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Over 140 companies tell Tennessee its anti-gay bills are bad for business

The collective, known as the Tennessee Businesses Against Discrimination, includes major companies such as Amazon, Nike, Dell, Lyft and American Airlines.
Image: Bill Lee
Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee delivers his State of the State Address in the House Chamber on Feb. 3, 2020, in Nashville, Tenn.Mark Humphrey / AP
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A total of 142 businesses signed a letter Wednesday announcing their opposition to Tennessee’s recent slew of anti-LGBTQ laws, which has been dubbed the slate of hate by activist groups.

The collective, known as the Tennessee Businesses Against Discrimination, included major companies such as Amazon, Nike, Dell, Lyft, Marriott and American Airlines, as well as more than 100 small businesses in Tennessee.

The letter specifically targets the passage of HB 836, which allows taxpayer-funded foster care and adoption agencies to discriminate against LGBTQ people. It stated that enacting further anti-LGBTQ legislation would harm Tennesseans and “create unnecessary hurdles to economic competitiveness.”

“Policies that signal that the state is not welcoming to everyone put our collective economic success at risk,” the letter said. “It is both a business imperative and core to our corporate values that our customers, our employees and their families, and our potential employees feel fully included in the prosperity of our state.”

Tennessee received more than $22 billion in tourist spending in 2018, according to Nashville Business Journal. Nashville has become a recent hub for tech-sector expansion, with a high quality-of-life ranking. Amazon is in the process of adding 5,000 jobs as part of an operations hub in the city — Tennessee’s largest jobs deal ever.

FedEx, the largest company headquartered in Tennessee, did not sign the letter. FedEx did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but according to LGBTQ rights group GLAAD, which asked FedEx to sign the letter, the company indicated in writing that while it receives many requests to join advocacy efforts, it prefers to demonstrate corporate values through civic and charitable efforts.

GLAAD also told CNBC via email, “As one of the largest companies headquartered in Tennessee, FedEx has an obligation to its LGBTQ employees in Tennessee and its customers nationwide to use its public voice and brand power to help stop these dangerous anti-LGBTQ bills. With more than three dozen large corporations speaking out against the slate of legislation today, FedEx’s refusal to address is notable and out of step with other companies doing business in Tennessee.”

The letter, organized by the Nashville LGBT Chamber of Commerce, is the latest in a series of businesses speaking out against Tennessee’s discriminatory laws. In April, when HB 836 was first introduced, 13 large companies signed a similar letter, including Nike, Hilton, Lyft and Marriott, but Gov. Lee signed the bill into law on Jan. 24.

“I think equality is important and protection of rights is important and the rights of religious liberty are important,” Gov. Lee said in a recent interview on Nashville’s News Channel 5. “And that bill was centered around protection of religious liberty, and that’s why I signed it.”

Gov. Lee’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment, though it previously has told CNBC that critics had mischaracterized the bill.

Related Tennessee bills

HB 1572: Bill against transgender students playing sports. This legislation would prevent transgender schoolchildren from participating in sports consistent with their gender identity.Schools in violation would lose all public funding, and school administrators would personally be fined up to $10,000 and fired from their jobs.

SB 1736/HB 1689: A second anti-transgender student sports bill. This prohibits a student from participating in a single-sex interscholastic sport or athletic event provided by the student’s public school, unless the student verifies with the public school that the student is of the respective sex.

SB 0364/HB 0563: “License to discriminate” for businesses. This bill would prevent government entities from offering incentives based on a company’s nondiscrimination policies.

SB 1499/HB 1274: “Bathroom bill” against transgender students. This “bathroom bill” would direct the state attorney general to defend any local school district that adopts a policy preventing transgender students from using restrooms and locker rooms that correspond with their gender identity.

SB 1282/HB 1369: Tennessee Natural Marriage Defense Act. This bill states that “natural” marriage between one man and one woman, as recognized by the people of Tennessee, remains the law in Tennessee regardless of any court decision to the contrary.

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