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Tennessee: Two Steps Forward, Six Steps Back?

February 25, 2019 - Lauren Means, LGBT Community, Middle Tennessee, Nashville LGBT Chamber of Commerce, Politics, Tennessee - , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

By now you have probably heard at least chatter about some of the legal challenges being brought against the LGBT+ community in Tennessee. You might have also heard about some of the “wins” we have had in the past few weeks. We are going to break down all this information and explain what it means to the LGBT+ community.

Let’s start off with some positive strides Tennessee has made in the last month.


On Monday, February 11, 2019, Mayor David Briley signed a historic Executive Order affirming the inclusion of LGBT-owned businesses as a recognized category for Metro Procurement. By signing this order, Mayor Briley makes Nashville the first city in the South to recognize LGBT-owned businesses. Briley stated, “It’s my job as Mayor to make sure that everyone in our city, regardless of who they are or where they come from, has equal access to economic opportunities.”

So what does this Executive Order actually say and what does it mean for LGBT-owned businesses? Let us begin with the basics. An executive order is a written directive to govern the activity employees under the authority of the Mayor. It is not a law but a statement on how a situation will be handled. The “Mayor David Briley Executive Order Number 006” is related to supplier options for city procurement practices. Procurement is the process of finding and acquiring goods, services, or works from an external source, usually through a bidding process. Per the previous Procurement Code, Metro Nashville strives to “promote full and equal business opportunities” when they are seeking out goods/services. This means they like to have a percentage of the goods/services they use to come from small businesses, veteran-owned businesses, minority-owned businesses, female-owned businesses, and disabled-owned businesses. This Executive Order adds LGBT-owned businesses to this list of minority groups.

This Executive Order does not provide any extra funding or special privileges to LGBT-owned businesses. It does allow Metro government to now track the usage of LGBT-owned businesses and services as used by Metro government as it does with other minority/special groups. Specifically, it provides the following:

  1. Modifying the business registration documents related to procurement to allow for self-identification as an LGBT-owned business.
  2. Developing a process to acknowledge LGBT certification and the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce (NGLCC) as the certifying entity, in collaboration with the Nashville LGBT Chamber of Commerce as their local affiliate.
  3. Monitor and track usage of LGBT-owned businesses in the procurement of goods and services for the Metropolitan Government.
  4. To the fullest extent permitted by Tennessee law and the Metropolitan Code, provide LGBT-owned businesses with similar programs and services as those offered to Minority, Service Disabled, Small, and Women-owned businesses in Davidson County to ensure such businesses are familiar with how to do business with the Metropolitan Government and are informed about procurement opportunities.

Additionally, through tracking LGBT-owned businesses and the contracts they bid for, Metro will be able to better understand the availability of LGBT firms and ensure it is contracting with them equally. It will also allow LGBT firms to be included in future official disparity studies.


Then on Wednesday, February 13th, 2019, in a stunning turn of events, the Tennessee Attorney General issued an opinion on the question “Do the hate crime laws apply to people who target victims just because they are transgender?” The short answer, ”Yes.

In 2018, there was a trans-inclusive hate crimes bill introduced by Sen. Sara Kyle (D-Memphis). This bill would have added gender identity and expression to Tennessee’s hate crime sentencing law. Legislators didn’t move on it because there was discussion and question about whether “gender” already included transgender people.

In an effort to clarify the current law, the Tennessee Equality Project (TEP) along with Rep. Mike Stewart (D-Nashville), requested a Tennessee Attorney General’s opinion on the matter. Much to the surprise of many of us, State Attorney General Herbert Slatery issued an opinion affirming that transgender people ARE protected by the state’s current hate crime law, “A defendant who targets a person for a crime because that person is transgender has targeted the person because of his or her gender within the meaning”. Although we hope it is never needed to be used, only time will tell how this plays out in an actual case.


As it has almost become the norm, Tennessee lawmakers have announced the 2019 bills that target the LGBT+ community. This has been coined their “Slate of Hate” by the TEP and there are several on the table this session. Below is a listing of these bills being watched per TEP:

  • SB848/HB1152: Adoption bill. Seeks to “protect” adoption and foster organizations who turn away qualified Tennesseans for reasons based solely on their religious beliefs (Sen. Hensley and Rep. Ragan)
  • SB1304/HB836: Adoption bill. This bill is similar to the previous bill. Seeking to “protect” agencies from being required to perform, assist, consent to, refer, or participate in any child placement for foster care or adoption that would violate the agency’s written religious or moral convictions. (Sen. Pody and Rep. Rudd)  
  • SB364/HB563: Business License to Discriminate bill. Government would not be able to disadvantage businesses in public contracts or grants even if the internal policies of the business or nonprofit are discriminatory. (Sen. Gardenhire and Rep. Zachary)
  • SB1297/HB1151: “Indecent Exposure” bill. Seeks to expand the offense of indecent exposure to include incidents occurring in a restroom, locker room, dressing room, or shower, designated for single-sex, multi-person use, if the offender is a member of the opposite sex than the sex designated for use. This is a way of criminalizing trans and nonbinary people in restrooms and locker rooms. (Sen. Pody and Rep. Ragan)
  • SB1499/HB1274: Repeat bill from 2018 related to the Bathroom bill. Seeks to require the Tennessee Attorney General to either defend discriminatory anti-transgender school policies or pay for legal defense costs. This could encourage school districts that engage in anti-transgender bathroom discrimination. (Sen. Hensley and Rep. Holt)  
  • SB1282/HB1369: The Tennessee Natural Marriage Defense Act. Repeat legislation that would seek to defy the Supreme Court’s ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges which legalized same-sex marriage across the country. (Sen. Pody and Rep. J. Sexton)

For more information about these bills and how to help fight them, visit https://www.tnep.org/.

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