Nashville’s top prosecutor will stand against the state legislature and refuse to enforce what he calls “hate” under a new Tennessee law on bathroom access for transgender people.
Gov. Bill Lee last week signed a bill making Tennessee the first state to require businesses and government facilities open to the public to post a sign if they let transgender people use multiperson bathrooms, locker rooms or changing rooms associated with their gender identity.
Opponents of the law call the bill discriminatory. LGBTQ advocacy group the Human Rights Campaign said the signs would be “offensive and humiliating.”
“I believe every person is welcome and valued in Nashville. Enforcement of transphobic or homophobic laws is contrary to those values,” District Attorney General Glenn Funk said in a statement Monday. “My office will not promote hate.”
The required sign outside the public bathroom or other facility would say: “This facility maintains a policy of allowing the use of restrooms by either biological sex, regardless of the designation on the restroom.”
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It remains unclear how anyone would enforce the law. The bill does not include details on mandatory fines or penalties. But the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Tim Rudd, R-Murfreesboro, told the Chattanooga Times Free Press the law carries criminal penalties.
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Nashville Mayor John Cooper also decried the bill, questioning last week the economic impact of the state taking a strong anti-trans stance.
“This law is part of an anti-LGBT political platform of hate and division. One of the risks for Nashville is that the hostility inherent to these signs can be the equivalent of hanging up another sign — a ‘do not come here’ sign,” Cooper said in a statement. “We are an inclusive city, and that won’t change. But, unfortunately, we will be made vulnerable economically by this unwelcoming legislation.”
Lee, who in the past has had “concerns about business mandates,” demurred on Monday afternoon when asked whether Funk’s statement was appropriate.
“His decision will be his own,” Lee told reporters. “I signed the law and it’ll be his decision how he wants to respond to it.”
This is not the first time Funk has taken a stance against a conservative push from the state legislature.
Last fall, he sided with reproductive rights advocates and abortion providers when they sued the state over a slate of strict anti-abortion laws passed last summer by Republicans.
Funk and other local prosecutors were named as defendants because of their roles prosecuting criminal cases. Multiple court cases over the laws continue in federal court.
“With regard to reproductive issues, the criminal law must not be used by the State to exercise control over a woman’s body,” Funk, a Democrat, wrote in a September filing, saying he “will not enforce” the law if it goes into effect.
At the time, Lee took to Twitter to slam Funk over his stance.
“A district attorney purposefully disregarding current, duly enacted laws by the legislature is a grave matter that threatens our justice system and has serious consequences,” Lee, without mentioning Funk by name, posted at the time.
Reporter Adam Tamburin contributed.