NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - The chief executives of Williams-Sonoma, Hilton Worldwide, T-Mobile and dozens of other major corporations have signed a letter asking Tennessee lawmakers to reject a transgender bathroom bill, saying it is discriminatory.
On Wednesday, a group of advocates for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people dropped off the letter to the offices of House Speaker Beth Harwell and Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, both Republicans. Airbnb, Alcoa and Dow Chemical were also among the 60 companies that said the proposal has no place in Tennessee.
Republican Gov. Bill Haslam said he has already gotten calls and email from executives. He said he would have to look at both principle and economics when deciding what legislation he needed to support.
"My job as governor is different from the legislators," he said. "They represent their districts; I have to represent all 6.6 million Tennesseans and come to the best decision that we can."
Haslam, who has also raised concerns about the state losing federal education funding if the bill passes, said he has not heard from school districts about problems with bathrooms and transgender students, and his understanding was that each school system was adjusting to the situation as it arises.
Under the measure, students at public schools and universities would be required to use bathrooms and locker rooms corresponding to their sex at birth. Supporters say it protects the privacy of students and the rights of everyone. Opponents say it discriminates.
Representatives from the Human Rights Campaign, the nation's largest LGBT organization; the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee; the Tennessee Equality Project; and the Tennessee Transgender Political Coalition were among members of the group calling on lawmakers to kill the bill.
The president of the Human Rights Campaign said politicians in other states have supported similar measures, aligning themselves on the dark side of history. And he said Ramsey and Harwell will be defined by how they act on the bill.
"What they do on this legislation will define them and define their legacy for the rest of time. They have a choice, and I hope they make the right one," Chad Griffin said at a press conference.
Ramsey said he supports the legislation.
"It is unfortunate that this issue even exists - but it does," Ramsey said in a statement. "While I understand some in the business community have concerns, I do not share them."
"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," he said.
A spokeswoman for Harwell did not return messages seeking comment.
The bill may be in jeopardy after Tennessee's attorney general issued a legal opinion earlier this week saying the state risked losing federal education funding if it becomes law. A revised fiscal analysis says the state is expected to receive more than $1.3 billion in federal funding next fiscal year for K-12 and higher education.
A sponsor of the bill said lawmakers are working to lessen the fiscal impact to the state. A revised analysis says the financial impact to the state is $324,000 to pay for five employees at public universities to help comply with the measure if it becomes law. The analysis, however, does not include the state's largest school, the University of Tennessee.
One option for reducing the $324,000 impact would be to eliminate the portion of the bill that would apply to universities, said Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville, a sponsor of the legislation.
"We're throwing out some other ideas to see if we can come up with something that would eliminate it," Bell said. "So far we've not been successful."
Bell said he was hopeful but not confident that lawmakers could reduce the cost before the legislative session ends.