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VOL. 132 | NO. 38 | Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Beavers Shuts Down Office As Protesters Gather Outside

By Sam Stockard

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NASHVILLE – The sponsor of two bills aimed at the LGBT community left the Legislative Plaza in a huff Tuesday, Feb. 21, as protesters gathered around her office to object to her “retaliation” in the wake of a short-circuited press conference.

With state troopers controlling the scene, Sen. Mae Beavers, R-Mt. Juliet, shut down her office and went to a secure elevator followed by several other people. She told the Tennessee Highway Patrol officers, “I’m going home until you all can keep them out of my office.”

As Beavers boarded the elevator, Fisk University student Justin Jones told her, “Please stop threatening people of color, Muslims, people in the LGBT community, Sen. Beavers. Sen. Beavers, please respect dissent and the right of people to assemble. Please stop saying you want to imprison peaceful protesters. You know it is wrong. Sen. Beavers, it is wrong.”

Led by Jones and Taralei Griffin of Spring Hill, the group of protesters camped out in front of Beavers’ Legislative Plaza office during the morning, saying they tried to schedule a meeting with her to discuss their concerns about anti-LGBT legislation and a statement she made last week to the Associated Press in which she referred to a portion of the state Constitution, saying: “(The Constitution) says anybody that disrespects a legislator when we’re in session is to be imprisoned.”

The group also wanted to deliver tweets that Beavers reportedly blocked over the weekend and find out about her next town hall meeting, in addition to asking her about two bills she is sponsoring to circumvent same-sex marriage and to control transgender use of restrooms in public schools. They said Beavers did not respond to requests for meetings at her office.

“We’re sitting out here willing to wait until she had time to meet with us, and she shut her office down,” Jones says. “She told the state troopers, ‘Shut it down until you get those people out of here, until you get them out.’ So we’ll be back again, and we’ll keep coming back, so she’ll have to keep shutting down her office and hopefully one day she’ll shut down her hatred and her bigotry against communities that are vulnerable.”

Beavers and state Rep. Mark Pody, a Lebanon Republican, walked out of a press conference last week when protesters shouted them down as they tried to discuss their restroom legislation requiring people to use school bathrooms based on their sex at birth and the Defense of Natural Marriage Act. The group followed them through the Legislative Plaza hall to their offices and confronted Pody in the hall as troopers helped control the scene.

The incident spurred Lt. Gov. Randy McNally to say he and House Speaker Beth Harwell would discuss measures to increase building security, including requiring all people to show an ID and wear a name tag, rules that were dropped during the last session because they caused long lines to form outside the Legislative Plaza.

Protesters didn’t seem to be worried about the idea of increased security as much as Beavers’ ideas, in addition to legislation they consider harmful. During a recent town hall, according to reports, she said Muslims are infiltrating Middle Tennessee churches in preparation for terrorist acts.

“We’re more concerned with her retaliation, saying peaceful protesters should be met with imprisonment,” Jones says. “We find that a lawmaker saying that sets a very dangerous precedent, especially when we look around and see all these bills attacking the right to freedom of assembly.”

They also pointed toward legislation sponsored Rep. Matthew Hill and Sen. Bill Ketron providing civil immunity for a motorist who injures a protester “who is blocking traffic in a public right-of-way if the driver was exercising due care.” In addition, they say they oppose legislation by Sen. Brian Kelsey, a Germantown Republican, to increase the penalty for disorderly conduct to a Class A misdemeanor from a Class C misdemeanor.

“We also have Lt. Gov. (Ron) Ramsey saying he’s going to increase security at the Legislature, so we’re seeing that people’s nonviolent, peaceful expression of freedom of assembly is being met with retaliation. So we’re here today trying to meet with Sen. Beavers as someone who represents that regressivism that we’re seeing when it comes to the First Amendment when it comes to civil rights,” Jones says.

Sam Stockard is a Nashville-based reporter covering the Legislature for the Memphis Daily News. He can be reached at sstockard44@gmail.com.

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