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Tennessee city ordered to give $500k to LGBTQ+ groups over ordinance that blocked Pride events over drag

Author: Trudy Ring

The city of Murfreesboro, Tenn., has repealed an ordinance that would have blocked Pride events as part of a settlement of a lawsuit brought by the Tennessee Equality Project, which sponsors BoroPride in the city.

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Murfreesboro officials had told the TEP in late 2022 that they would not grant any more event permits to the group. Then last June, the City Council adopted an ordinance banning “indecent exposure, public indecency, lewd behavior, nudity or sexual conduct.” The city code already included homosexuality under the definition of sexual conduct.

TEP got around the prohibition by holding BoroPride last fall on the campus of Middle Tennessee State University, but it also filed a lawsuit in October challenging the ordinance and related city policies. The organization was represented by the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee, the national ACLU, and two private law firms, Ballard Spahr and Burr & Forman.

A judge quickly blocked enforcement of the ordinance. Then in November, in response to the lawsuit, the council removed the prohibition on homosexuality, and in December, it repealed the ordinance, which had been used in banning certain books from libraries as well.

Also as part of the settlement, announced Wednesday, the city has agreed to pay $500,000 to compensate for harm done to the TEP, plus attorneys’ fees, and accept and process any future permit applications submitted by the group. City Manager Craig Tindall, who had issued the ban on TEP permits, will not be allowed to review any of the applications.

“We celebrate the resolution of this case because it has guaranteed the rollback of a discriminatory policy and affirmed our right to host BoroPride,” TEP Executive Director Chris Sanders said in an ACLU press release. “Now we can turn our attention to preparing for the 2024 BoroPride festival and defending the rights of LGBTQ+ Tennesseans at the state legislature. Our gratitude goes to the LGBTQ+ community for standing with us and to the legal advocates who championed the defense of free speech and expression.”

Attorneys in the case issued this joint statement: “The government has no right to censor LGBTQ+ people and expression. More important than the monetary recovery, this settlement sends a clear message that the city’s discrimination against the LGBTQ+ community was blatantly unconstitutional and that this type of behavior will no longer be tolerated here — or anywhere across the country.”

Some Murfreesboro residents, however, are still worried about discrimination — and book bans or restrictions. “They are still using the same philosophy to ban books at our library,” Rutherford County Library Alliance Vice President Keri Lambert told TV station WKRN. The alliance is a citizens’ group formed to fight censorship in the county’s libraries. “In fact, we just had a meeting Monday night, three more books were up for consideration, reconsideration,” she said. “And they did move one of the books … from the youth department to the adult section. The fight is not over, and we are terrified over what’s still coming and we will continue to fight.”

Cleve Harrison, a gay man who lives in Murfreesboro, said he hopes that now his neighbors will see him and his husband as just like anyone else. “We’re here. And we’re not going anywhere,” he told WKRN. “We just want to be welcomed and embraced just as much as the next person. We’re your everyday neighbors.”

Pictured: BoroPride celebrants

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Original Article on The Advocate
Author: Trudy Ring

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