Grand Divisions

Tennessee Equality Project seeks to advance and protect the civil rights of our State’s gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender persons and their families in each Grand Division.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

MSM's diverging story lines on Sarah Palin

Sarah Palin has become something of a Rorschach of the mainstream media's interpretation of what is at stake in this presidential race.

Time lays out the positive case for the pick:

John McCain needs to persuade swing voters that he's willing to take on the Republican establishment. He needs to persuade conservatives that he isn't squishy about social issues. And he needs to close the gender gap. When you think about it, the real surprise about Sarah Palin's selection as his running mate is that it's such a surprise.

Palin may be an obscure 44-year-old first-term governor and mother of five from tiny Wasilla, Alaska, but in many ways she reinforces John McCain's narrative of a maverick conservative crusader.

Jonathan Alter at Newsweek is not impressed, though:

Happy birthday, Johnny Mac! You're 72 now, a cancer survivor, and a presidential candidate who has said on many occasions that the most important criteria for picking a vice president is whether he or she could immediately step in if something happened to the president. Your campaign against Barack Obama is based on the simple idea that he is unready to be president. So you've picked a running mate who a year and a half ago was the mayor of Wasilla, Alaska, a town of 8,500 people. You've selected a potential leader of the free world who knows little or nothing about the major issues of the day beyond energy. Oh, and she's being probed in her state for lying and abuse of power.

The Wall Street Journal highlights how different this election is than others:

Most years, vice-presidential picks end up having little concrete impact on the outcome. Voters usually tell pollsters they care little about the second name on the ticket. But the 2008 race, already unusual in other ways, could be an exception, because both choices are meant to deal with key issues the presidential candidates haven't been able to solve on their own.

The choices are mirror images in some ways. Sen. Obama, a youthful candidate promoting "change" above all, chose in Sen. Joe Biden a gray-haired career Washington politician with commander-in-chief gravitas reminiscent of his Republican opponent -- but who may weaken that campaign message for many voters. Sen. McCain's pick, like Sen. Obama, is an outsider who would represent a demographic breakthrough if elected -- and like the Democrat, is short on conventional political experience.

The New York Times wavers between the message of bold and risky with respect to McCain's judgment on the one hand and praising Palin's charm on the other. Peter Baker highlights the central message issue for McCain, who...

...spent the summer arguing that a 40-something candidate with four years in major office and no significant foreign policy experience was not ready to be president. And then on Friday he picked as his running mate a 40-something candidate with two years in major office and no significant foreign policy experience.

Some of Baker's colleagues report on her incredible appeal with people:

“She wouldn’t have articulated one coherent policy and people would just be fawning all over her,” said Andrew Halcro, a Republican turned independent, who along with Tony Knowles, a Democrat, ran against Ms. Palin for governor in 2006. “Tony and I looked at each other and it was, like, this isn’t about policy or Alaska issues, this is about people’s most basic instincts: ‘I like you, and you make me feel good.’ ”

“You know,” said Mr. Halcro, invoking the Democratic presidential nominee, “that’s kind of like Obama.”

And that strikes me as the potential of Sarah Palin to help John McCain. The Democrats have gone on and on about the fact that McCain had only met her once. Exactly! She basically replicated with him the experience that voters in Alaska have had with her. She's not at the top of the ticket, but the Palin announcement within hours took the media coverage away from Obama right after he made one of the best speeches of his life. She'll face some tough media scrutiny in the coming days and a test in the debates with Joe Biden, but she will be formidable on the campaign trail. People across the country will want to meet her. Whether she can get in front of enough people to overcome the negative coverage that is coming is another question.

Friday, August 29, 2008

GLBT community reacts to Sarah Palin

The Human Rights Campaign, whose PAC has endorsed Barack Obama, was quick to issue comment on Palin's nomination calling her a "Little-Known, Anti-Gay Governor:

“America may not know much about Sarah Palin, but based on what our community has seen of her, we know enough,” said Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese. “Sarah Palin not only supported the 1998 Alaska constitutional amendment banning marriage equality but, in her less than two years as Governor, even expressed the extreme position of supporting stripping away domestic partner benefits for state workers. When you can’t even support giving our community the rights to health insurance and pension benefits, it’s a frightening window into where she stands on equality.”

Alex Blaze reviews her record on GLBT issues as well as a host of social concerns. At the same blog, Serena Freewomyn is beyond annoyed that "McCain Did What Obama Couldn't" in nominating a woman.

Memphian Jim Maynard makes no bones about being disgusted with the choice.

The Log Cabin Republican President Patrick Sammon calls her inclusive:

“Alaska Governor Sarah Palin can help Sen. McCain win this election by appealing to independent and young voters. She’s a mainstream Republican who will unite the Party and serve John McCain well as Vice President. Gov. Palin is an inclusive Republican who will help Sen. McCain appeal to gay and lesbian voters.”

Given Dobson's enthusiasm, I can't imagine how the folks at LCR are using the word "inclusive," but we'll see.

Dobson says "Yes!" to Palin

It's no secret that John McCain and Focus on the Family's James Dobson have some verbal hostilities in their past. But McCain's choice of Sarah Palin as his running mate is enough to close the gap for Dobson.

Dobson: But I can tell you that if I had to go into the studio, I mean the voting booth today, I would pull that lever.

I'll try not to dwell on the fact that Dr. Dobson subconsciously thinks he ought to get to cast his vote in a studio instead of a voting booth like the rest of us. But his remarks are significant. Comments like these could build into a chorus. I do wonder whether it's too late to light a fire in the Evangelical base, though. Some Evangelicals are moving to a less political stance and a few have been moving to the left. But the choice of Palin is an element in helping McCain address their ambivalence.

Update: More conservative love for Sarah Palin in the Tennessean. Quotations from Dr. Richard Land, more from James Dobson, and others.

Dissing small towns

It's already begun. Pundits and journalists have been not only questioning but mocking Sarah Palin's experience as mayor of Wasilla, Alaska. Democrats hoping to get beyond red and blue America would do well to avoid falling into the same trap. A look at the 2000 and 2004 electoral map by county should be a tip off.

I find most discourse about elitism in this country misleading, but the surest way to alienate millions of voters is to make a joke out of where they live.

Other reasons Palin may help McCain

Much is rightly being made of John McCain's pick of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate. It's a breakthrough moment for the Republicans to put a woman on the ticket.

The early discussion is focused on McCain's concerted effort to court Hillary Clinton supporters. There is no doubt that's a major factor. But I wonder whether Palin really helps McCain with his other women troubles. When I was watching the video of Palin's speech, I noticed Cindy McCain in the background. She was center, but not front and center. Doesn't picking Palin help get the negative focus off the way McCain left his first wife and the wealth of his current wife? It seems to me that it has accomplished that so far. Pure speculation, of course.

Like it or not, questions of gender are not going away in this campaign. Journalists will have to be willing to take some risks in exploring the topic and the way it is shifting almost daily.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

"...lives free of discrimination."

From Barack Obama's acceptance speech tonight:

I know there are differences on same-sex marriage, but surely we can agree that our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters deserve to visit the person they love in the hospital and to live lives free of discrimination.

Dealing with GLBT issues in the context of gun control and a list of other controversial issues, Obama did what I didn't think he would do. He mentioned same-sex marriage. While he didn't affirm it, which he hasn't done at any point in the campaign, he also didn't run from the issue or the words. And he affirmed one of the rights that automatically comes with marriage--hospital visitation.

Most opposite sex married couples have no conception of the fear that descends on GLBT couples when one partner enters a health care facility. The pain and fear of the illness are compounded by wondering whether we'll be able to be there, perhaps in the final moments, when our partner is most vulnerable. Barack Obama offered the hope that GLBT couples, no matter where they live or where they travel in this country, will be protected from arbitrary discrimination.

It was a striking moment in a speech built on powerful themes.

Division among TN Clinton delegates

Betsy Reid, the whip for the TN Clinton delegate caucus, caused a minor stir on Wednesday when she announced to the group that she had changed her mind about voting for the Senator from New York, according to the Knoxville News Sentinel.

"She just lost her clout," said Sylvia Woods, chairwoman of the Knox County Democratic Party. "She should have kept her mouth shut, or she should step down." Woods' husband, Harold, also a pledged Clinton delegate, said he came to the convention promising to vote for the New York senator, "and that's what I'm going to do."

Woods, of course, just recently emerged from another controversy involving the possible disciplining of a 19-year-old party official who was seen at the victory party of a Republican family friend.

In a remark ironically destined for public consumption, Memphis delegate Rudi Scheidt said, "Vote your conscience," he told his fellow Clinton delegates. "Vote for whoever you want to vote for. But remember, this never took place. Because if they hear we're divisive … you do nothing but demean the Democratic Party and put (John) McCain in office."

Meanwhile, the Governor has been playing the reluctant chaplain of unity:

"Everywhere I'm going, I'm preaching - for lack of a better word - to people that this is the way it works in America," he said. "You have elections, and somebody wins, and when it's in a primary, you pull behind the primary victor."

See also Ken Whitehouse.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

"regardless of... sexual orientation"

Text of Bill Clinton's speech tonight

Together, we prevailed in a campaign in which the Republicans said I was too young and too inexperienced to be Commander-in-Chief. Sound familiar? It didn’t work in 1992, because we were on the right side of history. And it won’t work in 2008, because Barack Obama is on the right side of history.

His life is a 21st Century incarnation of the American Dream. His achievements are proof of our continuing progress toward the “more perfect union” of our founders’ dreams. The values of freedom and equal opportunity which have given him his historic chance will drive him as president to give all Americans, regardless of race, religion, gender, sexual orientation or disability, their chance to build a decent life, and to show our humanity, as well as our strength, to the world.

The Passing of equality pioneer Del Martin

Mourn the loss of Del Martin. Celebrate her bravery and kindness. She's a true hero.

Phyllis and Del .. together 55 years, just married.
For information: NCLRights

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

"...from women's rights to gay rights..."

From the convention speech of Hillary Clinton:

To fight for an America defined by deep and meaningful equality — from civil rights to labor rights, from women's rights to gay rights, from ending discrimination to promoting unionization to providing help for the most important job there is: caring for our families. To help every child live up to his or her God-given potential.

Foster Parent and Adoption Ban in Arkansas

Our brothers and sisters across the river will face a ballot initiative on Nov. 4th that would effectively ban gays and lesbians from becoming foster or adoptive parents in Arkansas. The measure would prohibit unmarried couples living together from fostering or adopting children.

This nightmare has so far been avoided in Tennessee. In the last session of the legislature, a law introduced by Senator Paul Stanley that would have accomplished the same objective never made it out of committee. The large number of citizen lobbyists on TEP's Advancing Equality Day on the Hill in February 2008 helped keep this bill from going anywhere.

If you'd like to help oppose this initiative in Arkansas, contact Arkansas Families First.

Monday, August 25, 2008

To bridge or to define: Dealing with the GLBT presence in the election

Though not the overriding concern at the Democratic National Convention, GLBT issues have already been hard to ignore. Tonight Sen. Kennedy spoke of Barack Obama's ability to overcome a number of cultural fissures, among them straight vs. gay.

The GLBT presence is palpable to those attending the convention. 6 percent of the delegates come from our community, the highest percentage ever. That number includes 2 delegates from Tennessee, which is a first. By the way, I just saw one of them, Marisa Richmond, on CNN, and it's clear she's having the time of her life.

The opposition is on hand, of course. Bartholomew Sullivan of the Commercial Appeal noted this message in the streets of Denver:

A religious contingent in the streets warned Democrats variously that they were doomed to hell and that they should follow the dictates of the Bible. Among their banners: “Homo-Sex – A Threat to National Security.”

Obviously the way the Democrats are framing their message on GLBT issues is more palatable to the general public than looking at them from the fantastical point of view of national security. The question is whether the Democratic message of bridging the divide can go head-to-head with the Republican strategy of either ignoring these issues or framing them in terms of the definition of marriage, an issue I think the Democrats will ignore.

But these strategies are gambles. The Democrats need GLBT votes, volunteers, and money, but they can't appear to be lurching too far to the left. The Republicans need to fire up their base, but saying too much about the definition of marriage will make them seem out of touch with most voters and perhaps even punitive.

Hypocrisy in the cards at the DNC

Val does a video interview with a guy at the Democratic National Convention who has put together a deck of cards made up of Republicans who have opposed GLBT rights and been caught on the other side of the fence. As I've said before, exposing them all won't get our community equal rights, but it highlights one of the ironies of the politics of family issues today.

From The Big Tent in Denver

Greetings on Day One of the Democratic Convention in the mile high city. Emily flew home this morning after getting me all situated and going over where I will need be the next four days. Thank you honey...she understands that I am directionally challenged. She even purchased a gps for me. Can you tell she's worried?

I'm sitting with about 200 bloggers at the moment and most of them are seriously typing away at their keyboards. The main stream media may be broken but new independent media is alive and well and all over this place. Hence, the reason for this post...

I wanted to make sure you have the links to catch the action. As many of you know, our very own Marisa Richmond is here. In addition to being the first African-American Transgender delegate from Tennessee she is also a guest blogger on my site: Avalonfarmblog. She will be posting daily from the convention floor and filling us in on her experiences as a delegate.

I am located between 2 places outside of the convention center-the Big Tent & PDA central. The Big Tent is where 200+ bloggers where selected to report from Denver. There are events happening here upstairs with progressive leaders from around the country all day everyday. Today I'm going to hear Donna Brazil and later Air America host Thom Hartmann. PDA Central is sponsored by Progressive Democrats of America and The Nation Magazine. Same thing there as far as speakers, panels etc.

For coverage of things happening here besides the mainstream coverage of "the horse race," go to any of these links... (also streaming video)

I also will be putting videos up on youtube at

and...podcasting at:


Memphis City Council Superdistrict 9, Position 1 seat

More analysis on the vacant Memphis City Council Superdistrict 9, Position 1 seat from Blake Fontenay of the Commerical Appeal. The outcome of this race will be hard to predict.

Take This Survey - Please!

Community Marketing, Inc is conducting an online GLBT Consumer Index Survey. Help make sure the Nashville GLBT community is represented well in this survey. Complete the survey here!

Sunday, August 24, 2008

TN GLBT bloggers in Denver

Former Tennessee Equality Project board members Val Reynolds and Marisa Richmond (a delegate) will be blogging from the Democratic National Convention in Denver this week. Look for their posts here.

Swain says Dems will have to convince voters that God is pro-choice and pro-gay

Vanderbilt Professor Carol Swain's work is often ground-breaking on issues of race and politics and always provocative. But her thoughts on the uphill task Democrats may have in addressing "Bible-believing Christians" are off the mark:

Democrats must convince evangelical Christians that God is pro-choice on abortion and gay marriage. This will be a harder sell for Bible-believing Christians who have rejected the liberal theocratic [sic, perhaps she means theological] notion that God's word changes to meet the needs of a more enlightened society. The Republicans will portray Obama and the Democrats as lightweights on biblical knowledge and practice.

Saints preserve us! First of all, even if that were true from a descriptive or even strategic point of view, it is not commendable. Unless they happen to be someone like former Senator John Danforth, most politicians aren't experts in biblical interpretation. For a party or a presidential candidate to be channeling the voice of God is, from a certain religious point of view, presumptuous and probably idolatrous. In a softer sort of way, candidates shouldn't have any qualms about drawing on large biblical themes because they are part of the culture. But to assume the pulpit or the teaching office of the Church or another religious body is an improper encroachment upon the role of religious leaders. Faith may, indeed, inform the moral angle of policy on both sides of the aisle, but there must nevertheless be a public rationale based on a sense of the common good.

But I also think Swain is wrong from a descriptive and strategic point of view. She oversimplifies what is going on in Evangelicalism today. While it is true that John McCain is likely to get the majority of this voting bloc, Evangelicals are beginning to reexamine their engagement with politics with some moving away from being one or two-issue voters (if they ever were!). Furthermore, in the case of marriage, the differences between McCain and Obama are not so vast that they loom large in the average voter's mind. Both seem to believe marriage is between one man and one woman and that it's a question for the states.

The issue that Swain doesn't address strategically is what effect a more pronounced biblicism in the Obama campaign would have among Democratic voters. The more secular voters and those whose faith is not Christian may balk. I think the same may be true of Catholic voters whose faith is grounded in a more complex interplay between Bible and Sacred Tradition. At a time when the Obama campaign is being pressed for policy specifics, devoting more time to playing catch up on the Bible might send the message that he is out of touch and that he is pandering.

Visit Exotic East Nashville

The travel section of the Knoxville News Sentinel takes a look at East Nashville this weekend.

East Nashville's diversity is a big benefit. All manner of income levels, ethnic backgrounds, sexual orientation and lifestyles can be found here. A lot of free thinkers are in East Nashville's cultural mix, says [Herb] Williams. He lives in the heart of East Nashville with his wife, Amy, and two young children. He contrasts their lifestyle to his childhood spent in a small community in South Alabama. Referring to some of the prejudices of past eras, he says his children won't "have to unlearn something that is backwards. Part of why we love East Nashville is that it is an open and accepting neighborhood," he says. He's proud that his 6-year-old son hasn't grown up with a bias. "He doesn't see any kind of division or class thing. When kids come to school with two mommies or two daddies, it's nothing unusual to him." The family recently attended a neighborhood street festival staged in front of The Lipstick Lounge and Mad Donna's, both lesbian- and gay-friendly establishments. "You are judged more by who you are and what you are doing, than what you look like or what you drive. We have been very happy with that. It's a good place to live."

Wait for the DVD on Swing Vote, says reviewer

George Poague reviews Swing Vote in the Clarksville Leaf Chronicle.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Obama camp hits McCain on opposition to Shepard Act

The Washington Blade reports that the Obama campaign is challenging John McCain on his opposition to the Matthew Shepard Act, which would add sexual orientation and gender identity as federally protected categories:

In a conference call Monday, an official with the Obama campaign’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Steering Committee noted that Obama is a strong supporter of the Matthew Shepard National Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act while McCain opposes the legislation.

“We feel it’s important to point out the stark contrast between Sen. Obama and Sen. McCain on this issue,” said Matt Nosanchuk, an official with the Obama LGBT Steering and Policy Committee.

The challenge came as a result of the sharp increase in anti-GLBT hate violence this year:

[Sharon] Stapel [of the New York City Anti-Violence Project] and Avy Skolnik, who heads the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, which is affiliated with the New York group, said recent incidents of anti-gay and anti-trans violence have occurred in at least seven states, including New York, Colorado, Texas, Tennessee and Ohio.

The piece is a welcome effort at showcasing the issue of hate crimes in the campaign. Unfortunately, while the reporter sought comment from the McCain campaign, the story went to press before there was a response. I think a piece like this could have waited a couple of days to provide opportunity for McCain to weigh in.

Ohio woman tells Bredesen she supports Biden

An Ohio paper catches up with Governor Phil Bredesen while he's stumping and stomping around the Buckeye state for Barack Obama. Prior to being publicly named as Obama's vice presidential pick, Biden received the strong endorsement of one voter Bredesen came across:

Linda Love, a retired Chillicothe Telephone employee, spoke with Bredesen Friday about her strong feelings Obama should choose Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee.

Biden is one of three presumptive vice-presidential front-runners - Sen. Evan Bayh of Indiana and Virginia Gov. Tom Kaine also are on that short list.

"I told him if Obama picks Biden, I'll vote for him," Love said. "Otherwise, I'll not vote. I'm not stupid enough to vote for a Republican. Most of us were for (Hillary) Clinton, but when Obama got it, we had to switch gears."

Love feels 65-year-old Biden has the experience Obama lacks and Bayh, 52, and Kaine, 50, are too young.

"We need someone now who can do something. Our country is such a mess," Love said.

Biden messaging already in place

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has already updated its fundraising script. I got a call this afternoon touting Obama's choice of Senator Joe Biden as his running mate.

Knoxville busybody taking the "her" away from Ina Fried

A Wikipedia user in Knoxville hiding under the cloak of anonymity is editing the entries of Transgender technology guru Ina Fried. Supposedly, this anonymous editor is a medical student with an emphasis in clinical psychology. I hope there are some good meds for people with control issues. Physician, heal thyself!

Friday, August 22, 2008

Johnson City hate crime update

A video interview with one of the victims can be found here. You can also find Out & About Newspaper's story here.

Attack possibly motivated by anti-gay hate in Johnson City

John Shuck has the details.

Tennessean Layoffs

The Tennessean made a layoff announcement on Wednesday, leaving 40 open positions unfilled. One of those is the arts writer (Jonathan Marx’s old position) and Leon Alligood’s position.

They also cut 10 more spots by laying off a copy editor, a librarian, a graphics guy, a marketing/editing person, and a sports copy editor, as well as a couple of folks in other departments. Two positions were moved from the Entertainment team to the Online content team.

This leaves their Features department with just three writers. And there’s more reorganization to come, we hear. Some of that may include a retooling of the weekly RAGE and renaming it to work with their online "MetroMix". It's clear the MetroMix is in competition with the entertainment calendar that's done by the Community Foundation, which has partnered with the Nashville City Paper to promote and have people use. Frankly I don't like any of the Tennessean's Web sites. They are dificult to navigate, and have way too much crap on them. But I guess the more info they can load up on them, the more "hits" they can claim and generate more ad revenue from them.

With Matt Pulle leaving the Nashville Scene, what's in store for that publication? A softer and more entertainment approach to compete with the Rage? Perhaps more stories about downtown living (how many times can That topic be reported on?). Will the Nashville City Paper step up to become the weekly news source that the Scene once was?

Thursday, August 21, 2008

HRC says the GOP wants to hear from you

From today's Human Rights Campaign update:

The Republican Platform Committee is requesting public input for their 2008 platform. Now's your chance to tell them to support hate crimes legislation, protect GLBT people from workplace discrimination or just stop supporting the discriminatory Federal Marriage Amendment! Sign-up on their site to submit your written or video entry.
take action »

Join TEP's AIDS Walk team

Dear Friend,

The annual Nashville CARES AIDS Walk is Saturday, October 4 at Bicentennial State Park in Nashville. We would love to have you as part of TEP’s walk team.

To sign up:

  1. Click here to go to
  2. Click on Register Here (at the top of the page).
  3. Read the Waiver/Agreement, then click on I agree.
  4. Select Join a Team. When the dropdown list of teams is displayed underneath "Join an Existing Team," select "TEP".

After you register, begin asking your friends and family members to sponsor you. 100 percent of the money you raise will go to Nashville CARES.

The day of the event, meet at TEP's table just before the walk. More details will follow.

If you have questions, please, contact me at I hope you can join us for a day of fun that provides critical resources to a great cause.


Lisa Beavers
TEP Secretary and AIDS Walk Coordinator

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Quotation of the week

"When one of them is governor, they're welcome to make the determination about how you handle this..." --Governor Phil Bredesen referring to House Majority Leader Gary Odom and Minority Leader Jason Mumpower's calls for an independent investigation and the release of names in the THP background check scandal.

Disperse, there's nothing to see here.

Party purge avoided

No, this news is not out of China; we're talking about Knoxville. A 19 year-old district delegate of the Democratic Party is going to be allowed to keep her position after she faced expulsion for appearing at a Republican event.

In an e-mail to the News Sentinel, [Chairwoman Sylvia] Woods wrote that she and 8th District delegate Caroline Hindman have discussed the matter and that Hindman now understands her responsibilities.

Woods added that the people within the party who originally filed the complaint have withdrawn it and also want Hindman to stay and participate. Hindman has faced a possible impeachment, the local Democrats said.

Previously, Woods had criticized Hindman for what Woods saw as a failure to fulfill the duties of the office, compounded by her appearance at the Republican victory party earlier this month.

Even though some of the issue centers around Hindman missing meetings, what propelled the story was the fact that she was being attacked for her appearance at a family friend's victory party. Apparently it caused a lot of shouting at a Knox County Democratic convention on Tuesday.

That's the way to lock up the youth vote!

Tennessee Valley UU Church shooter indicted

Jim David Atkisson, the man accused of opening fire in the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church, has been indicted on two charges of first-degree murder, according to the Knoxville News Sentinel. The Grand Jury also indicted him on two counts of felony murder and six counts of attempted first-degree murder.

Adkisson may be facing federal charges as well. U.S. Attorney Russ Dedrick is keeping mum, but the FBI is conducting a civil-rights probe, and Dedrick's office has an extensive history of prosecuting civil-rights cases.

Nikki Tinker attempts to salvage what's left of her reputation

The Commercial Appeal printed a guest column by the former Democratic primary candidate for the 9th Congressional District. Tinker tries to defend herself against the national criticism she received for the attack ads on Steve Cohen she released in the last days of her campaign:

Try as we might to have honest discussions on such important issues as education, health care, the economy and more, too often these conversations do not happen. Sometimes other issues -- race and religion, for example -- take precedence.

I believe that was the case in my recent campaign for the Democratic nomination for Congress from Tennessee's 9th District, which ended with my television ads at the center of the debate. I wanted these ads to focus on issues, but instead the ads themselves became an issue.

Through the ads, I wanted to respond to Congressman Steve Cohen's challenge to us to examine his voting record. The ads were never intended as an attack on race or religion, or as an attempt to divide our community. But, if they did, I want to take responsibility and sincerely apologize for any pain they may have caused.

Tinker goes to claim:
I wanted to be heard on the substantive issues of the campaign -- health care, Iraq, immigration and education, and I wanted to take the challenge offered by Cohen, to look closely at his voting record. Yet reporting on the congressional race came down to race and religion.

I can't blame Tinker for wanting make amends for the offensive ad campaign she ran, but her complaint about not being heard on the issues seems insincere to me.

During her one debate with opponents and in my own personal interview with her in the spring, she offered few details about her legislative agenda and objectives. This told me that she was either a policy lightweight who had no business running for Congress or she was being backed by supporters who could easily manipulate her into voting for the more privileged classes in our society, i.e., Big Business.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

More details, questions on the THP scandal

Early this morning, Mr. Kleinheider displayed his prophetic gifts in quipping that "This is Gonna Get Exciting If There Are Journalists On The List." It turns out he is right.

According to WSMV, "The department won't release the names of those individuals on the list, but[Patrol Colonel Mike] Walker said it included two journalists and one country music personality." The list doesn't include elected officials, though. [Update: I originally said it doesn't include candidates. Actually, that possibility hasn't been ruled out.]

Meanwhile, Republican House candidate A.J. McCall, who is running against Democrat Stratton Bone, came forward and told Clint Brewer that his records from the early 90s were provided to House Minority Leader Jason Mumpower and Rep. Clen Casada.

Other than timing, the incidents may not be related since McCall notes that "the records of his arrests, though expunged, have been used against him repeatedly in the last year in political activity. McCall said numerous automated 'robo' calls and at least one negative 'push' poll conducted in the 46th District have brought up the two DUI charges to voters." McCall admits that he doesn't know who conducted the robo calls or the push poll. And Mumpower has also said that a direct link between the incidents has not been established.

But given the timing, Mumpower's hunch is justified until it is established who is pushing the information about McCall. So far, there is no indication that the public will soon know who is on the list. That means that questions will linger and flare up through November. In themselves, these invasive background checks are scandalous. But they are detrimental in their effects as well. With so little coverage of legislative races, this may be the only issue that stands out. And that will have the unfortunate effect of drowning out the policy differences among candidates.

There is no word yet on whether we will see independent investigations of these events.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Mumpower joins Odom in call for investigation, reveals mysterious incident

House Minority Leader Jason Mumpower has joined Majority Leader Gary Odom in calling for an "outside investigation" into the background checks conducted by a member of the Tennessee Highway Patrol.

In the piece written by the Tennessean's Brad Schrade, Mumpower also reveals a chilling incident that happened a few weeks ago:

Mumpower said his concerns are compounded by a mysterious incident a month and a half ago at his legislative office at the Capitol complex.

The Bristol Republican said an envelope appeared overnight in his locked office containing photocopies of THP arrest records involving a Republican candidate for state House. The arrest had happened years ago, and did not result in a conviction.
Mumpower would not identify the candidate, but said the episode smelled of political dirty tricks.

“Intimidation is the only thing I can think of,” Mumpower said, who said THP officers who work at the Capitol have keys to the legislative offices, as do cleaning personnel and some staff members.

Toward the end of the piece, the word "fake" shows up again in reference to the disciplinary action against the trooper in question, along with a reminder that the administration still hasn't answered some of the lingering questions around the ticket fixing incident from a few years ago:

When the ticket-fixing became public, the patrol leadership at the time concocted a fake punishment for Shirley, The Tennessean later reported. Why Shirley was given a break has never fully been answered by the Bredesen administration.

This scandal is extremely discouraging. Coming on the heels of one of the more partisan legislative sessions, it will no doubt fan the flames. Leaders of both parties know what is at stake and are to be commended for calling for a thorough, independent, and public investigation. The other bright spot is some tenacious reporting by the Tennessean. Their staff cuts and other issues are bound to be a distraction these days, but don't count them out yet.

So who's running for Memphis City Council?

Only four people have picked up petitions for this special election on November 4:

  • Brian Stephens, who made it to a runoff with Bill Boyd for the East Memphis-Cordova District 2 council seat before losing to Boyd in a runoff.
  • Kemp Conrad, who finished second in a hard-fought campaign for the Position 2 seat in the Super District claimed by Shea Flinn.
  • Lester Lit, who finished fourth in the Position 3 race in the Super District claimed by Reid Hedgepeth.
  • Regina Newman, an attorney who finished second in a nine-candidate field for General Sessions Judge Division 4 in 2006, also picked up a council petition.

The filing deadline is 12 Noon on Thurday, August 21.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Green Party's McKinney in Tennessee this week

A press release from Chris Lugo says that Green Party presidential candidate Cynthia McKinney will be in Tennessee this week with stops in Memphis, Jackson, Dickson, and Nashville on Wednesday and Thursday. Stops in Nashville include Tennessee State University, Fisk University, and Carver Food Park.

As the Green Party candidate, issues of environmental and racial justice will
highlight her Tennessee visit. “Cynthia has chosen to visit people and places
that the Democrats and Republicans would would rather forget, such as
the victims of environmental racism in Dickson, Tennessee. I think this is why
Cynthia is the best choice this election season, because it is clear that she is
the people's candidate," said Chris Lugo Green candidate for the US Senate.

Make it public, says Odom

House Majority Leader Gary Odom (D-Nashville) is calling for the names of those who were the subject of background checks said to be run by Lt. Ronnie Shirley of the Tennessee Highway Patrol to be released.

Odom said the list could contain "as many as 300 names," according to multiple sources he has spoken with. He would not disclose the sources. "I think once we know the names, then we will have a better understanding of the motives for these activities, and then we will know what needs to take place next," said Odom, D-Nashville. "We need to know if these were private citizens, politically active individuals or just acquaintances of the officer."

The THP is conducting an investigation and says that the results will be handed over to the District Attorney when completed.

In unusually informal, frank, and editorializing language, the Tennessean describes the THP's past "disciplining" of Lt. Shirley when he assisted then Deputy Governor Dave Cooley with a ticket:

A resulting investigation ended in reprimands for Cooley and Shirley. Shirley was then transferred to an assignment closer to his home in Wilson County. The transfer was part of a ruse by the THP's top brass at the time, as it tried to fake a punishment for Shirley to throw off the press and the public, The Tennessean later reported.

Internal notes obtained by the newspaper said the idea was to reassign Shirley from Rutherford County to Wilson County so that, according to the notes, "the media will be satisfied thinking we did something to him." The reassignment would actually only be "on paper."

It is seldom that one sees "fake" as a verb, "ruse," and "top brass" used in the body of a story. Still, given the clear contempt for the media, the public, and the discipline process referenced in the memo, perhaps the shift in language is justified. It just might have worked better in the "Voices and Views" segment than in the text of the story.

And given the issues and the perception of issues in the department's past, a little sunlight on the background checks in question is justified. As Rep. Odom points out, "I sincerely hope these checks haven't been used for political or personal vendettas. If they were, we could be talking about official misconduct here."

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Reactions to the Noose

Yolanda Putnam gives us a sample of some of the community reactions to the second noose found a Blue Cross Blue Shield building site in Chattanooga.

...the city’s Office of Multicultural Affairs is launching a marketing campaign to advertise its discrimination hot line. “This type of demonstration will not be tolerated,” said Multicultural Affairs board member Norma Hansen at the group’s monthly meeting Wednesday.

But the office is doing even more:

The group also is establishing a citywide policy for responding to hate crimes, and it has been conducting events such as the Sweet Diversity neighborhood meetings that celebrate ethnic differences. “If you plant hatred, those weeds will attempt to drown out the good seeds,” Ms. Hansen said. “We want to plant seeds of harmony and respect throughout the community.”

Blue Cross Blue Shield has also spoken out in a memo to employees:

“Blue Cross BlueShield of Tennessee will not stand for this behavior,” wrote President and CEO Vicky Gregg in an e-mail to employees this week. “BCBST has a proud history of diversity. We do not discriminate on the basis of race, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, age or faith.”

These responses are extremely positive. They indicate that hate crimes must be taken seriously by the entire community. It is also encouraging that government and a major corporation are taking the lead. Some might consider a couple of nooses a joke, but they should be construed as a threat of violence based on bias.

TN group said to have opposed Oregon partnership law

A group allegedly based in Tennessee, Restore America, helped with an unsuccessful challenge to Oregon's domestic partnership law. Opponents of the law passed by the Legislature attempted to get enough signatures to bring the issue to the ballot. The Oregon Secretary of State ruled that they failed in their effort, a decision upheld by a federal appeals court.

"This was a backdoor attempt by out-of-state interests to overturn a law passed fair and square," said state Rep. Tina Kotek, D-Portland, who supported the domestic-partnership law.

Restore America's website shows an Oregon address as does their 2006 990.

Update: Apparently the executive director lives in Tennessee.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Gratuitous jab at marriage equality of the week: Becky Ruppe

Earlier in the week, Sean Braisted blogged about Democratic Senate candidate Becky Ruppe's radio spot. Thanks to Sean, you can find the audio of the spot here. The ad tells the struggles of her life and then ends with a list of conservative stances including her opposition to "gay marriage."

Thanks for sharing, Ms. Ruppe. Is your district a hotbed of GLBT activism? What exactly prompted you to include that item in your ad? You have heard, I hope, that the Legislature and the voters have already decided this matter in Tennessee.

The ad is also posted here at the Tennessee Democratic Party's blog. Interestingly, it is posted without comment and no one has complained in the comment section.

On her website, she says, "Marriage, as so defined, is a union between one man and one woman: I will make all my decisions regarding this issue based on Christian values." What would she say if she were to learn that some of us who want marriage equality were pursuing it because of Christian values?

Ruppe's ad is pernicious for at least one of two reasons. Either she is misleading the voters into thinking that marriage is an issue in Tennessee or she is whipping up prejudice against GLBT people to bolster her conservative credentials.

If you'd like to share some of your own gratuitous opinions with Ms. Ruppe, you can do so in a variety of ways here.

Thursday, August 14, 2008


Tonight is the eve of the Feast of the Dormition. Related to the Feast of the Assumption in the Western Church, the Dormition marks the passing of the Theotokos, the Virgin Mary, from death to everlasting life. One of the twelve great feasts of the Eastern Church, the Dormition includes the beautiful story that as the Virgin was dying, the Apostles were gathered by the clouds from the ends of the earth and brought to Mary's deathbed.

The end of one of the prayers from the morning service is said in St. Peter's voice as he looks with fear and cries to Mary: "Pray, then, fervently to thy Son and God to save thy flock from harm." (Festal Menaion)

People gathering for the feast in Orthodox Churches in Eastern Europe and the Trans-Caucasus will find new depths in the service as they mourn their loved ones and struggle to come to terms with the fratricide of inter-Orthodox conflict. In the midst of debating issues of territory, who was the aggressor first, and natural resources, this profoundly tragic aspect is often lost.

To his credit, Russian Orthodox Patriarch Alexy II called for a cease fire early in the conflict:

"Today blood is shed and people are killed in South Ossetia and my heart deeply laments over it. Orthodox Christians are among those who have raised their hands against each other. Orthodox peoples called by the Lord to live in fraternity and love confront each other," the Church primate stresses.

Referring to the appeal of Catholicos-Patriarch Ilia II of Georgia who urged to peace, Patriarch Alexy also turned his "ardent call" to those "who are blind with enmity": "Stop! Don't let more blood shed! Don't let today's conflict boil over! Show wisdom and courage: come to negotiating table to respect traditions, outlook and hopes of Georgian and Ossetian people."

The Patriarch has stated the Russian Orthodox Church is ready to unite its efforts with the Georgian Church to help peace come. "May Our God, Who is "not a God of disorder but of peace," be our Assistant in it," Alexy II statement says.

See also this statement from Metropolitan Herman of the Orthodox Church in America.

Another noose found at Blue Cross Blue Shield building site

Noose number 2 has been found by construction workers at a Blue Cross Blue Shield in Chattanooga. The FBI continues to investigate. The construction company is attempting to deal with the situation.

Skanska, the company in charge of the construction project, is offering diversity and sensitivity training. So far, said John Reyhan, general manager for the project, morale has not been affected.

“We’ve added a tremendous amount of security at the site,” Mr. Reyhan said. “And at our jobwide meeting every morning we are encouraging anyone to come forward with any reports of intimidation.”

No one is speculating about the motive. I wondered in my last post about the subject whether the crew were being targeted. We don't have any information about the racial and ethnic makeup of the workers. It's interesting that the construction company is offering sensitivity training. Does that mean that they're not ruling out the possibility that someone on the crew is involved?

Nonprofit civic engagement up despite few resources

A recent Johns Hopkins University Center for Civil Society Studies-Institute for Policy Studies survey indicates that nonprofits are becoming increasingly active in policy advocacy, particularly at the State and local level. But sustainability of their efforts is a living question since resources for policy advocacy and lobbying in this sector are few.

872 nonprofits were surveyed. Almost 75 percent of the respondents were involved in policy advocacy or lobbying. Of those, about 60% did so once a month or more. 85% of responding organizations said they devoted less than 2 percent of their resources to policy work. Typically, the executive director of the organization was the key policy representative. The vast majority of the work was done in the State and local arenas.

The piece sees the growing policy work as a positive trend and suggests ways to support advocacy:
• Strengthen the policy advocacy and lobbying capacity of field-specific nonprofit intermediary organizations. These organizations have assumed a crucial role in backstopping
the policy involvement of local service organizations but often lack the resources to support this functionas effectively as is needed.

• Expand foundation support for nonprofit involvement in policy advocacy and civic engagement. Many foundations take at best a “hands-off” posture, and at times an actively negative one, toward nonprofit policy involvement and civic engagement. This puts an unnecessary damper on what should be a major function of the nation’s nonprofit institutions—giving voice to the voiceless and raising unaddressed issues to national policy attention. More than that, since the major impediment to more thoroughgoing nonprofit engagement in the policy process is the lack of resources, and therefore the lack oftime, that even the large organizations have available for this function, foundations need to re-think their hands-off
position toward nonprofit advocacy and increase their financial support for this important function. To be sure, the constraints under which foundations operate put limits
on such support, but those limits are often far less severe than many overly cautious foundations may assume. As government policy has become increasingly central to the
fiscal health of the sector and to the well-being of the people the sector is serving, foundations need to recognize the important role they must play in helping organizations participate in the shaping of this policy.

• Encourage and equip nonprofi t organizations to engage their boards and the publics they serve in their advocacy and lobbying activities. Nonprofit executives need help in performing the advocacy and lobbying responsibilities of their organizations. These responsibilities therefore need to become a bigger part of the responsibilities of nonprofit
boards, integrated into board mission statements and board training. In addition, organizations need to be encouraged, and trained, to engage the citizen base of their operations in their advocacy activities. This will require training and support for staff to perform this function.

• Strengthen the sector’s capacity to equip small and mid-sized organizations to operate in the policy arena. Smaller organizations clearly have special challenges in
operating in the policy arena. From the data presented here, these organizations tend to be less well-informed about the existing laws and regulations in this field. What is more, they are less likely to be members of advocacy coalitions and have fewer staff resources to devote to this function. Since these organizations are far more numerous than the large organizations, ensuring a voice for them in the advocacy arena is thus especially important. Expanded programs specially targeted at this segment of the sector thus seem needed.

12,500 jump to the defense of English

Tomorrow Councilman Eric Crafton will turn in his petition with about 12,500 signatures from Davidson County voters, according to the Tennessean.

It's another story of the success of his campaign. Apart from discussing the Council resolution, the piece doesn't really reveal anything about the opposition.

The lawsuit question was raised in the article, but it was presented inconclusively:

Crafton and other supporters of the English-only measure have said that it would encourage those who do not speak English to learn the language and would protect Metro from potential litigation brought by individuals who believe they can demand translation services.

Jim Boulet Jr., executive director of the Springfield-Va.-based English First said he is not aware of any such lawsuits. A Kansas Catholic school has been sued because it banned, in most instances, the use of foreign languages at the school.

Perhaps a lawsuit will prevail after this is all over. But those opposing the measure should become visible immediately after it qualifies for the ballot and start spoiling all the "earned media" Crafton has received.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Victory Fund to hold fundraising event in Nashville

Out & About Newspaper reports that the Victory Fund, a national organization that supports openly gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender candidates for local, state, and federal office, is holding a fundraiser in Nashville on September 12.

All money raised during the event will directly aid the following "out" candidates: Jim Roth, who is running for corporate commissioner in Oklahoma; Mark LaFontaine, who is running for state representative, District 92, in Florida; and Lupe Valdez, who is running for sheriff of Dallas County, Texas. "We would love to raise money for a candidate from Tennessee but there isn't one running during this cycle," Taylor said. "Until we can support candidates from Tennessee, we're going to support other southern, national candidates." Kathy Webb, the first openly gay official elected to Arkansas state legislature, and Keith Durbin, Tennessee's first openly gay official elected to state [sic] office, will be at the event.

*Note: Durbin's office is actually local.

Hopefully this event will inspire other members of the GLBT community to explore running for office.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

That's so 36 years ago

In another press release, the GLBT Libertarian group, Outright Libertarians Nashville-Middle Tennessee, responds to the news of the most inclusive Democratic Party platform ever.

The Democratic Party Platform , which is to be presented to the Democratic National Convention in Denver later this month for approval, finally adds what party officials described as language opposing the Defense of Marriage Act and “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,”

Outright Libertarians Nashville would like to extend a warm welcome to the Democratic Party to 1972. For the last thirty-five years the Libertarian Party Platform has included equality in marriage, adoption, military service, and immigration for all regardless of their sexual orientation.

If either the Democrat or Republican Parties are looking for more great ideas to include in their party platform, they are more then [sic] welcome to check out the Libertarian Party Platform and take ideas on individual liberties and personal responsibilities.

The final draft of the Democratic platform has not been released yet. Although it does not include the words "gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender," it addresses specific policy issues of concern to the GLBT community and does use the terms that are increasingly appearing in legislation such as sexual orientation and gender identity, according to those who helped draft the document and those who participated in a conference call explaining its details.

Council will appoint new public defender

With the tragic death of Metro Public Defender Ross Alderman, the Metro Council will appoint his replacement. Chris Echegary explains the process (fact-checking myself since I had originally attributed the piece to Michael Cass):

Under council rules, Vice Mayor Diane Neighbors will announce the vacancy at the council's next meeting, a week from today.

Council members and the public then will have one week to submit nominations.

The council's appointment must be held at least four weeks after the announcement of the vacancy, meaning it won't happen before Sept. 16.

One fact check on the piece, though. Echegary says that Alderman had faced no opposition in 2002 and 2006. Alderman beat Kelvin Jones in the May 6, 2006 vote.


R ALDERMAN 250 2037 0 15450 17737
K JONES 196 1355 0 10464 12015



Monday, August 11, 2008

Hickory Hollow Mall gets new tenant

It's hard to know whether to call this announcement a ray of hope or another indication of the downward slide of Hickory Hollow Mall. The Metro Police Department is setting up an office and a recruiting kiosk in a shopping venue that has seen its share of trouble over the years.

As well as security issues and store closings, Hickory Hollow Mall has been in the news because Metro Council members representing Antioch have called for tax increment financing in response to the deal that was finally cut for the Bellevue Mall.

There's no doubt that shoppers and employees at Hickory Hollow need added security. 37013, the Zip Code for the mall, has one of the highest crime rates in the city and it increased from 2006 to 2007. Hickory Hollow Mall was also the site of Antioch's Night Out Against Crime rally.

But how will a police presence play with prospective retail clients? Will it give them confidence or confirm that they ought to look elsewhere? Regardless, safety comes first. I hope it's one of many steps to improve the quality of life for the residents of Southeast Davidson County.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

What to do with your war chest when the battle's over

Matt Wilson looks into what former State Sen. Ward Crutchfield (D-Chattanooga) is doing with his campaign fund.

No money other than about $2,000 in interest has been added to his campaign funds in the year since he pleaded guilty, records show.

Over that time, Mr. Crutchfield has used some of the funds for campaign contributions to Hamilton County Board of Education members Debra Matthews and Janice Boydston, as well as state Reps. Joanne Favors and Tommie Brown, both D-Chattanooga. His campaign contributions totaled $1,000, according to records.

The piece retains a neutral tone, carefully noting what kinds of contributions from political committees are permitted and which are not.

Rep. Joanne Favors stands by the former senator, who was brought down in the Tennessee Waltz sting, in her comments.

Rep. Favors said she saw no problem with accepting the $250 contribution, though she did not ask for the money. “It was done openly,” she said. “I still consider Sen. Crutchfield a friend of mine.”

Other recipients are less flattering: Marilyn Harrison, vice president of Allied Arts, said she was not familiar with the contribution. She said many donors support Allied Arts.

I think that response is pretty bad. Granted, it's an awkward thing to have to explain. But what message does it send to donors when you say, "Gee, I don't know. Lots of people give"? If someone with a nonprofit is asked and decides to comment, it might be best to check the database or send the reporter a copy of your donor report for the year in question. Or maybe it might be best not to discuss donors at all. But to take the money and comment that there are just so many supporters says individual contributions don't matter. I guess her organization won't be seeing much more of the $166,000 that remains in Sen. Crutchfield's account. It's a shame, too, because that would be a great use for the money. Kicking a man when he is trying to redeem himself is a lost opportunity.

Coriolanus: Relevant but nonpartisan

Bill Friskics-Warren previews the Nashville Shakespeare Festival's Coriolanus in today's Tennessean.

As celebrity and war hero, Coriolanus hits images in the current presidential campaign. According to artistic director Denice Hicks, "The contemporary relevance of the play is undeniable," said Hicks. "Coriolanus is a celebrity who the people insist on becoming a role model/politician." She goes on to say:

"We haven't taken this play and said, 'Look how great our Republicans are' or 'Look how great our Democrats are,' " she said. "Between McCain and Obama, we have a war hero and an outsider/newcomer. You see those qualities in Coriolanus, as well. He has to show his 27 war wounds to the people before they'll elect him."

The Nashville Shakespeare Festival

in collaboration with Naked Stages



August 14 - September 7, 2008

FREE & Open to the Public

Suggested Donation: $5

(click for more info)

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Hating the Speaker doesn't get you very far

Tom Humphrey has an interesting piece today that is a mixture of post primary analysis and projections about the general election in November. One of the conclusions is that Republicans who campaigned as if they were running against House Speaker Jimmy Naifeh didn't get very far.

Rep. Doug Overby beat Sen. Ray Finney for Finney's Senate seat. He had voted for Naifeh for Speaker. Rep. Kent Williams won an easy reelection victory against Jerome Cochran, who explicitly used Naifeh as an issue. Williams states the lesson clearly:

"I think that should be a wakeup call for our Republican party," said Williams. "We don't need to be running campaigns based on cartoon characterizations and get back to the days of Ronald Reagan, when we were treated with respect.

"People could care less who I voted for, for speaker. People are tired of partisan politics and want candidates who stick with their values and watch out for their interests."

Speaker Naifeh himself brushed off the tactic: "I think maybe that has run its course and they won't be using that anymore," he said.

And why doesn't it work? I guess the better question is, "Why would it?" In an election that drew very little media attention, an election in which few people voted, it's a stretch to expect most voters throughout the State to be fired up about the Speaker of the House when they may not even know who is running in their own district.

Public defender dies in motorcycle accident

Metro Public Defender Ross Alderman has died in a motorcycle accident, according to the Tennessean.

He last won election to the post in 2006. The office's website includes biographical information about him and the office's accomplishments.

Please, keep his family in your thoughts and prayers.

Bridging the liberal-orthodox divide

The Rev. Gail Seavey, minister of First Unitarian Universalist in Nashville, discusses the tragic shooting at Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church in Knoxville. She mentions the 2006 marriage summit at First UU, which equipped Unitarians across the state to get involved in the Tennessee Equality Project's Vote No on 1 campaign.

She also mentions some of the bridge building that occurred across the liberal-orthodox divide:

We were grateful, but not surprised by the respectful support the Knoxville police and about 40 mental health institutions have given. But I confess, I was surprised by the outpouring of food, sanctuary, love and public support from the Knoxville religious community, liberal and orthodox.

Noose found at Chattanooga Blue Cross Blue Shield site

A noose has been discovered at a Chattanooga Blue Cross Blue Shield workplace in Chattanooga. The FBI is investigating the incident and trying to determine whether it constitutes a hate crime. It occurred the same day four workers became ill, but so far the noose and the illnesses don't appear related.

The story mentions that it is a building site and that employees of Skanska, a construction firm with a presence in Nashville, had been there and were to report back for work on Monday. Even though the illnesses don't seem to be related to the noose, I wonder whether the crew was targeted.

It has been a tough summer for hate issues in Tennessee. In June, there was a cross burning in Scott County. Revelations of a February police beating of a transgender woman in Memphis came to light in June, closely followed by the murder of a transgender woman in July in the same city. And just two weeks ago what should have been a peaceful Sunday was ruptured by the attack at the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church.

Friday, August 8, 2008

When is a sex scandal a political story?

I don't feel the need to mention the names of any of the characters in these dramas because they are being portrayed as just that--characters. And apart from endorsing Coriolanus for Consul, TEP doesn't find theatre criticism to be our forte.

Generally, these sex scandals are political stories accidentally and not essentially. You Thomists and Aristotelians out there will get the distinction. But our media culture isn't very interested in questions of being, only questions of what a story can become. As a result, sex scandals involving politicians always become political. The story breaks and we wait for the political fallout. By God, if it's not a political question to begin with, we know how to make it one. We ask the following questions: Can the accused be a viable candidate again? Can she speak at a political event? Do other politicians have to distance themselves from him?

Here's when it is a political story--if the politician broke the law (prostitution) or used public funds or position to advance a love interest. Also, if the politician caught with his or her pants down has droned on and on about the sanctity of marriage and advances policy that restricts the definition of marriage and family, then that's probably a story. But even then, not in every case. Questions about hypocrisy as they relate to policy can be instructive, but they are not final. At some level, policy has to be advanced on its merits. Hypocritical personal rhetoric is only enough to throw the policy into question, not enough to stop the debate.

More than a few preachers and politicians fighting marriage equality have played around outside marriage. But exposing them all is never going to be enough to get legislatures around the country to adopt same-sex marriage. Lawmakers and the public are going to have to get comfortable with the idea and be convinced that it's the right thing to do. Putting your opponents in the penalty box gets you a few points and buys you time, but it doesn't win the game. Both sides in our public debates ought to consider well before they crow too loudly about these family matters.

I remember vividly when one former lawmaker in Tennessee who worked for the marriage amendment in the Legislature was having a marital crisis. Reporters wanted us to take his guts out. It wouldn't have gotten us anywhere with the amendment. We would have looked vengeful and become just another group of characters in a drama of destruction.