Gays, LGBT groups and elected officials sued Tennessee in state court June 13 over a new law that prohibits cities, counties and school districts from having laws or policies that protect LGBT people from discrimination.
The law says, "No local government shall by ordinance, resolution, or any other means impose on or make applicable to any person an anti-discrimination practice, standard, definition, or provision that shall deviate from, modify, supplement, add to, change, or vary in any manner from" state law.
The statute targeted a Nashville law that prohibited metropolitan government contractors from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity through their employment practices.
The lawsuit says, "HB600 embodies an animus toward gay and transgender people so strong that the Tennessee legislature was willing to repeal policies protecting students against bullying and harassment and to make other groups suffer as well, merely to prevent gay and transgender citizens from obtaining needed protections."
Lead attorney Abby Rubenfeld said: "They passed a law based on disapproval of gay and transgender people, which the Tennessee and U.S. constitutions do not permit. Fifteen years ago, in fact -- in a case quite similar to this one -- the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that 'if the constitutional conception of "equal protection of the laws" means anything, it must at the very least mean that a bare ... desire to harm a politically unpopular group cannot constitute a legitimate governmental interest.'"
In that ruling, the Supreme Court struck down Colorado's Amendment 2, which barred any laws anywhere in the state that protected gay people from discrimination.
Plaintiffs in the Tennessee lawsuit include Nashville Metro Councilmembers Erik Cole, Erica Gilmore and Mike Jameson; high-school student Shirit Pankowsky (founder of Martin Luther King, Jr. High School's Gay/Straight Alliance); Marisa Richmond, president of the Tennessee Transgender Political Coalition; Wesley Roberts, a teacher and GSA co-sponsor at Hume-Fogg Academic Magnet School; the Tennessee Equality Project; and the Tennessee Transgender Political Coalition.
"The state legislation was disguised as an effort to ensure consistent business regulations across Tennessee counties," said Jameson. "But that was a Trojan-horse pretext for getting this passed. Every county has unique zoning regulations, unique employment regulations, and so forth. Why is it only now, and only on the issue of discrimination, that we suddenly need uniformity?"
The National Center for Lesbian Rights and Morrison & Foerster also are representing plaintiffs in the case.
"Under the very thin guise of protecting businesses and commerce, Tennessee passed a law specifically intended to encourage discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender members of the community," said NCLR Legal Director Shannon Minter. "This law is part of a larger, national strategy to attack cities and counties that attempt to protect their citizens from discrimination based on characteristics that bear no relationship to job performance, talent or one's ability to contribute to society."
The lawsuit says the law violates equal-protection guarantees of the U.S. and Tennessee constitutions.