NASHVILLE – When asked to sum up the past year concerning the legislative actions of the General Assembly of Tennessee, Marisa Richmond has a one-word response: “Crazy.”
As the president of Tennessee Transgender Political Coalition, her job is to lobby for and against bills that affect transgender citizens in Tennessee and the past year was a busy one for TTPC.
From fighting the ever present “Don’t Say Gay/Don’t Say Trans” bill to advocating for changes in the birth certificate and hate crime laws, TTPC had to pull out all the stops both to keep the advances that the GLBT community has gained in hard fought battles, as well as prevent draconian bills targeted specifically against transgender and gay citizens from becoming law.
The actions of the legislature, as well as the hysteric nature of the bills proposed, made Tennessee a fertile ground for ridicule by late night comics and political pundits throughout the year. Even Governor Haslam was at a loss about the multiple bills targeted against GLBT citizens, saying, “I think there’s better things for the legislature to occupy themselves with right now.”
Although there were several bills targeted at the GLBT community, one bill was designed specifically against the transgender population.
HB 2279, titled “The Bathroom Harassment Act”, was introduced by state representative Richard Floyd. The sole purpose of the act was to prevent transgender people from using the restroom of their presenting gender, instituting a $50 fine for anybody who did not use the public restroom or dressing room that matched the sex identification on his or her birth certificate. Representative Floyd, not known for his highbrow commentary, laid out his transphobia with stunning vitriol: “I believe if I was standing at a dressing room and my wife or one of my daughters was in the dressing room and a man tried to go in there — I don’t care if he thinks he’s a woman and tries on clothes with them in there — I’d just try to stomp a mudhole in him and then stomp him dry.”
The resultant firestorm by TTPC, Tennessee Equality Project and several other groups led to the bill’s Senate sponsor, Bo Watson, to withdraw his support for the bill. Further action by the groups ensured the bill remained without a sponsor, allowing HB 2279 to die a well-deserved death.
Although none of the bills that TTPC lobbied for were passed into law — such as the birth certificate bill allowing transgender people born in the state of Tennessee to change the sex on their birth certificate, and the bill to make hate crimes in Tennessee transgender inclusive — they were able to get hearings on the bills, forcing lawmakers to consider the reality of the lives of transgender people.
“Unfortunately,” Dr. Richmond said, “many were still not ready to vote to treat transgender people with dignity, fairness and respect.”
With this year being an election year, it becomes ever more important to participate in the elections, and to work to help elect pro-equality candidates who will support fairness for the LGBT community. TTPC will be working with people across the state to help elect representatives who will listen to the needs of the LGBT community and help make Tennessee a better and more tolerant state.