Anti-transgender bathroom legislation moving forward in the Tennessee state legislature is just as “mean-spirited” as newly enacted anti-LGBT laws in North Carolina and Mississippi, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said Tuesday.
Earnest denounced the Tennessee bill in response to a question from the Washington Blade on whether passing the measure, House Bill 2414, would result in a loss of federal funding for the state as predicted by Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slattery in an opinion Monday.
“What I can tell you is that the administration is firmly committed to promoting and defending equal rights for all Americans, including LGBT Americans,” Earnest said. “Specific laws like this that seek to target and marginalize one small segment of the population is nothing less than mean-spirited. That was true when they passed similar provisions in places like North Carolina and Mississippi, and it’s true as it’s being considered in a place like Tennessee.”
Similar to North Carolina’s controversial anti-LGBT law House Bill 2, Tennessee’s HB 2414 would prohibit transgender students from using public restrooms and locker rooms consistent with their gender identity.
Alluding to companies that have publicly criticized the North Carolina anti-LGBT law and, in some cases, withheld business from the state, Earnest warned Tennessee it could be subject to economic penalties if HB 2414 becomes law.
“What’s also true in Tennessee is that that state has thrived in part because of their ability to make their case across the country that they’ve got a great climate to do business,” Earnest said. “Passing mean-spirited bills through the state legislature is not a good endorsement of your business climate and ultimately individuals businesses will have to make their own decisions about this.”
Recalling the history of racial discrimination and Jim Crow laws in South, Earnest also said Tennessee should take heed of its past before deciding to enact legislation targeting a minority community.
“I think what is also true is states like Tennessee, and to a certain extent, North Carolina and Mississippi, have a long history over the last couple generations of working through questions of civil rights,” Earnest said. “President Obama has talked on a number of occasions about the important progress that our country has made with regard to civil rights. This is a good illustration that the fight for civil rights is not over, and demanding equality for every American and ensuring that Americans are not singled out because of their sex, or their race, or what their last name is, or their religion, or who they love or who they are is a struggle that continues. And the president every time is going to be on the side of equality and justice for every American.”
Earnest deferred to federal agencies on whether HB 2414 would result in a loss of federal funding for Tennessee, which is estimated to receive $1.2 billion a year under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972.
“This is a question individual agencies have been considering after previous states have passed these bills into law,” Earnest said. “I don’t know what mechanism is in place for agencies to consider those kinds of questions in advance of the law being passed.”
The Blade has placed a request in with the Department of Education seeking comment on whether the measure would affect Title IX funding for Tennessee.
The reviews by the federal agencies of the anti-LGBT laws in North Carolina and Mississippi remain going and Earnest said he doesn’t know when those investigations would be complete.
“I don’t have an expectation for that,” Earnest said. “You’ll have to talk to the individuals agencies about that. They’re obviously coordinating their agencies along themselves, and they’re obviously doing this work in conjunction with the Department of Justice because there was important legal questions that had to be resolved, but I don’t have an update for you in terms of what that will be.”