Tennessee’s legislative session mercifully ended early after an historic slate of anti-LGBTQ bills, anti-democracy hypocrisy, and historic action from LGBTQ people and allies that shined a bright light on Tennessee and other states proposing baseless legislation. The extremism on full display in Tennessee is a tipping point raising national consciousness to connections that anti-LGBTQ lawmakers have to other fights against human rights and equality—abortion, gun safety, voting rights, and free speech.
The legislative session was characterized by animus from the outset, with the introduction of more than a dozen bills targeting the state’s LGBTQ residents, including a drag ban that a Trump-appointed federal judge has temporarily blocked, creating the road map to challenge should any other state attempt to pass similar baseless and unconstitutional bans. The session ended in scandal in which two young, Black representatives were expelled in an unprecedented charge of violating rules on decorum when supporting protests calling for responsible gun legislation.
Hundreds are gathered at the state Capitol in downtown Nashville following Monday’s Covenant School shooting. They’re chanting, holding signs and calling for gun reform. pic.twitter.com/VQqLvsiJBP
— Nashville Scene (@NashvilleScene) March 30, 2023
Reps. Justin Jones and Justin Pearson have since been reappointed by their local town governments and invited to the White House.
Meanwhile actual violations of the public trust were not addressed by the conservative majority in Tennessee: The Speaker of the House attempted to deflect questions about whether he lives in the district he represents, was questioned about his knowledge of another legislator’s harassment of interns, and criticized for inaction on gun violence.
What a photo. Justin Jones, Justin Pearson, & Gloria Johnson are meeting with President Biden & Vice President Harris right now. Republicans tried silencing them, but they now have a national platform & are at the White House. This is what happens when you mess with young people. pic.twitter.com/Ya93xUuJM8
— Victor Shi (@Victorshi2020) April 24, 2023
Then the Moms For Liberty endorsed alderman in Franklin, TN, said: hold my beer. Gabrielle Hanson used familiar if still revolting rhetoric about LGBTQ people to support rejecting the permit for the third annual Franklin Pride. Several hundred residents turned out to speak up and show support for the Pride festival, and the council voted to approve the permit by a 5–4 vote.
Hanson has since gone on to spread rumors and conspiracy theories about the deadly shooting at the Covenant School in Nashville, that killed three nine-year-old children and three adults. “I hope you’re forced to resign,” said the host of a conservative radio talk show.
LISTEN: “People are dead and you’re spreading gossip. I hope you’re forced to resign.”@CityOfFranklin alderman Gabrielle Hanson says she predicted the Covenant shooting & knows the “love triangle” motive on a (deleted) podcast🤔. Conservative host @mattmurphyshow confronts her. pic.twitter.com/SrzmefoT8f
— The Tennessee Holler (@TheTNHoller) April 21, 2023
On Friday, April 21, the 113th Tennessee General Assembly officially ended its 2023 legislative session early, passing bills banning essential healthcare for transgender youth and banning drag performances, but doing nothing about gun safety that thousands of residents came out to demand action on. They did find time to pass additional anti-LGBTQ bills including a bill targeting transgender athletes in private schools; an anti-trans binary definition of “sex” bill; a parent opt-in bill that targets school clubs and LGBTQ curriculum resources; an anti-implicit bias training bill; and a bill allowing public school personnel to refuse to use a student’s pronouns.
Artists rallied against the drag bill, with country singer Maren Morris standing in solidarity with other celebrities at Nashville’s Love Rising event in March benefiting Tennessee Equality Project, Inclusion Tennessee, Out Memphis, and the Tennessee Pride Chamber, and pop superstar Lizzo inviting drag performers on stage to dazzle at her concert in Knoxville over the weekend.
“When We the People speak up as powerfully as those in Tennessee have, extremist lawmakers can’t help but hear,” GLAAD President and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis said.
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“From the youth who came out in force to demand gun safety reform, to Rep. Justin Pearson, Rep. Gloria Johnson, and Rep. Justin Jones using their platforms to lead for equality and action, to Franklin residents who showed up to support Franklin Pride, their words, advocacy, and bravery are not only inspiring, they’re contagious. Tennessee’s discriminatory and harmful drag ban is on hold and other dangerous anti-LGBTQ legislation is rightfully getting more scrutiny there and in many other states. It takes every voice. Tennessee is a turning point and we will not go back. Every state is on notice.”
Developments in Tennessee:
- Representatives Jones and Pearson were reappointed by their county board and city council following their expulsions, but will need to run for re-election in upcoming special elections.
- Protesters flooded Tennessee’s state house to demand gun reform measures following the shooting that killed three 9-year-old children and three adults.
- Franklin Pride will return this June after the Franklin Board of Mayor and Aldermen narrowly approved the festival in a 5-4 vote after hundreds came to testify in support.
- A federal judge temporarily blocked the state from enforcing a newly-passed law banning public drag performances, just a few hours before the law was to take effect.
- Gov. Bill Lee said he planned to call for a special session to bring legislators back to Nashville within weeks to consider gun legislation.
More than 500 bills are being considered in state legislatures, directly targeting LGBTQ people and other marginalized communities.
- Gun safety—A recent GLAAD poll indicated that 72% of transgender respondents and 48% of LGBTQ community overall say the current political environment makes them fear for their personal safety. LGBTQ youth are more than twice as likely to be hurt or threatened by a weapon at school than their straight and cisgender peers.
- School safety—LGBTQ youth affirmed at their schools and in their communities reported lower rates of suicide attempts. 71% reported feeling good about being LGBTQ when non-LGBTQ celebrities advocate for LGBTQ people.
- Healthcare—Efforts to ban and criminalize healthcare for transgender people and youth (like a bill passed into law in Tennessee) are not based on medical or scientific expertise. Every major medical association supports this healthcare as essential and lifesaving. Statements here.
- Free speech and expression, including at drag shows—Drag is under attack across the country, with bills to criminalize performers and venues, and protests, threats, and unprecedented violent attacks.
- GLAAD’s Guide for Media Covering State Legislation Targeting LGBTQ People
- GLAAD Media Reference Guide regarding drag performance and other best practices recommendations for reporting on the LGBTQ community
About GLAAD: GLAAD rewrites the script for LGBTQ acceptance. As a dynamic media force, GLAAD tackles tough issues to shape the narrative and provoke dialogue that leads to cultural change. GLAAD protects all that has been accomplished and creates a world where everyone can live the life they love. For more information, please visit www.glaad.org or connect with GLAAD on Facebook and Twitter.