The LGBT community in Tennessee is unfortunately no stranger to discrimination. Despite all the leaps the community has made in the past decade including the freedom to marry, they continue to be on the losing end of the “religious freedom” argument, which attempts to justify the bills that target the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Tennesseans.

While proposals such as that which tried to nullify the same-sex marriage decision and trying to force transgender students to use the bathrooms of the sex listed on their birth certificates were rejected, past and current governors have signed some questionable bills that strongly discriminate against LGBT people. This includes the bill that was signed in 2016 by Gov. Bill Haslan which allowed councilors to deny clients based on “sincerely held principles”, as well as the one signed in 2020 by Gov. Bill Lee which now allows private taxpayer-funded adoption and foster care agencies operate under their own religious or moral beliefs, regardless of the fact that this behavior is entirely discriminatory and does not take the children’s best interest into account.

Unfortunately, this new law seems to simply be a formality. Some faith-based agencies were already not allowing gay couples to adopt, but now they have the legal backing to do so.

Supporters of these laws argue that the rights of LGBT individuals are fairly balanced against religious freedom. The appalling fact of the matter is that children may be denied being matched with qualified, prospective parents simply due to their sexual orientation or gender identity. Their best interests are jeopardized, and they may find themselves without a family because their prospective parents’ human rights are being violated. 

In addition to the harmful impact this can have on children, the LGBT community often finds themselves strongly disadvantaged in plenty of situations due to the lack of protection they have against discrimination in not only Tennessee, but in plenty of other states. Kansas, Mississippi, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, and Virginia also allow all adoption and foster care agencies to discriminate against members of the LGBT community. Alabama and Michigan allow private agencies to discriminate, but not those that receive state funding.

Sadly, only five states including California, Michigan, New Jersey, New York and Rhode Island actively prohibit discrimination in terms of gender identity and sexual orientation in child welfare services.

Harmful laws against the LGBT community are unfortunately continuing to brew, and they simply cannot continue. There is, however, a silver lining involving the matter. The Trump administration was attempting to roll back antidiscrimination protections for federally funded child welfare agencies, which would have further discriminated against LGBT people. In the coming weeks, however, with an upcoming presidential transition, it is expected that Congress will swiftly reject this regressive rule. Unfortunately, this still does not change things in Tennessee, or any of the other aforementioned states that discriminate against the LGBT community. 

Since this bill was brought up in 2019, many companies have been against the Tennessee legislature’s “state of hate” and expressed disappointment. However, while these businesses voiced their disapproval, including Amazon –which brought in 5,000 jobs to Nashville as part of Tennessee’s largest job deal ever– they did not change their course of action, or threaten with any material consequences to the state. In fact, Amazon continued to expand in Tennessee throughout 2020. 

The overarching problem with bills like these and the failure for those in power to be held materially accountable is that people who identify as part of the LGBT community are being treated as second-class citizens. In a hostile yet subtle manner, LGBT people are coming to expect discrimination before it occurs, and it can deter them from even attempting to obtain what they need out of fear of rejection or self-preservation. This includes feeling safe to buy adult novelty items like a strapless strap-on and feeling comfortable with themselves.

When people don’t have rights, it makes them incredibly vulnerable to being unfairly mistreated and lose their sense of self-worth. One key takeaway from this article is this: Tennessee currently has a law in place that prevents statewide anti-discrimination legislation from being passed. They do not consider any part of the population fully or even partially protected by laws that prevent individuals from discrimination on the basis of gender identity.

Lawmakers don’t seem to be finished with these appalling choices just yet – other anti-LGBT bills filed include prohibiting transgender kids from participating in sports consistent with their gender identity, and another that would provide legal support to schools in banning transgender kids from accessing bathrooms. Lawmakers need to reject these deeply harmful laws that are not only harmful to LGBT people and children in need of homes, but to our society as a whole from functioning at its highest potential.

This article has been republished from Out & About Nashville, and was part of a series of first-person pieces written by the late Bobbi Williams.

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