A federal judge has struck down a Tennessee law that would require businesses to post signs containing discriminatory language aimed at transgender people.
The so-called “Business Bathroom Bill,” which was signed into law by Tennessee Governor Bill Lee in May 2021, would require businesses and other entities that choose to allow transgender people to use bathrooms that match their gender to post a government- prescribed warning sign.
Those who refuse to comply could face up to six months in prison.
The bill was immediately criticized by affected business owners and LGBTQ rights advocates, who called it “degrading and dehumanizing”.
District Attorney General Glenn Funk also said he would not enforce it because “everyone is welcome and valued in Nashville” and “enforcing transphobic or homophobic laws is contrary to those values.”
On June 25, 2021, the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee and the ACLU filed a lawsuit on behalf of business owners in Nashville and Chattanooga, arguing that the law violated the First Amendment.
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About two weeks later, on July 9, 2021, District Judge Aleta Trauger granted a preliminary injunction against enforcement.
Tuesday’s decision permanently overturns the law.
One of the plaintiffs, Bob Bernstein, said in a statement that “as a former journalist, I am a firm believer in freedom of expression.”
Bernstein, the owner of Fido, a restaurant in Nashville, vehemently objected to having to post a message that would be hurtful to transgender people in his own business. “The government cannot simply force people to post discriminatory, inaccurate and divisive signs in their workplaces,” he said. “I’m glad the court found that this law violates the First Amendment.”
Indeed, the court acknowledged that “it would be a disservice to the First Amendment to judge the law for anything other than what it is: a brazen attempt to single out trans-inclusive establishments and force them to parrot a message.” they reasonably believe would sow fear and misunderstanding about very transgender Tennesseans for whom these establishments attempt to provide a semblance of a safe and welcoming environment.
“This signaling law was outright cruelty — and cruelty is unfair,” noted ACLU of Tennessee transgender justice advocate Henry Seaton, who said he was “delighted” with the outcome.
“We will continue our pursuit of trans justice to the fullest extent, and hope that the trans and non-binary community will feel relief and hope as a result of this decision,” he added.