As the owners of Darkhorse Theatre in Nashville, Tennessee, Shannon Wood and her husband, Peter Kurland, have worked hard over the last three decades to make sure their quaint black box theatre is inclusive to anyone who walks through the front doors.
But while they love drama, they prefer for it to be on their stage and not in the place where it has unexpectedly started unfolding, the bathroom.
"No one has ever complained about our all-gender bathroom," Wood said while sitting inside the theatre which has been closed for nearly a year because of COVID-19.
Under a new state law passed in Tennessee, it's possible that Darkhorse Theatre could have to put up signs on their bathrooms, saying they let transgender people use the multipurpose restrooms here.
"What happens if someone goes into a bathroom and it’s not the gender they were assigned at birth? Are they gonna put those people in jail? Are they going to send police officers to inspect people? It’s not only mean, it’s totally impractical and ridiculous," Wood added.
As the CEO of the LGBT Chamber of Commerce in Nashville, Joe Woolley has worked hard over the last decade to push back again legislation that discriminates against the LGBT community. He’s been successful in this deeply conservative state by playing the economic angle.
"I talk to businesses on a weekly basis and they’re concerned about what it’s like for LGBT people to live here in the South, to live here in Tennessee," Woolley said about a recent string of legislative bills targeting the LGBT community.
For years, Woolley and other LGBT groups partnered with small businesses and major corporations who lobbied lawmakers hard to not support things like the bathroom bill and it worked.
"It harms businesses' ability to attract and retain the talent they need," he noted.
This year though something changed.
"It’s been tough, and I will tell you I’m exhausted, Woolley said.
"For the first time ever, the business voice was not listened to. Businesses were told to shut up, stay out of politics. I think it was an eye-opening moment.”
So far, 2021 has been a record year when it comes to anti-transgender legislation. Thirty-three states have passed more than 100 bills all aimed at curbing the rights of transgender people.
Arizona, Montana, Texas, and Florida are among a handful of states who’ve introduced legislation that prevent minors from receiving gender-affirming healthcare. Only Arkansas has made the bill into law.
Woolley is concerned about the kind of long-term financial impact these pieces of legislation will have on state economies, as businesses and conventions go elsewhere.
"These bills are targeting transgender people and transgender youth because it’s easy; they picked one of the most marginalized groups in the country, and we need to wake up," Woolley said.
As for Shannon Wood and her husband, they have no plans on changing their all-gender bathroom signs because they know the message that it sends to anyone who walks into the theatre.
"There's an act and an intermission. People want to go the bathroom; they don’t care about where they’re going to the bathroom."