'Nashville' Star Connie Britton: Tennessee Anti-LGBT Legislation Is "Un-American"

Mark Levine/ABC
Connie Britton as Rayna Jaymes in 'Nashville'

The actress says she won't "feel comfortable" filming in the state if the legislation becomes law.

A wave of legislation that opponents criticize as discriminatory against LGBT people that has recently swept the South is now in the spotlight as calls in Hollywood grow to protest laws in specific states.

One of those states is Tennessee, where Gov. Bill Haslam is reviewing House Bill 1840, which allows counselors and therapists to deny patients they feel would violate their "sincerely held principles." Separate legislation, House Bill 2414, bars transgender people's use of school bathrooms that correspond with their gender identity. HB 2414 has not passed the state's House or Senate yet.

ABC drama Nashville has been filming in the state's capital since it premiered in 2012. The series is currently in its fourth season. And the star of the show believes the new legislation is "extremely harmful to everyone."

"Obviously we are seeing a lot of this legislation crop up now," Connie Britton tells The Hollywood Reporter. "It's disturbing and it's unjust." The actress said she finds the two bills "completely un-American." 

"I shoot a TV show in Tennessee, and honestly, if they proceed with this, I'm not necessarily going to feel comfortable working there," says Britton. "That is a tricky situation because of course we employ a lot of people in the state, and you certainly don't want to have to interrupt that, but at the same time, this is the only way that we can have our voices be heard."

She stresses that opponents of the bills need to make their voices heard, adding, "Unfortunately a lot of the way that we do that is through the choices we make financially."

In 2015, Nashville received $8 million in economic incentives from Gov. Haslam's budget to go towards the series' fourth season. The show's package was half of the $16 million allocated to the Department of Economic and Community Development's film and television incentive fund. ECD commissioner Randy Boyd said the show has high "economic value" for the state and is also "great advertising," driving tourists to the city.

The series spends roughly $20 million each season on local labor, according to newspaper The Tennessean, which cites a fact sheet created by show representatives. 

Britton says that she is "confounded" by the legislation because to her, it doesn't feel reflective of the "warm and heartfelt" Nashville she's come to know. The actress says she doesn't feel like the legislation does the state of Tennessee justice.

"This kind of legislation always is completely shocking to me, although I do think that it stems from a certain traditionalism, and certain religious points of view that I personally believe are not being perceived the right way," says Britton. She says that while country music has "traditionally shown a blind eye to the LGBT community," she thinks that is "starting to change."

Adds Britton, "Certainly the environment in Nashville is strong enough and progressive enough that it could support a change in that point of view."

Her show Nashville touches on the struggle of LGBT country music singers with the storyline of out gay country star Will Lexington, played by Chris Carmack. The actor tells THR he also finds the legislation "incredibly harmful." 

Carmack says he's had multiple conversations with people about his character's journey, and he's found that people in the city of Nashville have been "overwhelmingly receptive to the storyline." 

"Even people coming at me and questioning me from a place of prejudice are open to conversations," says the actor. He adds that the government making anti-LGBT legislation law is "devastating," especially when it shuts down the potential for progress. "The state is basically setting an example for people that it's ok to discriminate," says Carmack, adding this directly affects people "who might be about to change their minds about something that they've believed in their whole lives." 

Britton says she also thinks Carmack's character's storyline has been "acknowledged and appreciated" by the LGBT community and the Nashville community as a whole. "I can't help but feel — and maybe it's because I'm an idealist — that there's a real desire for progress, at least within the community, which is why it's such a slap in the face," she says.

Carmack says that he and his fiancee are in the process of shopping for a house in Nashville, but are reconsidering their decision to make the city home. He says the couple discussed the pending legislation ahead of his GLAAD press conference on the subject earlier this week.

"We said, 'Do we want to live in a place like this?'" says the actor. "I know right now everyone is calling on big corporations to step in and voice their opinions, because money matters in something like a political forum, but I guarantee you that there are many more individuals like myself and my fiancee who are potential long-term transplants from all over, who are saying, 'Is this a place I would want to call home? A place that would write this sort of thing into legislation?'"

Haslam has not made a decision on the counseling bill yet. The governor did make comments about the "bathroom bill" that is being considered by state legislators. "Personally, I am not hearing about problems out in the districts," Haslam said in a press conference on Wednesday. “I’m hearing that our school boards have figured out how to adjust to each situation that arises, and to date, I’m not hearing parents say we have problem in our schools today.”

Britton is urging the governor and legislators to fight against any discriminatory legislation, saying it's "extremely harmful to everyone." She says it not only hurts the people the legislation discriminates against but also sends a damaging message about how people can treat one another. "That is going to impact all of us," she says.

In terms of the counseling bill, which is not just a "religious liberty" bill calling for protections on "sincerely held religious beliefs" but broadens the language to say "sincerely held principles," Britton stresses caution.

"In general, the language in that bill is some of the most discriminatory that we've seen, certainly in my lifetime, and to take on that kind of stigma in our state as a legislator, that would not be a very great way to represent the people," says Britton.

Viacom/CMT, ASCAP, BMI, Williams Sonoma, Hilton and many other corporations and businesses have spoken out against the bills, in addition to such organizations as GLAAD, HRC and the ACLU. Musicians like Ty Herndon, Chely Wright and Miley Cyrus also have voiced their opposition to the legislation.

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