Tennessee D.A. Won't Enforce 'Hate' Bill Requiring Businesses to Post Signs for Trans Bathroom Access

The bill is among five pieces of anti-transgender legislation passed in Tennessee in recent days

Nashville District Attorney General Glenn Funk
Nashville District Attorney General Glenn Funk. Photo: Mark Humphrey/AP/Shutterstock

Days after Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee signed a bill requiring businesses and government facilities to display signs notifying the public if they let transgender people use their multi-person bathrooms or changing rooms, Nashville's top prosecutor says he won't enforce the law.

"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 on Monday. "My office will not promote hate."

The bill's sponsor in the state House of Representatives, Republican Rep. Tim Rudd, told The Chattanooga Times Free Press the law carries criminal penalties for businesses that don't adhere to the measure within 30 days of being notified they are in violation.

Tennessee is the first state to enact such a measure and has approved two so-called "bathroom bills" in recent days.

The other, dubbed the "Student Bathroom Bill," bars transgender students from bathrooms and locker rooms consistent with their gender identity and holds schools liable "for all psychological, emotional, and physical harm suffered" if a student parent, or teacher shares space with a trans person in a restroom or locker room.

The bathroom bills are among five pieces of anti-transgender legislation signed into law recently by Gov. Lee.

He also approved a bill banning transgender athletes from playing girls public high school or middle school sports and another requiring school districts to alert parents 30 days before students are taught about sexual orientation or gender identity so that they can opt out of such a lesson if requested.

LGBTQ advocates have decried the spate of measures as offensive and "humiliating," with Human Rights Campaign President Alphonso David saying in a statement that Lee "has made Tennessee a pioneer in anti-transgender discrimination by signing the first and second bathroom bills since HB2 in recent days ... He and his anti-equality colleagues are advancing policy based on fear, not science and they will ultimately lose this fight."

When asked about Funk's refusal to prosecute those who defy the law, Gov. Lee told reporters on Monday: "I think his decision will be his own. I signed the law; it's his decision how he wants to respond to it."

Last year, Funk and Lee found themselves at odds over a different measure signed into law in Tennessee: one that requires abortion providers to notify patients that it may be possible to reverse the efficacy of abortion medication mid-way through the procedure.

When Funk wrote in a filing that he did not intend to enforce the measure, Lee responded via Facebook: "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. The rule of law is the cornerstone of our legal system, and we all take an oath to uphold the law, not to pick and choose what laws to follow based on politics or personal feelings."

A record-breaking number of anti-transgender bills have been introduced in state legislatures across the country this year as Republicans have increasingly pushed back on transgender issues.

The measures vary, and include several pieces of legislation that would prohibit transgender children from getting gender-affirming healthcare or playing sports on teams consistent with their gender identity.

Lee is among a handful of governors to sign a ban on transgender athletes into law, with the same thing happening in Mississippi and Arkansas.

In Arkansas, lawmakers passed legislation in March that restricts access to gender-affirming care for transgender children and punishes doctors who treat them or refer children for such treatments.

The state's Republican governor, Asa Hutchinson, vetoed that bill but Arkansas' mostly Republican Legislature overrode him, making the state the first to ban gender-affirming care for trans youth.

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