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A New Tennessee Ordinance Threatens to Erase the LGBTQIA+ Community

December 4, 2023

Prohibiting specific images, information, and access to online platforms has become a ubiquitous part of the American political landscape. The city of Murfreesboro, Tennessee, is taking censorship one step further, “IRL,” with Ordinance 23-O-22. Ordinance 23-O-22 “promotes public decency, maintains family-friendly environments in public places, and protects against harm to minors from public expressions appealing to prurient interests or that are offensive to prevailing community standards.” That’s what the Ordinance SAYS it will do. And who would vote no to this bill – taken at face value? But the reality is that this is just another thinly disguised piece of legislation that is trying to erase the LGBTQIA+ community and violate our most fundamental human right to bodily autonomy.

Ordinance 23-O-22 amends the Murfreesboro City Code by giving the city the right to establish and uphold community standards related to public decency. Under this ordinance, rules can be enacted relating to activities and conduct in public spaces, including parks, streets, public squares, sidewalks, public buildings, and other areas open to the public. The rules define and restrict nudity, public indecency, lewd and sexually explicit conduct, as well as any behavior that violates state law. While there is a general consensus in the United States that nudity is not appropriate in public spaces, the definition of indecency under the Murfreesboro City Code is not as universally accepted. And again, who would vote against this proposal? But wait – what, exactly, is the definition of “indecency” in Murfreesboro?

The definition of indecency under the City Code is tied to a previous definition of indecency from sections 21-71 of the City Code. And now, we get to the real goal of the proposed ordinance. Homosexuality is defined as “indecent” in this section of the City Code. By using this definition of indecency, the city is banning public displays of homosexuality and materials that promote homosexuality. Any person who knowingly violates this ordinance is barred from hosting public events for two years and is also subject to future punishment. Additionally, anyone who knowingly breaks this ordinance in front of minors is barred from hosting public events for five years. Think about what this means to an organization like the Tennessee Equality Project, an organization working to protect LGBTQ+ people in Tennessee.

This ordinance gives city authorities the ability to remove any indicator of LGBTQIA+ people from the public space. In the past, it has been used to target Pride events. Now, the ordinance is being used to target books with LGBTQIA+ themes at the public library. These include “Flamer,” “Let’s Talk About It,” “Queerfuly & Wonderfully Made,” and “This Book Is Gay.” Starting in 2024, these books will be available only to those with the adult-only library card. The library will have a tiered system, where most nonfiction content, including these four titles, will be gated off and accessible only with an adult library card.

Like other legislation that Woodhull opposes, including the Kids Online Safety Act (KOSA) and state pornography bans, the city claims that this ordinance was made with the intention of protecting children. We know better. Other proposed pieces of legislation use children’s supposed “safety” as their rationale in the creation of policy that discriminates and censors LGBTQIA+ people. At Woodhull, we know that the motives behind these bills are more sinister than the supposed protection of children. Ordinance 23-O-22 and similar pieces of policy are a direct attempt to stifle the human rights and sexual freedoms of the American public. It is important that we recognize these truths and fight against them in our own communities.


Picture of flags and balloons at a Pride gathering

A photo of rainbow flags and balloons at a gathering. (Photo by Tristan B )

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