Nissan Comes Out Of The Closet Against Anti-Gay Tennessee Law

May 24, 2011

If you didn't already know what Nissan's words meant, you'd likely have no idea what the company was saying in a statement it released yesterday.

So we'll translate.

"Nissan North America, a company with its headquarters (and two factories) in the state of Tennessee, opposes a pair of recent bills in the state legislature that overturn Nashville's law prohibiting companies that do business with the city from discriminating against gay, lesbian, and transgender Tennesseans who work for them."

That's not, of course, what Nissan said. In its entirety, the statement reads:

BACKGROUND: Recently a number of special interest groups in Tennessee and abroad have voiced opposition to HB600/SB632, the "Equal Access to Intrastate Commerce Act," which is awaiting Governor Haslam’s signature to be signed into law. Nissan is clarifying its position on this piece of legislation and is issuing the following statement:

STATEMENT: "Nissan opposes HB600/SB632. While we believe in a standard State regulatory environment, we share public concerns about this bill‘s impact on diversity and inclusiveness. Nissan is committed to providing a diverse and inclusive environment for all stakeholders.”

There are some words missing from the statement, among them "gay," "lesbian," and "transgender." Because the individuals to whom they apply are the actual target of the bill.

Under the slightly deceptive title of the "Equal Access to Intrastate Commerce Act," the bills (HB600 and SB632) nullify an ordinance passed on April 5 by the Nashville City Council that requires companies doing business with the city not to discriminate on the basic of sexual orientation or gender expression.

Nissan Smyrna Tennessee

Nissan Smyrna Tennessee

Enlarge Photo

The Republican-dominated Tennessee legislature passed the measure by more than a two-thirds margin last Wednesday.

Yesterday, Governor Bill Haslam (R) signed the bill.

Under current Tennessee state law, it is illegal to discriminate on the grounds of race, creed, color, national origin, religion, sex, or age. That law does not include protection on the basis of either sexual orientation or gender expression.

Nissan's involvement comes not only because it has $3.5 billion of investment in the state, but because it is on the executive committee of the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce, which had issued a statement supporting the bill.

Members include both large global companies (Alcoa, AT&T, Caterpillar, Comcast, DuPont, Embraer, FedEx, Pfizer, United HealthCare, and Whirlpool), and hundreds of smaller local companies.

The Chamber said its concern was that any employment requirements that differed from state law would "create an additional burden on companies that are endeavoring to be competitive and provide jobs to all Tennesseans based on their individual qualifications and merit."

Effectively, it raises the specter that the time and cost of not discriminating against gay, lesbian, and transgender Tennesseans who work for them--or apply to do so--might so burden local companies that they become uncompetitive, ultimately close up shop, and put many more Tennesseans out of work.

The Chamber and its members quickly came under criticism from civil-rights advocates who accused it of lobbying to quash the Nashville law. The outcry became so intense during the last week, in fact, that the Chamber reversed itself yesterday.

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