Shahin A. Samiei

Shahin A. Samiei is the Shelby County Committee Chair of the Tennessee Equality Project, a statewide organization advocating equal rights for LGBTQ Tennesseans via sound public policy.

Focus on Tennessee priorities, not LGBTQ discrimination

By Published: March 28, 2019 12:25 AM CT

Having lived in Memphis my entire life, I’ve watched with dismay as, year after year, the Tennessee Legislature has proposed discriminatory and nationally controversial legislation against our LGBTQ community. This year is no different: Our lawmakers are considering six discriminatory bills during this legislative session.

Two bills (SB848/HB1152, SB1304/HB836) will discriminate against prospective adoptive parents based on religious or moral views of the adoption agency. Laws like these have already passed in other states including Kansas and Oklahoma. These laws target prospective same-sex parents, despite the fact that all adoptive parents must demonstrate the capacity to provide a safe home for children.

This is a distraction from our priority: children having a safe, loving environment to promote healthy youth development. Research demonstrates that children fare just as well when raised in same-sex or opposite-sex homes – what matters is having a safe and nurturing environment. Studies also indicate that a disproportionate number of foster children identify as LGBTQ.

Laws like the ones proposed are a dangerous slap in the face to those children who need to know that supportive homes are there for them, too. Furthermore, it’s inconceivable to intentionally undercut the number of available families who are willing to provide homes to children who need them when our state perennially needs more people to step up. Even one of the bills’ sponsors, Rep. John Ragan (R-Oak Ridge) admitted to Nashville media that the proposed legislation is “discriminatory.”

So, let’s prioritize supporting more loving families in Tennessee over codifying admittedly discriminatory public policy.

Proposed bills also criminalize and discriminate against transgender people who need to use the restroom (SB1297/HB1151, SB1499/HB1274). Everyone has the right to use the restroom. For people who are transgender or gender non-binary, the person they know they are on the inside does not match what is on their birth certificate.

Laws already exist to protect everybody, both inside and outside the restroom, against indecency, lewdness and harassment. Cities, school districts and 18 states across the nation already protect the rights of transgender people to use the restroom. Because of these facts, laws like the ones proposed in Tennessee are a solution looking for a problem. Moreover, a nationally described case study shows that the anti-transgender law HB2 demonstrably hurt North Carolina’s economy and reputation, with no gain for its residents.

So, let’s prioritize giving everyone the right to use the restroom over another national debacle over basic bodily functions.

There are also initiatives by state legislatures across the country to supersede local governments’ ability to make their own laws. These “preemption” laws have been used to essentially tell local communities what they can or cannot do.

Memphians know what Memphis needs, just as Knoxvillians know what Knoxville needs. However, some individuals in the Tennessee General Assembly have decided they know better than we do. In a bill that gives businesses a free license to discriminate (SB364/HB563), local and state-level governments would not be able to decide against public contracts if the internal policies of the business are discriminatory.

So, let’s prioritize giving our local governments the right to make their own business decisions with their own money, rather than having big government perniciously suborn discriminatory business practices.

Finally, a bill that previously was proposed, brought national derision, and failed is proposed yet again: The Tennessee Natural Marriage Defense Act (SB1282/HB1369) is a direct affront to the Supreme Court decision in 2015 that couples across the country have the equal right to marry. The Supreme Court did not make new law in 2015; that is not their job under the separation of powers. The Supreme Court determined the Constitution of the United States covers all Americans with equal protection under the law.

So, let’s prioritize giving all Tennesseans the same rights under established law, rather than pursuing another disrespectful and wasteful affront to legally-wed, same-sex couples in Tennessee, our Constitution, and our rule of law.

Last month, our state’s attorney general affirmed that crimes directed against transgender persons are included within existing hate crime laws. This is a huge step in the right direction, as statistics clearly indicate that transgender people – particularly transgender people of color – are at remarkably increased risk of being victims of crime.

However, discriminatory laws like the ones proposed this year will only set the tone for continued discrimination – up to and including targeted violence. Moreover, these proposed laws are a complete distraction from the priorities that promote prosperity for all Tennesseans like good schools, healthy environments and safe communities.

All Tennesseans deserve equal rights and equal protections under the law. To get there, let us start with more love, respect for our fellow neighbors, and understanding of folks who are different from us.

We will be in Nashville to advocate for equality on April 2nd. If you are interested in joining us, please find more information at

The Daily Memphian welcomes a diverse range of views and invites readers to submit guest columns by contacting Peggy Burch, community engagement editor, at


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