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Tenn. Anti-Gay Bill Signed Into Law

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by Kilian Melloy

"Equality Is an Everyday Value"

Garden State Equality head Steve Goldstein said that the decision not to award the honors was tied to the otherwise-GLBT inclusive policies of the three national corporations.

"AT&T, KPMG and Pfizer don't have to remind us that their internal workplace policies are outstanding or that they have received several awards for corporate equality and diversity. That's why we had voted to honor them," Goldstein said.

"And their LGBT employee groups are fantastic. But notwithstanding a company's internal policies, no company on a Board of Directors fighting against LGBT civil rights merits honors from Garden State Equality or any other pro-equality organization.

"Let our message resound everywhere," Goldstein continued. "You cannot separate workplace policies from greater social responsibility, for laws that cover workplace discrimination directly affect treatment in the company workplace.

"You cannot boast about being a great company for LGBT equality on 29 days a month, but then work against LGBT equality on the 30th day and expect our appreciation. Equality is an everyday value."

The bill was introduced to state lawmakers after the city of Nashville adopted an anti-discrimination ordinance that would have shielded GLBT workers from bias in the workplace by contractors hired by the city.

A similar bill was proposed in Montana earlier this year by Republican State Rep. Kristin Hanson, but failed to gain traction. As previously reported at EDGE, Hanson's bill would have taken GLBT non-discrimination laws out of the purview of local governments by outlawing such ordinances by cities. A colleague, State Rep. Michael Morre, offered a tangled rationale for the measure.

"You introduce things in one city, you can do things differently in another city, you can do things in another town differently from that. If that is what you want, if you want to go down the road that can ultimately lead to one place then sure let's not pass this ordinance," said Morre. "But we need, this is what we do in here, we try to put things into the context of the whole."

A similar sentiment in Colorado two decades ago led to Amendment 2, the notorious anti-gay constitutional amendment that voters ratified in response to municipalities instituting protections for GLBT residents. The U.S. Supreme Court struck down the amendment in 1996. However, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals twice reaffirmed a virtually identical amendment adopted by the city of Cincinnati and applied to the city's charter in 1993. Cincinnati residents themselves struck the amendment to the city charter in 2004.

A second bill seen as being anti-gay was approved earlier this month by the Tennessee State Senate. The proposed legislation would strengthen the state's so-called "Don't Say Gay" rule barring mention of GLBTs in schools, and is championed by Republican State Sen. Stacey Campfield. The so-called "Don't Say Gay" law would bar any reference to sexual minorities in public schools until students reach the ninth grade.

Opponents to the bill worry that students, who hear anti-gay epithets and erroneous information concerning gays long before they reach the ninth grade, will be impacted by such a ban on speech in the classroom, especially GLBT youth.

But Campfield has justified the bill, saying that students should not hear about gays at school in elementary school because "homosexuals don't naturally reproduce," the Associated Press reported on May 20.

The bill's text states that classroom discussions touching upon sexuality will be "limited exclusively to age-appropriate natural human reproduction science." The bill does not seem to make any provision for discussions of same-sex families, and advocates for gay youth worry about the effect on the emotional health of young GLBTs in an environment where homophobic messages are prevented by law from being countered.

The measure passed the Tennessee State Senate on May 20 with a vote of 19-11. The Chamber's approval of the controversial measure is a long-sought victory for Campfield, who proposed the measure for six years running during his tenure as a state representative. However, the bill is not currently slated to be taken up by the state House of Representatives, and may well languish..

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.


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