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Tennessee Senator Creates ‘Turn Gays Away’ Bill

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Tennessee state senator Brian Kelsey has introduced a bill in front of the state legislature that allows businesses to refuse service to same-sex couples, according to The Daily Helmsman.

The bill states that no denominational and religious organization or person is required to perform actions “related to the celebration of any civil union, domestic partnership, or marriage not recognized by the state, if doing so would violate the sincerely held religious beliefs of the person or religious or denominational organization regarding sex and gender.”

That list includes actions such as providing facilities, services, employment, counseling and employment benefits.

“It’s in the wording,” President of the Tennessee Equality Project Jonathan Cole said. “By saying ‘persons’ it means any incorporated person or business.”

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The Stonewall Tigers, which is the student organization for equality at the University of Memphis, is working with the Tennessee Equality Project to move Tennessee forward. The groups worked together for an “Advocacy 101″ event to educate students about the bill from Kelsey.

Cole said that the bill could become law. For example, a bakery could refuse to make a cake for a gay couple’s wedding if the bill is passed and the bakery would not face repercussions.

“We have events like Advocacy 101 to raise awareness of the dangers of this bill,” Cole said. “Apartments could refuse to rent to gay couples. Even specialists and clinics could refuse services under this bill.”

A Student Government Association senator, Laitin Beecham, said that Tennessee welcomes residents, but this bill smacks the state’s reputation in the face.

“We are supposed to be hospitable,” Beecham said. “If travelers see this in headlines, what does that say about Tennessee? It doesn’t necessarily scream hospitality.”

Will Batts is the director of the Memphis Gay and Lesbian Community Center. Batts said, “It once again targets the LGBT community as a group that needs to be shunned. It’s unfortunate that the bill seeks to deny neighbors access based on differences. There are better things to spend time on.”

The committee chair of Student Services, Prataj Ingram, said, “It can open the door to anything. He is trying to make discrimination legal. I have found that when legislators do that, they are acting out of fear.”

Cole said that being refused services for being gay is exhaustively emotional for the LGBT community.

“I would feel shame,” Cole said. “About how I live and who I am is being disrespected publicly. Then I’d get angry.”

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