KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Disappointed, disheartened and speechless were words used by an executive of local nonprofit Knox Pride when describing how the organization feels about the bills that passed the Tennessee House of Representatives on Thursday.
The House passed HB1 and HB9, which respectively bans transgender therapy for children and limits where drag shows can be held. Each of those bills must go back to the senate for amendments to be approved, but once are voted on, they are expected to pass and go to the Governor Bill Lee’s desk.
Knox Pride CFO Nathan Higdon spoke with WATE after HB9 passed.
“We at Knox Pride are deeply disappointed, but to be clear, we’re not at all surprised that this passed through,” Higdon said. “I think some only saving grace on this is that there were amendments introduced, so it does have to go back to the Senate and be voted on next week, but the problem with this bill, even when it goes back through the Senate, is that this will become law on April 1st and we’re about six weeks away from this going out there to have to be enforced to see what it looks like in the real world.” Higdon said.
When HB9 passed the senate, Knox Pride told WATE that they would cancel the annual Knoxville Pride Festival if the bill became law. According to Higdon, when they say Knox Pride Fest will be cancelled, it will not be like it has been historically.
“For anyone who is paying attention, we’re going to be doing something and it’s going to be a march, a protest and a fest.” Said Higdon.
The festival is the largest fundraiser of the year for the 501c3 organization that helps fund the Knox Pride Resource Center, which provides a food pantry, a thrift store to provide low and no-cost clothing to houseless and precariously housed individuals, life skills classes, and more, Knox Pride said.
The action of marching and protesting is how the modern LGBTQIA rights movement began, according to Higdon, and it is a practice that continues today. On February 13, Knox Pride held a rally in Downtown Knoxville.
“The point of our rallies as 100% educational, we have to make sure that our community and our allies understand what legislation is up in Nashville. What it would look like if it passes and is signed by the governor and becomes law, and then what it would look like when those laws are enforced,” said Higdon. “So it’s all about education and also reiterating that it is critical for individuals to turn out and vote so that the priorities of the Tennessee General Assembly can address real concerns in the state as opposed to attacking gender affirming care and that drag community.”
As Higdon spoke during the interview, news of HB1 passing broke. He said the bill is going to be signed into law, but people still need to stand up on the issue. According to Higdon, the bill passing is disheartening for the trans community that already feels unsafe, and now the Tennessee General Assembly and governor are happy to tell the community that they are unsafe.
“I thought better of Tennessee, you know, when we’ve got kids sleeping on the floor of DCS, and Tennessee showed Tennessee General Assembly showed its priority with Senate Bill and House Bill 1 to attack the trans community. We’ve got real, you know, we’ve got real people and problems and real suffering in the state and this is what our legislators have focused on. It is incredibly disheartening,” he said.
Higdon also mentioned that the bills come roughly seven and a half years after the Obergefell Supreme Court case which made same-sex marriage legal in the United States. In a community of individuals brought together by gender, sexual orientation, and more, when some groups get rights, they become chipped away by attacks on other groups, Higdon explained.
“The problem with this is none of us are free until all of us are free, so attacks on individual groups within the community bring the entire movement backward,” Higdon. “An impact to the trans community affects everyone in the community. An attack on the drag community affects everyone because what it says is that if you weren’t targeted this time, you’ll be targeted next time.”