News (USA)

Tennessee town decriminalizes public homosexuality

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Photo: Geoff Stearns/Flickr

The city of Murfreesboro in central Tennessee in June banned public displays of sexual behavior, including “behaviors, materials or events that are patently offensive to the adult community.” “Sexual conduct” barred under the city ordinance includes “homosexuality.”

The city has used the ordinance to ban books from libraries and schools and try to shut down the local Pride festival.

The vague ordinance outlawed “indecent behavior” in public, prohibited “indecent materials,” and stated that local lawmakers have “the right to establish and preserve contemporary community standards.” The definition used in the law was based on a longtime city statute that explicitly bans public homosexuality or materials that promote homosexuality.

“No person shall knowingly while in a public space engage in indecent behavior,” the ordinance reads, while reserving special mention for violations that “subject minors to a prurient interest or to behaviors.”

The ordinance defines “sexual conduct” as “acts of masturbation, homosexuality, sexual intercourse or physical contact with a person’s clothed or unclothed genitals, pubic area, buttocks or, if such a person be female, breast.”

The Tennessee Equality Project (TEP), American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the ACLU of Tennessee sued over the city’s efforts to silence a local LGBTQ+ organization, including denying the group permits to host events and a local ordinance banning drag performances, a federal judge blocked the attempt to shut down the local Pride festival.

During a recent city council meeting, the seven members voted unanimously to remove “homosexuality” from the list of sexual conduct prohibited in public. The change took effect immediately. In a statement, the city manager said the city has “no recollection of the above code sections ever having [been] enforced.”

“The problem is that the mayor [Shane McFarland] and the city manager keep equating LGBTQ+ with actual sex predators, which couldn’t be further from the truth,” Matt Ferry, former chairman of the local Democratic Party, told local media after the meeting.

The ACLU lawsuit echoed the same theme: “The City put in place a discriminatory policy, prohibiting TEP from obtaining permits to host its annual BoroPride Festival and any other events on City property. Then, it enacted a discriminatory ordinance meant to drive TEP and the City’s LGBTQ+ community—and, in particular, its drag performers—out of the City’s public spaces. These actions, which were driven by animus against the LGBTQ+ community, are blatantly unconstitutional.”

The lawsuit alleged that Tindell has been a driving force behind the recent attacks on the LGBTQ+ community.

“If Murfreesboro is truly a welcoming place, we should be embracing these folks and not trying to push them away or criminalize them,” Ferry said.

Homosexuality was decriminalized nationwide 20 years ago after the Supreme Court ruling in Lawrence v. Texas.

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