Lisa Howe, a former Belmont University(Tennessee) soccer coach who parted ways with the university — a city contractor — after officials there learned she and her same-sex partner were expecting a child, was the impetus for a Nashville ordinance to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. A 2011 act of the Tennessee General Assembly added a definition of “sex” to the Tennessee Human Rights Act and created the Equal Access to Intrastate Commerce Act. Howe sued, claiming that the state law violates the Equal Protection guarantees of the United States and Tennessee Constitutions. The trial court dismissed the action for lack of standing. A Tennessee appellate court affirmed dismissal for lack of standing because Howe and the other plaintiffs failed to allege a discrete, palpable, cognizable injury in fact.
We disagree with the court’s reasoning in this case. Municipalities should have the right to enact laws that reflect the values held by the municipality, such as a desire to protect gay and gender nonconforming people. However, we support adding a definition of “sex” to state civil rights laws, as such measure can aid in the effort to address the conflict between laws banning discrimination based on gender identity and exceptions in state anti-discrimination laws to provide sex-segregated space for Women and Girls. We also believe if GLBT Organizations would have an honest conversation about this conflict, it would be easier to make the case for protections based on gender identity.