The Advocate July/Aug 2022
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Another Anti-LGBTQ Bill Emerges in Tennessee

Tennessee Senator Paul Rose

Just after Tennessee lawmakers passed a “license to discriminate” bill covering adoption agencies, the measure’s chief sponsor wants to move forward with legislation that would undermine local efforts to support LGBTQ equality.

State Sen. Paul Rose, a Republican who calls himself a Christian conservative, is pressing the Senate to take up a bill, the Business Protection Act, which would prevent state or local governments from taking a company’s internal policies into consideration when making contracts or grants, or changing tax treatment. It means these governments could not, for instance, require that companies they do business with have LGBTQ-inclusive antidiscrimination policies — or offer health insurance or family leave or any number of other policies or benefits.

Rose said he doesn’t object to federal antidiscrimination law, which doesn’t cover employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity (Tennessee law doesn’t either). “But there are some municipalities that have gone above and beyond, and really what they’ve said is if you’ve got a LGBTQ-friendly policy we’ll give you preference over another,” Rose told The Daily Memphian last week. “And to me, that goes above what the statute says. And it’s just wrong. The next time it could be we’re going to discriminate for another reason and put greater restrictions on you.”

The state House passed the bill last year, but it stalled in the Senate. Its lead sponsor, Sen. Todd Gardenhire, agreed not to push it, but Rose has taken up the cause, and he wants the measure to be a priority. The Tennessee Family Action Council, a religious right group, is lobbying for it as well.

“Senators are having a closed-door meeting about the Business Protection Act (SB 364) sponsored by Sen. Paul Rose and opposition to the bill is strong,” the organization said in an email to supporters last week, according to the Chattanooga Times Free Press. “This is a bill we are actively lobbying. Pray that the senators view this bill favorably so that it can move forward in the General Assembly.” A follow-up email said not all the group’s concerns were addressed in the meeting, at which it had a representative present, but it was continuing to communicate with senators.

The bill is part of what Tennessee LGBTQ activists dubbed the “slate of hate” last year. Legislators took up a slew of anti-LGBTQ measures, most of which were defeated or stalled.

“We’ve been opposed to [the Business Protection Act] in every iteration of it,” Chris Sanders, executive director of the Tennessee Equality Project, told the Times Free Press. “It’s a preemption bill; it takes more powers away from local governments essentially around workplace policy, things like nondiscrimination issues.”

“We think the primary motivator of this is anti-LGBT bias,” Sanders added. “I think one of the things that Family Action Council of Tennessee is looking at is the issue of LGBT-owned companies being included in Nashville’s minority contract program.”

Rose was also the lead Senate sponsor of the adoption discrimination bill passed last week, in the body’s first vote of the 2020 session, following the House’s approval last April. It gives faith-based adoption and foster care agencies legal cover to turn away same-sex couples and other prospective parents who offend the agencies’ religious beliefs. It would prevent the state from refusing licenses or grants to agencies that discriminate in the name of religion, and the agencies would also be protected from lawsuits. Gov. Bill Lee, a Republican, plans to sign it as soon as it reaches its desk. Rose has contended the legislation “is solely about freedom,” according to the Chattanooga paper.

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