NASHVILLE, Tenn. – A federal judge today struck down a Tennessee law that required businesses and other entities that allow transgender people to use the public restroom that matches their gender to post a government-prescribed warning sign.
“We applaud the court for recognizing that this law violates the First Amendment and harms transgender people,” said Hedy Weinberg, ACLU of Tennessee executive director. “Transgender individuals should be able to live their lives free of harassment and discrimination. Today’s decision ensures that the businesses who welcome them are not forced to become instruments for politicians’ discrimination.”
If the law had gone into effect, any business that allowed transgender and intersex people to use the restroom that most aligns with who they are would be forced to post signs with the word “NOTICE” in yellow on a red background at the top, followed by text stating, “THIS FACILITY MAINTAINS A POLICY OF ALLOWING THE USE OF RESTROOMS BY EITHER BIOLOGICAL SEX, REGARDLESS OF THE DESIGNATION ON THE RESTROOM,” or face criminal charges.
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Bob Bernstein and his restaurant Fido, who objected to the stigmatizing message that would have been required by this law. Fido has informal policies that allow customers to determine which restroom is appropriate for them and has not had any complaints or concerns about their restroom policies.
“As a former journalist, I believe strongly in free speech,” said Bob Bernstein, owner of Fido, a restaurant in Nashville. “The government can’t just force people to post discriminatory, inaccurate, and divisive signs in their places of business. I am glad that the court recognized that this law violates the First Amendment.”
On July 9, 2021, the court granted a preliminary injunction blocking the law from going into effect, and today’s ruling strikes down the law permanently.
“We're thrilled to see the court rule in support of transgender and non-binary lives today. This signage law was simple cruelty - and cruelty is unjust,” said Henry Seaton, ACLU of Tennessee transgender justice advocate. “We'll continue our pursuit of trans justice to its fullest extent, and hope that the trans and non-binary community feels relief and hope from this ruling.”
The court’s decision recognized that “It would do a disservice to the First Amendment to judge the Act for anything other than what it is: a brazen attempt to single out trans-inclusive establishments and force them to parrot a message that they reasonably believe would sow fear and misunderstanding about the very transgender Tennesseans whom those establishments are trying to provide with some semblance of a safe and welcoming environment.”
Further, the court wrote “Transgender Tennesseans are real. The businesses and establishments that wish to welcome them are real. And the viewpoints that those individuals and businesses hold are real, even if they differ from the views of some legislators or government officials.”
The full ruling can be found at: https://www.aclu.org/legal-document/bongo-productions-llc-v-lawrence-decision