Nashville’s anti-gay bias ordinance was adopted less than 24 hours ago, and already the state legislature is taking steps to nullify it.
Without debate, the House Commerce Subcommittee voted for legislation Wednesday to bar all Tennessee cities from enacting their own policies against gay, lesbian and/or transgender discrimination. The action was taken by voice vote, with no lawmaker offering audible opposition.
That flips the position the same subcommittee took a month ago when it went against another bill in a 7-6 procedural vote. That bill was broader. It would have stopped cities not only from banning gay discrimination, but also from enacting their own policies on minimum wages, health care and family leave.
Since then, the Christian conservative Family Action Council of Tennessee has put heavy pressure on lawmakers who voted no, targeting Rep. Steve McManus, R-Shelby County, in a video. McManus missed Wednesday’s meeting.
The video, which was sent to conservative Christians in McManus’ district, seems to suggest that city ordinances against gay discrimination would open women’s restrooms to child molesters. In the video, a little girl goes into a women’s restroom at a public park followed by a sinister looking man.
“Will this be the future for Shelby County?” the ads asks. “Do gender differences matter to you? They won’t if Memphis or Shelby County mandates ‘gender expression’ policies on private employers. Is that the kind of Tennessee you want?”
Nashville’s new ordinance would extend protections against workplace discrimination to gays, lesbians and transgender people working at businesses contracting with the city government. The Metro Council approved it Tuesday night by a vote of 21-15.
When lawmakers voted against the similar bill a month ago, they said they were against state government telling cities what to do. The Family Action Council’s David Fowler said social conservatives managed to overcome that opposition by narrowing their proposal to the gay issue.
“The broader bill created a lot of confusion as to what all it was doing,” Fowler said. “Anytime you have a bill with three or four moving pieces and parts, it becomes harder for people to understand. So we narrowed it down to one issue. It made it simpler. People understood exactly what it did and what it didn’t do.”
Fowler defended his organization’s video, saying it did not intend to paint gays or transgender people as child molesters. If Nashville’s ordinance were allowed to stand, “you don’t know whether a person’s in [the women’s restroom] lawfully or not in there lawfully.”
“As we become a genderless society,” he added, “that’s the kind of thing that’s happening. As we become more insensitive to gender differences, it becomes easy for real sexual predators to take advantage of that situation in that kind of environment and climate. It’s not any kind of statement that those who are transgender or cross dress are sexual predators. It’s that sexual predators will know how to take advantage of those opportunities afforded by law when the distinctions begin to get blurred with respect who’s rightfully or not in a restroom.”
The bill, which is sponsored by Rep. Glen Casada, R-College Grove, goes to the full House Commerce Committee next week. It has yet to come to a vote in the Senate.