2008 will probably go down in history as one of the worst for Tennessee’s gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community. The attacks we faced hit the full spectrum from the criminal to the legislative to the electoral.
Criminal: The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation released their annual hate crimes report that showed a slight decline in hate crimes based on sexual bias from 2006 to 2007. What we must remember is that from 2005 to 2006 there was a three-fold increase. So it would be fair to say that the number stabilized at an alarmingly high level. Based upon a string of news reports, 2008 was nothing less than a year of hate. The police beating and subsequent murder of Duanna Johnson, the murder of Ebony Whitaker, and the shooting of Leeneshia Edwards all in Memphis painfully illustrate the dangers facing transgender persons in Tennessee. The attacks on three gay men leaving a Johnson City bar and the onslaught of vandalism endured by a Warren County man are reminders that being out is never easy in many parts of our State. The murders of two people at the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist congregation in Knoxville brought home the reality that even our allies are not immune to anti-liberal and anti-gay hate.
Legislative: The second year of the 105th General Assembly of Tennessee brought renewed attacks on our community’s adoption rights as well as efforts to erase mention of our existence in our public schools. Both bills failed. But the adoption bill remained alive until the first week of May—quite late in the session. And while there was national outrage and some local outrage about the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, there was almost as much attention given to the argument that the bill’s sponsor was not treated fairly in the House K-12 subcommittee because he had asked for but initially not received a roll call vote. People who couldn't manage a word about the perniciousness of the bill didn't waste any time yelling "Not fair" about procedures.
Electoral: Facing an invigorated State Republican party, some Democrats running for legislative seats based their campaigns in part upon opposition to “gay marriage.” Particularly onerous were the radio ads run by both parties’ candidates in the 12th Senate District. Because same-sex marriage is already banned by statute and constitutional amendment in Tennessee, the message was nothing but an appeal to prejudice. It largely turned out to be a losing strategy for Democrats. Conservative Republicans won control of the State House and Senate for the first time since Reconstruction setting up 2009 to be another rough year for the State’s community.