The April 3 filing deadline for state House and Senate races is approaching and it looks as if we won't have any gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender candidates running--or at least no candidates who are openly so.
It is a missed opportunity. A number of incumbents are not seeking reelection. This is the time to have people ready to run, and this time we're going to have to sit it out.
Maybe we haven't developed the "farm team." Perhaps we're just at the point of being able to identify and field viable candidates for local office who can later run for the Legislature.
Maybe we're too focused on the GLBT thing and not politics as usual. Understanding politics as usual, even if candidates from our community represent something of a departure from it, is essential. We could do a better job of scanning the field of opportunities and lining people up to take a risk and run if we were always looking at the electoral map.
Maybe it just never occurs to us to run. We're still in the mode of getting behind "progressive" candidates in Tennessee and hoping they'll at least help us beat negative legislation. Rarely do we ask them to advance any positive bills on our behalf. It happens, but it's rare.
There's an additional point buried in the previous point. We're stuck in defensive mode. We've learned how to draw on allies to help us beat negative legislation and maybe that's all we can see in our future. More negative bills and more cliffhanger battles with tough victories, but at the end we're still at 0.
We've got to pivot over the next two year starting now. Notice that I didn't say we've got to pivot IN two years.
The possibilities that GLBT candidates bring are impossible to ignore if we'd just open our eyes. First, their very presence has a way of deterring the introduction of negative bills and of making it harder for negative bills to pass. Legislators will occasionally attack their colleagues, but they are reluctant to do so because they may need them on another piece of legislation.
Second, GLBT legislators can gauge the pulse of their colleagues and build alliances in a unique way. They cause the guild of legislators to look at all GLBT people differently. They cause them to look at us as actors and not merely a constituent group that comes begging for protection from January to May every year.
Third, they have almost nothing to lose in introducing positive legislation. If they are "out" and they got elected, their constituents aren't likely to second-guess them for introducing, say, a non-discrimination policy for state employees.
None of this is to discount the courageous stands of straight allies in the Legislature. But allies coupled with elected members of our community is the true representation we need in the Tennessee General Assembly.
Let's get to work and be ready for the April filing deadline in 2010.