Nearly 200 Tennessee businesses join forces for anti-discrimination coalition

By December 13, 2016 News Clips

CLICK HERE to read the original article in the Nashville Business Journal on 12/113/16

The state’s business community fired a warning shot at state lawmakers today with the launch of Tennessee Thrives, an anti-discrimination coalition of nearly 200 Tennessee-based businesses.

The group, which began forming this summer, is a loose coalition that will serve as a watchdog for the General Assembly. It aims to educate and unite businesses across the state on potential legislation — such as North Carolina’s infamous bathroom bill — that could adversely impact Tennessee’s economy.

Tennessee Thrives will not serve as a lobbying group to the Capitol, but rather will rely on individual members to directly lobby legislators if a discriminatory bill comes up for a vote. Furthermore, it will be up to the coalition’s members, not the coalition itself, to uphold one another to the group’s pledge, which they all signed.

“The Tennessee economy thrives when leading corporations and small businesses across the state unite behind the core belief that our state is stronger when we are inclusive of all hardworking people,” reads the group’s mission statement. Tennessee Thrives is focused on creating an inclusive workforce statewide, regardless of race, sex, national origin, ethnicity, religion, age, disability, sexual orientation or gender identity, according to the organization’s pledge.

As of Tuesday’s launch, more than 180 businesses have signed the group’s pledge, including some of Nashville’s most notable names, such as Vanderbilt University, Ryman Hospitality Properties, Pinnacle Financial Partners, Nashville Predators, Asurion, AT&T, CMT, Bridgestone Americas Inc., Genesco, Louisiana-Pacific Corp. and HCA Holdings Inc. A full list of coalition members is available on the Tennessee Thrives website.

“At LP, we are known by the quality of building products we produce,” LP CEO Curt Stevens said in a statement. “Our strength, though, is our diverse team of nearly 5,000 employees in the U.S., Canada and South America. We all have unique talents, special interests, speak different languages and come from multi-cultural backgrounds. We see this diversity and inclusion as a strength of LP and believe that is good for business, our employees and the communities in which we operate.”

Sean Henry, CEO of the Nashville Predators and Bridgestone Arena, said he was approached about the coalition by Nashville Convention & VisitorsCorp. CEO Butch Spyridon. Henry said it was an easy sell.

“It’s a rights thing,” Henry said. “Obviously, any opportunity to support any anti-discriminatory legislation, we want to be a part of that. … But when you overlay the business aspect, it becomes even more of a no brainer.”

In Nashville, business leaders said Spyridon and Mayor Megan Barry‘s offices led the charge in recruiting businesses. Spyridon and his team at the visitors corporation also have been responsible for raising money for the coalition — about $100,000 so far, according to The Tennessean.

Tennessee Thrives is modeled off a similar business-led coalition in Georgia called Georgia Prospers, which was founded to lobby against a religious freedom bill that critics argued could be used to justify discrimination against gays and lesbians in employment and retail service practices.

The launch of Tennessee Thrives follows months of public scrutiny faced by neighboring North Carolina, which has seen its public image tarnished after legislators passed the controversial House Bill 2. House Bill 2 overturned a Charlotte nondiscrimination ordinance passed in February to expand protections to the LGBT community. The state law limits the use of restrooms in publicly owned facilities based on a person’s gender at birth and prohibits local governments from creating new anti-discrimination rules.

Estimates show the legislation has cost the Tar Heel State nearly $400 million in lost revenue, according to Wired.

Earlier this year, some Tennessee state legislators introduced a similar so-called “bathroom bill,” which would have required students at public schools and state universities to use restrooms and locker rooms for the gender listed on their birth certificates. Spyridon and Barry publicly condemned the bill, saying it went against the state’s image as a welcoming place. Ultimately, one of the bill’s sponsors decided to table the legislation.