in South Dakota, but enacted in North Carolina, where lawmakers are facing fierce backlash. In South Dakota, Republican Governor Dennis Daugaard vetoed a similar bill after listening to child welfare organizations, pediatricians, and parents, and meeting with transgender children.

In North Carolina, Governor Pat McCrory and the state legislature rammed through a measure that, among other discriminatory provisions, includes a similar appalling attack on transgender students. More than 140 business leaders are calling on North Carolina’s elected officials in their upcoming legislative session to repeal that law, which puts thousands of youth, citizens, employees, and visitors to the state at risk. In the meantime, a number of businesses have begun removing investments from the state.

The Human Rights Campaign is America’s largest civil rights organization working to achieve lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender equality. HRC envisions a world where LGBT people are embraced as full members of society at home, at work and in every community.


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