Tennessee bill would target businesses that let people use whatever bathroom they want

717

Tennessee is the only state in which lawmakers have filed a so-called bathroom bill every year since 2016.

Tennessee House Republicans have introduced a bill that would require businesses that allow transgender people to use the public bathroom corresponding with their gender to pay for and put up signs letting their patrons know.

The legislation, H.B. 1182, would mandate, "A public or private entity or business that operates a building or facility open to the general public and that, as a matter of formal or informal policy, allows a member of either biological sex to use any public restroom within the building or facility shall post notice of the policy at the entrance of each public restroom in the building or facility."

The sign would have to be printed in bright colors and contain large print that reads, "THIS FACILITY MAINTAINS A POLICY OF ALLOWING THE USE OF RESTROOMS BY EITHER BIOLOGICAL SEX, REGARDLESS OF THE DESIGNATION ON THE RESTROOM."

Its definition of restroom includes locker rooms, shower facilities, and dressing areas.

The House passed the bill on March 29. The Senate Judiciary Committee will consider the legislation on April 13. If the bill is passed and signed into law, it would take effect on July 1.

The Human Rights Campaign has called the sign requirement "offensive and humiliating."

Although the CEO of the Nashville LGBTQ Chamber of Commerce, Joe Wooley, told Metro Weekly that there are no penalties for businesses that don't put up the signs, he said the bill should be opposed now in case lawmakers put those penalties in next year. The bill gives businesses 30 days to comply before "any action is taken" against the entity or business, but does not say what the action would be.

Wooley also said he was worried that such a law could encourage opponents of transgender equality to harass or be violent toward businesses with inclusive restroom policies.

It's not the only Tennessee bill focusing on transgender people's bathroom use this session. H.B. 1233 mandates:

A public school shall provide a reasonable accommodation to a person who: (1) For any reason, is unwilling or unable to use a multi-occupancy restroom or changing facility designated for the person's sex and located within a public school building, or multi-occupancy sleeping quarters while attending a public school-sponsored activity; and (2) Provides a written request for a reasonable accommodation to the public school.

The bill includes the right to bring action against a school if a person has submitted such a request but then "encounters a person of the opposite sex in a multi-occupancy restroom or changing facility designated for the person's sex and located in a public school building; or ... Is required by the public school to share sleeping quarters with the opposite sex, unless the persons are members of the same family."

The provisions would allow cisgender people who don't wish to share restrooms with transgender people to take legal action against schools.

Some parents have spoken out against the legislation, including Jennifer White of Cleveland, Tennessee, the mother of a nonbinary young person.

"We've been peeing next to transgender people for entire lifetimes," White told an ABC affiliate in Chattanooga.

The bill has continued to wind through both chambers of the Tennessee Legislature. In the House, it recently advanced to the House Finance, Ways, and Means Committee.

According to the Nashville LGBTQ Chamber of Commerce, Tennessee is the only state in which lawmakers have filed a so-called bathroom bill every year since 2016 and the only one in which a bill focusing on transgender people's access to restrooms has been introduced this year.

In 2016, a bill that would have essentially mandated that transgender students use bathrooms that didn't correspond to their gender failed. The sponsor of the bill in the House wanted to see what kinds of legal challenges Tennessee would face before continuing to pursue it.

Lawmakers in Tennessee have introduced a long list of anti-LGBTQ bills this year, and state advocates say it is the worst session for such bills in more than a decade. The legislature passed a bill banning transgender girls from participating in girls sports in middle school and high school in March, which the Republican Gov. Bill Lee then signed into law. A bill that would allow students to opt out of any lessons that mention gender identity and sexual orientation, no matter what the context is, passed the state Senate on Monday. Another education-focused bill, H.B. 0800, would mandate that schools not use textbooks that "promote, normalize, support, or address lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, or transgender issues or lifestyles."

A group of companies that do business in Tennessee sent an open letter to lawmakers demanding that they stop pursuing legislation that targets LGBTQ people of all ages, saying that such bills hurt their businesses. Amazon, Hyatt, Dell Technologies, Genesco, Inc., and Warner Music Group were among the 43 corporations that signed the letter, along with 132 small businesses.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.