In the Tennessee legislature, a stealth bill that would have the same detrimental impact on LGBTQ people as the now notorious North Carolina HB 2 has passed the Senate and is moving forward in the House of Representatives.
House Bill 54 would effectively immunize private employers and business from local ordinances that prohibit discrimination against LGBTQ people in employment, housing or public accommodations.
The legislation is stealth in nature because the terms discrimination, sexual orientation or gender identity are nowhere to be found in the bill. Rather, it is neutral sounding. HB 54 broadly states that a local government entity cannot penalize a business if it has internal policies that are in compliance with state law.
Tennessee, however, provides no anti-discrimination protections for LGBTQ people. So a business is in compliance with state law if it discriminates on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity in employment, housing or public accommodations. And a business can secure the broad immunity of HB 54 by merely adopting an internal policy authorizing discrimination against LGBTQ people.
The legislation is scheduled to be heard by the House State Government Subcommittee on March 29th.
Our nation’s rich diversity is a great strength. Tennessee’s legislature should be enacting measures that embrace this diversity and move the State forward, including a comprehensive anti-discrimination law. HB 54, however, rejects diversity and inclusivity by effectively sanctioning discrimination against LGBTQ people.
If standing alongside equality, fairness and being on the right side of history are not reason enough for this legislation to be rejected, the prospective harm to Tennessee’s reputation and economy like that befalling North Carolina should be.