'Offensive and outrageous,' LGBTQ critics charge as Tennessee Gov. Lee signs second 'bathroom bill' into law

In this Jan. 19, 2021 file photo, Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee answers questions after he spoke to a joint session of the legislature at the start of a special session on education, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey, File)

NASHVILLE - Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee has signed the nation's first law mandating businesses and government post warning signs on multi-stall public restrooms if they allow people of both sexes as well as transgender people to use facilities associated with their gender.

Lee on Monday signed House Bill 1182, which critics call the "Business bathroom bill," on Monday. It goes into effect July 1.

On Tuesday, he signed SB126/HB1027. The amended bill would prohibit a health care professional from prescribing hormone treatment to address issues for "prepubertal minors" except in cases of growth deficiencies or other diagnoses "unrelated to gender dysphoria or gender incongruency." It was viewed by some as a less draconian approach to another measure favored by some socially conservative lawmakers who wanted to raise the age restriction to 18.

The bill is one of five bills Lee has now signed, passed by his fellow Republicans in the General Assembly, that target LGBTQ people. Two of them are bathroom measures, the first one (applying to public schools) he signed earlier this month.

They are the first two bathroom bills targeting transgender people to pass since 2016 when North Carolina passed a law restricting bathroom use for transgender people. That led to boycotts by national sports leagues that charged it was discriminatory, and Tar Heel State lawmakers repealed it a year later.

Officials with the Human Rights Campaign, a national group that advocates on behalf of LGBTQ people, denounced Tennessee's second bathroom bill as "unprecedented: It requires businesses that don't actively prevent transgender people from using the restroom consistent with their gender identity to post an offensive and outrageous sign warning that transgender people might be inside."

"Gov. Lee has made Tennessee a pioneer in anti-transgender discrimination by signing the first and second bathroom bills since HB2 [the North Carolina law] in recent days," said Human Rights Campaign President Alphonso David.

The Human Rights Campaign, the Tennessee Equality Project and the Nashville LGBT Chamber charge that the measures, now law, are part of a "Slate of Hate" that targets them, and especially transgender people, being pushed by "national extremist groups and peddled by lawmakers in Tennessee in an effort to sow fear and division."

The measure requires businesses and other entities to post a sign on the entrance to multi-stall restroom facilities open to the public. It mandates the sign must be at least 8 inches by 6 inches with one third of the sign to contain a background color of red with the word "NOTICE" in yellow text.

It also requires the following message in block-type letters covering the sign's bottom two thirds: "THIS FACILITY MAINTAINS A POLICY OF ALLOWING THE USE OF RESTROOMS BY EITHER BIOLOGICAL SEX, REGARDLESS OF THE DESIGNATION ON THE RESTROOM."

Another original bill provision using language from the federal Americans for Disabilities Act was scratched after the National Federation of Independent Business in Tennessee became concerned, NFIB-Tennessee Executive Director Jim Brown said in an interview.

Brown said the concern was businesses could be "carpet bombed" with lawsuits. He thanked the bill's sponsors for listening to businesses' concerns.

The bill's sponsor, Rep. Tim Rudd, R-Murfreesboro, did not respond to a request for comment.

In a March 23 meeting of the House State Government Government Committee, Rudd was pelted with questions from concerned Republican and Democratic colleagues.

Rudd said he brought the legislation after a constituent spoke to him about the bathroom issue "at a charitable fundraiser several years ago. I'm not prepared to sit by and wait for a woman to be scared or raped.

"We just need a minimal warning to women," he added.

While not mentioning the criminal sanction had been stripped out, Rudd stressed the amendment should address some members' concerns.

The House's only two openly gay members, Reps. Eddie Mannis, R-Knoxville, and Torrey Harris, D-Memphis, split on the final floor vote, with Mannis voting for it and Harris voting no.

Bills that Lee has already signed

Lee has now signed five bills that the LGBTQ groups say target them.

Among them, HB1233/SB1367, the first "bathroom bill," was enacted last week. It allows public schools to be sued if officials allow transgender students, teachers and staff to use multi-person bathrooms, locker rooms or changing facilities that don't match the gender listed on their birth certificates. It also requires schools to provide "reasonable accommodations" for transgender students by providing them alternative facilities such as single-occupant or faculty restrooms.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Mike Bell, R-Riceville, the bill's Senate sponsor, told the Times Free Press last week in response to questions whether he had concerns it might prompt businesses to cancel plans to come to Tennessee that "I think at some point that the people of this state and the Legislature have got to decide whether we bow down to corporate people or bow down to the LGBTQ crowd. Or do what we think is best for Tennesseans."

The NCAA has indicated it may withdraw sports championship games from states such as Tennessee with laws such as the bathroom measures, and businesses have expressed similar concerns.

Last week, Lee put his name on a measure restricting who transgender student athletes can compete against in sporting events, requiring it be determined by a student's biological sex as stated on his or her birth certificate.

A second measure Lee signed last week, SB1229/HB529, sponsored by Rose and Rep. Debra Moody, R-Covington, requires schools to provide parents or guardians of students a heads-up before beginning "instruction of a sexual orientation or gender identity curriculum." It also gives adults the option to opt their children out of such instruction.

In response to the alarms raised by the private sector about the business and government bathroom bill, Lee said, "at the end of the day, I think it really matters what our business community thinks. I think it matters what organizations think, I think it matters what the citizens think. And at the end of the day, the people of Tennessee, through their elected officials, decide what the law is and that's how it should work and that's how it does work."

The governor added that "elected officials weigh what organizations or what businesses think about individual issues before they make those decisions. But that's what the General Assembly's job is, and they've done that."

Contact Andy Sher at asher@timesfreepress.com or 615-255-0550. Follow him on Twitter @AndySher1.