In Tennessee, there dwells a man named State Representative Jeremy Durham. He is a very vocal co-sponsor of House Bill 2414 which seeks to ban transgendered persons from using public bathrooms that suit their sexual identity. Why? He says the bill will protect females from unwanted sexual advances by men who dress up as women in order to gain access to women-only restrooms. But who will protect women from Jeremy Durham?
According to the Tennessean newspaper, House Speaker Beth Harwell ordered the recently resigned majority whip to move his office out of legislative headquarters last week because Durham poses a significant risk to women. Harwell, a Republican from Nashville, has also severely restricted Jeremy Durham’s access to the State Capitol building, the War Memorial building, and the Legislative Plaza. In addition, Durham is currently barred from having contact with practically all legislative interns and staff members. The Tennessean quotes Attorney General Herbert Slatery III as saying the following.
“Based upon the information gathered thus far, Representative Durham’s alleged behavior may pose a continuing risk to unsuspecting women who are employed by or interact with the legislature.”
In February, the Tennessee attorney general’s office ordered Rep. Durham to hand over his state-issued iPad as well as his personal cell phone. The AG also demanded and obtained a copy of the hard drive of Durham’s desktop computer. Additionally, the Republican legislator was ordered to provide information about his social media accounts and e-mail addresses.
The investigation into Durham’s alleged misconduct began after numerous women revealed that they had received inappropriate text messages and been subjected to sexually suggestive in-person behavior from the Republican representative from Franklin, Tennessee. More than one text message sent in the middle of the night asked the female recipient to “send pictures.” Durham told the Tennessean he “doesn’t remember” sending the texts.
He may not remember, but dozens of women do.
As of April 7, the state attorney’s office had interviewed 34 women about the case. The Advocate notes that the women interviewed include legislative lobbyists, staffers, and fellow politicians. In a memo dated April 6, Attorney General Slatery noted that the interviews reveal that Representative Durham “initiated contact about non-legislative matters and attempted to meet the women alone,” “obtained personal contact information from the women under the guise of legislative business,” and that “alcohol was usually involved in his interaction with the women.”
Attorney General Slatery also stated the following.
“With few exceptions, the women who related incidents felt they could not report Representative Durham’s behavior because nothing could be done and they did not want to lose their jobs or be considered ‘untrustworthy’ by employers, clients or legislators.”
An investigative report by the Tennessean claims that Durham’s female colleagues at the state house “avoid or refuse to be alone with Representative Durham, a situation which has affected their ability to perform their jobs.”
So, why is this man still a state employee? House Speaker Harwell, Tennessee Republican Party Chairman Ryan Haines are in favor of removing him from the legislature. Even Governor Bill Haslam wants Durham to resign.
In January of this year, House Speaker Beth Harwell convened a special committee that unanimously called upon State Attorney General Herbert Slatery “to conduct a full, fair, and thorough investigation of the allegations of disorderly and inappropriate behavior and misconduct by Representative Durham.” As the investigation heated up, Durham stepped down from his position as house majority whip. He also resigned from the House Republican caucus.
On April 11 The Advocate reported that Jeremy Durham told WTVF television in Nashville, “I know for a fact I’ve never sexually harassed anybody. If I’ve sent a text message that I shouldn’t have and someone will present it to me I’m happy to address it, and I’ll take responsibility.”
The current scandal is not the first time the married state representative has shown extremely poor judgment. In 2014, Durham used official House stationery to compose a letter of support for a youth pastor who was in legal trouble for possessing kiddie porn. Lieutenant Governor Ron Ramsey called Durham’s character into question when he told reporters, “It’s just poor judgment, I think, on anybody’s part as a state legislator to write a letter to encourage a lesser sentence on child porn.” Durham’s letter did not sway the jury or the judge. Joseph Todd Neill of North Fork Baptist Church was convicted of possession of child pornography in 2014 and sentenced to three years in prison followed by ten years of supervised parole.
So, back to that House bill that Jeremy Durham so adamantly supports. HB 2414 aims to keep LGBT persons out of bathrooms with door signs that they identify with. SB 2387, a similar “bathroom bill” up for consideration in Tennessee, will restrict public school students who happen to be transgender from sharing locker rooms with their cisgender classmates. If these bills pass, despite their direct opposition to Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, it could cost the state of Tennessee upwards of $3 million in federal education funds.
Nashville Mayor Megan Barry released a public statement on April 7 in which she noted that the city could lose $58 million in revenue due to conventions and visitors opting to take their dollars elsewhere.
“That’s quite a price to pay for legislation that would seem to hurt people, including some of our youngest and our most vulnerable, without actually benefiting anyone in the process. Instead of creating complex and confusing regulations for restrooms, or becoming the only state in the nation to allow discrimination by counseling professionals*, the state should work with local governments to continue our economic growth, address traffic problems, and give our schools the resources and support they need to be successful.”
*On April 6 Reuters reported that on May 30 the Tennessee House passed a bill that allows mental health therapists to turn away patients based on their own “religious beliefs and personal principles.” If the Senate approves the bill, the new law will effectively legalize discrimination against LGBT people throughout the state of Tennessee.
[Photo by Mark Humphrey/AP Images]