Tennessee

LGBTQ Non-Discrimination in the States

Tennessee
No Statewide LGBT Non-Discrimination Protections
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LGBTQ Non-Discrimination in Tennessee:

There are currently no explicit statewide non-discrimination protections for gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender people in Tennessee. In 2011, Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam signed into law HB 600, which prohibits local municipalities from passing non-discrimination measures that exceed state law. The law effectively forbids cities and towns from passing inclusive, welcoming non-discrimination ordinances. 

The Latest on LGBTQ Non-Discrimination in Tennessee:

Work continues, in the legislature and in communities throughout Tennessee, to bring the state’s laws in line with the values of its residents, who support protecting LGBTQ people from discrimination

Partially in response to a 2016 legislative session, during which many anti-LGBTQ bills were debated, a new business coalition, Tennessee Thrives, formed in December 2016 to oppose anti-LGBT legislation.

History of LGBTQ Non-Discrimination in Tennessee:

  • September 30, 1963:  Governor Frank G. Clement signs an executive order to establish the Tennessee Human Relations Commission, designed to advise the Tennessee public of their human rights. In 1978 the Tennessee Human Rights Act transforms the Commission into an enforcement agency, protecting residents from discrimination based on race, color, gender, and national origin. By 1980, the law also covers age and disability status, and by 1984 the commission covers employment, housing, and public accommodations.
  • 1984-2009: Local and national organizations engage in conversations about who LGBT Tennesseans are, and support for fully comprehensive non-discrimination grows.
  • September 25, 2009: The Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County becomes the first government in Tennessee to protect city employees from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.
  • April 6, 2011: The Nashville Metro Council approves a broader local ordinance requiring private businesses doing business with the city to protect LGBT people from discrimination.
  • May 23, 2011: Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam signs into law HB 600, which prohibits municipalities from establishing non-discrimination policies that go beyond state law. The bill is targeted specifically at excluding LGBT Tennesseans from these critical protections, who are not covered by state non-discrimination laws. The bill’s passage also nullifies the April 2011 ordinance protecting LGBT employees of city contractors from discrimination.
  • June 13, 2011: Local elected officials, individuals, and LGBT organizations including Lambda Legal and the National Center for Lesbian Rights file a legal case seeking to overturn HB 600 and restore local autonomy to pass LGBT-inclusive non-discrimination ordinances. Arguments cite the Supreme Court’s ruling in Romer v. Evans, which overturned a Colorado law very similar to HB 600.
  • 2011-2015: In the aftermath of the dangerous HB 600 law, non-discrimination gains support from businesses and builds momentum as local lawmakers grow to understand the importance of treating everyone fairly and equally under the law.
  • May 1, 2012: The Knoxville City Council approves an ordinance protecting city employees from employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. This is the most inclusive non-discrimination policy allowed under HB 600. Similar ordinances are soon after passed in Knox City and Memphis.
  • July 23, 2015: The Chattanooga City Council approves an ordinance protecting city employees from employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
  • January 21 2016: House Bill 2414 is introduced in the Tennessee General Assembly. The bill would force transgender students to use restrooms that are inconsistent with the gender they live every day.
  • March 22, 2016: After advancing through the House Education Administration & Planning Committee and Senate Education Committee, the sponsor of House Bill 2414’s Senate counterpart, SB 2387, announced she would pull the legislation from consideration. A separate bill, HB1840 – allowing counselors to refuse to provide mental health care services to anyone who violates their “sincerely held religious beliefs,” including beliefs about LGBT people – did pass and was signed into law.
  • December 13, 2016: A new coalition of businesses comes together to form Tennessee Thrives, led by hundreds of Tennessee businesses opposed to anti-LGBT legislation and policies.

Municipalities with LGBTQ Non-Discrimination in Tennessee:

The following municipalities protect city employees from discrimination on the basis of their sexual orientation and gender identity:

  • Chattanooga
  • Knox City
  • Knoxville
  • Memphis
  • Nashville

Businesses Leading the Charge Against Discrimination:

Tennessee Thrives is leading the charge in the business community to oppose bills in Tennessee that discriminate against LGBT people. The coalition includes some of the state’s largest employers.

Last Updated February 15, 2018