Tennessee Lawmakers Move To Defund University’s Diversity Office

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The Tennessee state Senate passed legislation Wednesday stripping funding from the office of diversity at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. A similar bill was approved by the state House earlier this week. The bill will return to the House one more time to consider Senate amendments before it heads to the desk of Republican Gov. Bill Haslam.

The Senate legislation was introduced by Sen. Todd Gardenhire, who accused the office of engaging in “foolishness.”

“You are free to do whatever you want to do — say and do and act however you want to,” Gardenhire said, NBC11ALIVE reported. “But we as elected representatives of the people of the state, we feel free to do what we think is necessary to stop this foolishness.”

According to the NBC11ALIVE report, Tennessee lawmakers objected to the office’s promotion on its website of gender neutral pronouns and “inclusive holiday celebrations.” The lawmakers also decried the university’s “Sex Week,” NBC11ALIVE said. However, that event is not organized by the diversity office, but rather another campus group using funding from private donations.

The legislation diverts the state money for the office to a scholarship program for minority engineering students. It also prohibits the use of state funds “to promote the use of gender neutral pronouns, to promote or inhibit the celebration of religious holidays, or to fund or support sex week.”

Students protested the legislation at the university Tuesday.

A version of the bill passed the Tennessee House earlier this week that would have funneled $100,000 of the office’s funding to printing “In God We Trust” stickers for law enforcement vehicles. The bill’s Senate supporters sought to remove that provision, The Tennessean reported, to give the bill a better chance of passing there.

A Senate committee advanced the legislation Tuesday, and it passed in a 28-4 floor vote Wednesday. The legislation will head back to the House for approval of the Senate’s amendment, the clerk’s office told TPM.

In recent weeks, the Tennessee statehouse has attracted national scrutiny for an anti-transgender bill similar to the controversial legislation that was enacted in North Carolina, as well as legislation that would have made the Bible Tennessee’s official state book. The anti-trans bill was withdrawn by its sponsor, and the Bible bill was unable to overcome a veto by Haslam. Haslam’s office did not immediately respond to TPM’s question about whether he will sign the diversity office bill.

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