I was 8 years old in 1998 when gay college student Matthew Shepard was tied to a fence, beaten, and left to die near Laramie, Wyoming. Eleven years after that, President Barack Obama signed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crime Prevention Act making anti-LGBTQ violence a federal hate crime. It is currently the only protection LGBTQ people have in my home state of Tennessee. But I had already realized that I could be hated by or rejected from my community because of my sexuality or gender expression.
Only three of Tennessee’s counties protect people from being fired from their jobs due to their sexual orientation, and a transgender person can be fired anywhere in the state for simply expressing themselves in the gender they identify with rather than the sex listed on their birth certificate.
And the state is actively working to pass more discriminatory laws. In February of this year, Tennessee legislators proposed a bill that would allow mental health workers to deny services to patients if they disagreed with the patient’s sexuality or gender expression. They are also considering HB 2414, an anti-transgender bill similar to the one recently passed in North Carolina, requiring transgender students to use the school bathrooms that adhere to the sex on their birth certificate.
But I know this is about more than a bathroom.