NASHVILLE - Gay rights advocates today sought to amp up pressure on Tennessee Republican lawmakers and the country music industry by calling on major label chiefs to "step up and demand" bills targeting the LGBT community be scratched.
The Tennessee Equality Project and GLAAD, former known as the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, held a news conference on the issue today with the GOP-led Senate preparing to take final action on a controversial LBGT mental health counseling bill later this afternoon.
Advocates also objected to another bill they say targets transgender students by requiring they use bathrooms based on the gender listed on the youths' birth certificates.
Sarah Kate Ellis, GLAAD President and CEO, said 12 convention groups have already told Nashville officials they plan to cancel events in Music City if the bills go through.
She called on label chiefs from Sony Music to Curb Records to follow the lead of the film industry where threats helped Republican Gov. Nathan Deal to veto a "religious liberty" bill passed by lawmakers there.
"Gov. Deal did the right thing," she said.
Noting that some country music artists like Emmy Lou Harris have already spoken out against the Tennessee legislation, Ellis said "I'm here today to call on [music label heads] to stand beside the film industry."
Chris Carmack, an actor and singer who appears in the country music television series "Nashville" as a gay character, said he wanted to "remind our state's leaders we are citizens deserving of equal rights."
Carmack warned the negative impact on Tennessee tourism and economic activity could prove "devastating" and "could take years to undo."
The "religious freedom" bills in Tennessee have received pushback from several major corporations.
Last week, rock musician Bruce Springsteen cancelled a planned concert in North Carolina over a transgender bathroom bill that passed and was signed into law.
But while various country music artists have denounced the bill, Ellis said there has been no large outcry so far in the Nashville-centered country music industry.
At this point, two top Republican leaders in the Tennessee General Assembly told the Times Free Press last week that threats of retaliation will have no impact on them.
"It is unfortunate that this issue even exists -- but it does," Republican Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey of Blountville said in a statement. "I support the bill. While I understand some in the business community have concerns, I do not share them."
He said Tennessee "has low taxes, little debt and one of the best regulatory environments in the nation. Whether this bill passes or doesn't, Tennessee will continue to be the best state in the union in which to own and operate a business."
House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, said that although he has not read the amended House version of the transgender bathroom bill, "just as a general subject matter, I think people, if they're a man they ought to go to the men's room and if they're a woman they ought to the women's room. That's just how I feel about it. I'm not going to put guys in girl' bathrooms."
He added, "I know that's not fashionable and all the big companies from Silicon Valley don't like to hear people say that and they're going to threaten us and bully us."