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.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Quotation of the Day: Frank Rich

Frank Rich of the New York Times on the anniversary of Stonewall and President Obama's lack of action on GLBT rights:

It’s a press cliché that “gay supporters” are disappointed with Obama, but we should all be. Gay Americans aren’t just another political special interest group. They are Americans who are actively discriminated against by federal laws. If the president is to properly honor the memory of Stonewall, he should get up to speed on what happened there 40 years ago, when courageous kids who had nothing, not even a public acknowledgment of their existence, stood up to make history happen in the least likely of places.

People of the same sex living holy lives together

The Most Rev. Dr. Katharine Jefferts Schori, Presiding Bishop and Primate of the Episcopal Church, has been visiting Nashville since Thursday. Today's Tennessean includes a good piece on the visit that has not been without controversy in the Diocese of Tennessee.

The bishop didn't fudge when asked about the debates on sexuality going on in the Church and the wider culture today:

When it comes to controversial issues, like homosexuality, Jefferts Schori says she begins with studying the Scriptures.

That includes looking at the messy human families found in the Bible.

"In the Old Testament, there are lots of examples of what holy and blessed marriage looks like, and what unholy marriage looks like," she said, "including polygamy and concubines being normal."

In the New Testament, she said, Jesus never married and was celibate. Paul wasn't married either.

"He said don't get married — unless you have to — because Jesus was coming back soon," she said.

Even among Anglicans, the idea of marriage has changed. In the 1600s, she said, one of the main reasons for marriage was to "avoid fornication."

"That's not in our prayer book now," she said. "We say that the primary goal and good of marriage is companionship. That's different from even what the first Anglicans said. If our goal is to help people live holy lives, which I think is the church's function, maybe we could think about people of the same sex living holy lives together."

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Political homophobia

Americablog on a recurring problem and not just in DC:

Political homophobes aren't gay-hating in the traditional sense. In fact, publicly, most are strong supporters of LGBT equality. But, behind closed doors, many Democratic leaders, consultants, Hill staffers and the rest will vociferously argue that there is no political benefit to actually supporting LGBT rights. Political homophobia is rampant among some Democrats. In some ways, it's worse than blatant homophobia, since we think most Democrats are on our side. And outwardly, they are.

Political homophobia dictates policy in DC more than we'd like to think. I believe it's happening in the West Wing right now. I've been told by several people that while the president's chief of staff, Rahm Emmanuel, isn't a homophobe in the traditional way (he always voted the right way when he was in the House), he is always the first person to suggest that his colleagues (and now boss) avoid gay issues. He'd rather not deal with them because he thinks they're bad politics.

The New York Times discusses another angle on the problem:

The conflicting signals from the White House about its commitment to gay issues reflect a broader paradox: even as cultural acceptance of homosexuality increases across the country, the politics of gay rights remains full of crosscurrents.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Cooper signs on as ENDA cosponsor

Tennessee Congressman Jim Cooper has signed on as a cosponsor of H.R. 3017 the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA). The law would protect workers from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. In an email to constituents, Congressman Cooper noted:

While the majority of Fortune 500 companies and a number of states already protect the LGBT community from workplace abuse, the federal government does not, and workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity is, tragically, still a common occurrence in workplaces across the nation. ENDA will simply ensure equal rights for all of our nation’s hardworking employees, and will make vital steps towards eliminating workplace discrimination altogether.

Thank you Congressman Cooper for working for passage of ENDA.

Family Action of TN turns its gaze toward Memphis

After Shelby County Government established workplace protections for LGBT county employees, the Family Action Council of Tennessee has turned it gaze to Memphis.

In an e-mail message this week, FAC President David Fowler issued an invitation to a July 10 lunch meeting at a Memphis restaurant to debrief followers about FAC’s activities in the Tennessee General Assembly. Fowler plans to share the “legislative victories, and challenges, that relate to our core values: the institution of marriage, family values, the sanctity of life, and religious liberty.” Fowler continued:
Also, everyone in Shelby County needs to know about looming local attempts to further the national gay rights agenda that could affect employees of Memphis City government as well as businesses, churches and other private employers.
Fowler must have missed that the movement to establish fairness and equality in Memphis and Shelby County is a local grass roots movement led by local leaders like you. FAC will also be in town to promote “The Truth Project”, a program designed by the national anti-gay industry’s Focus on the Family to misrepresent American history and culture and establish special rights and privileges for the far-right.

If hearing about these outside groups meddling in local affairs bothers you, you can take a stand against them.

Representatives of TEP plan to observe how many people attend Fowler's luncheon on July 10 without interfering (their meeting room can hold up to 75 people). FAC is free to meet and organize however they want, but we don’t have to sit back and do nothing.

Would you be willing to contribute $1, $5, or $10 to the Tennessee Equality Project for each adult who attends Fowler’s meeting? You decide the amount. Your contribution will further the grass roots movement to promote fairness and equality in Memphis, Shelby County and Tennessee.

Make a pledge today by emailing TEP’s Shelby County Committee at

Support the Memphis Non-Discrimination Ordinance by making a contribution to TEP here. The Tennessee Equality Project is a 501c4 organization. Gifts to TEP are not deductible for purposes of federal income tax.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Duanna Johnson beating: One year later and nothing from Bill Gibbons

One year ago, the Tennessee GLBT community was processing the revelations of the brutual beating of Duanna Johnson, a Memphis transgender woman in police custody. Johnson was subsequently murdered in November.

The U.S. Department of Justice filed charges against officer Bridges McCrae, but we haven't seen any action from another significant player. According to a recent email from the Tennessee Transgender Political Coalition:

The Office of the Shelby County District Attorney has refused to file charges against Memphis Police Officer Bridges McRae for the February 2008 beating of Duanna Johnson. To its credit, the U.S. Department of Justice did so in November 2008, but local authorities will not. The District Attorney of Shelby County, Bill Gibbons, is running for Governor of Tennessee on an "anti-crime" platform.

Gibbons did, however, show a great deal of interest in investigating the leak of the beating tape. I suppose many will say "So what?" and "The feds filed charges so he didn't need to." My question is whether Gibbons can explain what it says about his leadership that his reaction was to focus on the leak of the tape rather than the horrible human event that took place. He has a great personal story about his roots. But what can he tell us about his judgment in tough situations that would overcome the image of a man more interested in processes and procedures rather than victims of civil rights violations?

Saturday, June 20, 2009

St. Ann's Episcopal Church in Nashville--a welcoming parish celebrates 150 years

The Associated Press takes a look at St. Ann's Episcopal Church in Nashville today as the parish prepares to celebrate 150 years in the city.

St. Ann's Rector, the Rev. Rick Britton notes:

“We’re an inclusive congregation,” he said. “We support the presiding bishop where she is on this whole issue. We are a congregation that supports the ordination of the bishop of New Hampshire. And we support the blessing of same-sex unions. “However, those things have not been authorized yet. We don’t know how that’s going to play out. There’s a lot of us on both sides of the issue, who are very unsettled because we haven’t worked it out. In the meantime, we’re going to do what we can to spread the Gospel.”
Here is a link to the Facebook group for the 150th anniversary celebration.

Congratulations to St. Ann's!

TEP at Nashville Pride

TEP at Pride! on Twitpic

Thanks to Nancy VanReece for the photo. By the time I left, we had already signed up over 75 people for the email list. There is lots of enthusiasm for a non-discrimination ordinance for Nashville. Maybe most straight people, even those who would allies, don't realize it, but we don't have any employment protections in Tennessee unless an employer chooses to put sexual orientation and gender identity or expression in its policy. We hope Metro government will add these categories to its non-discrimination policy.

A big thanks to all our volunteers who are working the booth.

Nashville Pride Coverage: More acceptance but few protections

Claudio Pinto writes up Nashville Pride for the Tennessean this morning. The piece focuses on GLBT people--young and old--and their perceptions of how Nashville has changed.

But times have changed enough that Joshua Hargrove, 29, thinks being gay in Nashville today is no big deal."A couple of times, I've had people I work with tell me a story about a gay couple they know. And that's their way of saying, 'Hey, we know you're gay and we're OK with that,' " said Hargrove, who works in the Nashville public schools' IT department.

And I think that's largely true. I was glad, however, that the piece pointed out the state legislative framework in which even progressive Nashville exists:

Tennessee is still no bastion for gays and lesbians. They don't have the right to marry here, and there's no legal recourse for those who are fired because of their sexuality.

Exactly right. There are no employment protections in Tennessee based on sexual orientation and gender identity or expression. Unless you work for the UT system, Metro Nashville Public Schools, a Tennessee Board of Regents school, a private employer who offers protections, or Shelby County government now, there are no protections. This is exactly why the federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act is important and it's exactly why TEP is advocating an inclusive non-discrimination policy for Metro Nashville government employees. Getting employers to protect GLBT employees is basic to our economic security.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Gone but not Forgotten: The General Assembly Adjourns

An amazing five-month run has come to an end. The Tennessee General Assembly stands adjourned until January 12, 2010. It appears that none of the negative attacks the GLBT community endured this session advanced in the last days. They're all still alive in some form, of course. We'll be dealing with the adoption ban, the Don't Say Gay bill, and some version of the embryo bill next year. We may also face a ban on civil unions. We'll work with our allies on the hate crimes and birth certificate bills in 2010 again as well. But we finish another session with our rights no more diminished than they were when we began in January.

I'll never forget how it began. Our lobbyist Jenny Ford and I watched in amazement as Rep. Kent Williams was elected Speaker of the House. I'll also never forget all the people from around the state who drove to Nashville on a cold February 17 for Advancing Equality Day on the Hill. They were forceful advocates for their rights as you can hear from the Liberadio interviews conducted by Mary Mancini. Lots of East Tennessee lawmakers had a first-time visit from GLBT constituents this year. Another highlight of the session for me was getting to meet and debate my rival, David Fowler, on the proposed adoption ban.

There were some bright spots in terms of legislation. Sen. Diane Black and Rep. Bill Dunn did great work in passing a good bullying bill. Rep. Jeanne Richardson and Sen. Beverly Marrero deserve our thanks for their work on the hate crimes bill, which advanced with bipartisan support in a House subcommittee. Truly amazing in a year like this! A big congratulations to the Tennessee Transgender Political Coalition for their work on the bill.

While I'm in retrospective mode, I can't help but note that TEP celebrates birthday number 5 this month. Starting out as TEP's public relations chair, I've watched the Legislature closely since we began. 2009 is a lot like 2005 in terms of the legislation we've faced. But in five years, we've built a solid presence on the Hill with the help of GLBT and allied people all over the state.

We'll be ready to fight again in January with a new leadership team. On July 1, H.G. Stovall will become TEP's new president and he will be in charge of all our operations around the state. He will do a great job of building our ground game into an even bigger force to fight for our rights. As chairman of the board, I'll continue to work with Jenny Ford and public policy chair Pete Westerholm on state policy development as well as our effort to advance a non-discrimination ordinance in Nashville. I want to thank everyone around the state who has been a part of our movement. As I look back on the last five years, I am moved by everything our volunteers have accomplished. I know you will continue to work hard.

A final thanks to Jenny for her exceptional work of developing strategy and keeping our members informed this year, and to Shelby County chair and incoming Secretary Jonathan Cole who put in countless hours on state issues while rallying the community for the Shelby County non-discrimination ordinance. I leaned very heavily on both of them over the last five months and they gave everything they had.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Obama throws us a bone; hate crimes bill delayed; complaint about bill tracking

Thankfully John Aravosis is carefully watching federal policy. In one blog post, he reveals a lot. President Obama is going to announce partner benefits for gay federal employees on Wednesday evening. I agree with him that this is a step forward, but he's also right that it has nothing to do with the president's promises. As Aravosis notes, it looks to be related to the heat that the DNC is taking over the administration's brief defending DOMA right before a big fundraiser with the GLBT community.

He also lets us in on this tidbit:

(And guess what? After the DOMA brief controversy exploded, they suddenly announced plans to do hate crimes in the Senate this week. And now, poof, the bill is dead again until at least August. And remember folks, this is the easy one - it already passed the House and Senate, and survived a Senate filibuster, in the last Congress.)

Gone until August? Why isn't anyone else telling me this? Anyone who tracks legislation and lobbies lawmakers knows that just about anything can happen to a bill. But where is the information? State legislation that TEP is monitoring, though not necessarily lobbying, is updated every week here during session. If there is a major development on a bill, we're sending out an email blast, blogging it, Tweeting, Facebooking, and MySpacing it as quickly as possible. It would be great if someone were doing the same for every major piece of federal equality legislation. Maybe someone is, but I haven't found the spot.

And it's not as if the media--national or regional--covers anything but marriage. It's no wonder none of these bills are crossing the finish line. The community kind of knows WHAT they are, but almost no one knows WHERE they are in the process. When the community doesn't know where the bills are, then we can't be counted on to contact lawmakers in a timely manner to drive votes.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Quotation of the Day: "God is not going to turn you away because you' are gay."

Moriah May recounts the story of her suicide attempt and the mysterious woman who helped turn her life around.

“This woman, she’s an older lady and I didn’t get a real good look at her face, but she just hugged me. I kept trying to push her away ... and she just held onto me, like she knew that I was just breaking,” said May.

“She was moving my hair out of the way, kind of stroking it, and saying, ‘You’re beautiful. You’re a beautiful person. Why do you think you have to do this?’ And I said ‘because I’m gay’ and she said ‘God is not going to turn you away because you are gay.’

“It was just an inspiration to me that day to see a stranger just take me in like that. I didn’t feel like I deserved to be alive. This woman made me feel like I deserved to be here, and that was amazing. From that day, I felt like I should be alive.”

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Columbia study suggests way forward on equality at state level

Andrew Gelman at FiveThirtyEight discusses a major study of equality issues at the state level by Columbia University Professors Jeffrey R. Lax and Justin H. Phillips. The news that Gelman focuses on, namely, marriage, is not good for Tennessee. We've made some gains in public opinion since the 90s, but we've got a long way to go.

Really significant for Tennessee is Lax and Phillips' look at other issues such as employment non-discrimination and the role of media attention and public opinion as they translate into policy change. According to their state-by-state statistics, 53% of the people of Tennessee would support job protections for the GLBT community. (p. 40)

In itself, the number is good news, but even more important are their findings that suggest a way forward at the state level. At the middle range of public opinion support for a policy option, you can increase the probability of its adoption by 6% with just a 1% movement in public opinion. (p. 21) Salience, meaning their measure of media coverage and public awareness of a particular policy option, is also an important part of the puzzle: "To get a 50% chance of policy adoption, you need roughly 57% support if salience is high, roughly 62% if salience is average, and a whopping 73% if salience is low." (p. 24)

These findings suggest a counter-intuitive conclusion for strategy. Keeping it quiet is not going to work:

While it has been argued that keeping the scope of conflict small and lobbying discretely is the most likely path to success (e.g., Haider-Markel and Maier 1996), this may not be true for gays and lesbians. There are also “cheap” gains to be had in that shifts in employment and housing protection would actually have majoritarian support in almost all states. Employment and housing protection have received far less attention, perhaps because there is such widespread agreement. (pp. 31-32)

Lax and Phillips help explain aspects of the non-discrimination battle we recently went through in Shelby County. While there wasn't any polling on the ordinance, public comment in terms of volume of contact with lawmakers and numbers of supporters at the June 1 County Commission meeting showed strong public support for the ordinance. Media coverage was also extensive yielding a high salience factor. Still, we fell short of the full ordinance and got a resolution. Perhaps we needed more of a lead-up to the effort. But all the attention received by the Shelby ordinance battle lays the groundwork nicely for the Memphis City Council effort.

I think this analysis also helps us explain why the hate crimes bill didn't advance further in the Legislature. There was NO media coverage of the bill. Lax and Phillips estimate public support for hate crimes laws in Tennessee at 65%. Given the lack of media coverage, it's amazing the bill got out of subcommittee with bipartisan support. We all should have done more to draw media attention to the bill in March and April.

Another conclusion that Lax and Phillips reach is that "the federal government has been worse at translating majority opinion into policy than the state governments." (pp. 27-28) It makes sense. Federal equality legislation keeps getting close to passage, but not close enough so far. And that's not surpising given the analysis about salience. With all the media focus on marriage, there has been very little memorable coverage in the national and Tennessee media of either the Employment Non-Discrimination Act or the Matthew Shepard Act. National GLBT organizations are doing a great job of lobbying, but they need to be pushing more media stories on hate crimes and job discrimination.

Or we could just draw the conclusion that we shouldn't hold our breath on federal legislation, but rather we should continue working hard at the state and local level in Tennesee to protect our community.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Painful reading on Obama admin's defense of DOMA

From John Aravosis at Americablog on Obama administration's defense of DOMA:

We just got the brief from reader Lavi Soloway. It's pretty despicable, and gratuitously homophobic. It reads as if it were written by one of George Bush's top political appointees. I cannot state strongly enough how damaging this brief is to us. Obama didn't just argue a technicality about the case, he argued that DOMA is reasonable. That DOMA is constitutional. That DOMA wasn't motivated by any anti-gay animus. He argued why our Supreme Court victories in Roemer and Lawrence shouldn't be interpreted to give us rights in any other area (which hurts us in countless other cases and battles). He argued that DOMA doesn't discriminate against us because it also discriminates about straight unmarried couples (ignoring the fact that they can get married and we can't).

He actually argued that the courts shouldn't consider Loving v. Virginia, the miscegenation case in which the Supreme Court ruled that it is unconstitutional to ban interracial marriages, when looking at gay civil rights cases. He told the court, in essence, that blacks deserve more civil rights than gays, that our civil rights are not on the same level.

And before Obama claims he didn't have a choice, he had a choice. Bush, Reagan and Clinton all filed briefs in court opposing current federal law as being unconstitutional (we'll be posting more about that later). Obama could have done the same. But instead he chose to defend DOMA, denigrate our civil rights, go back on his promises, and contradict his own statements that DOMA was "abhorrent." Folks, Obama's lawyers are even trying to diminish the impact of Roemer and Lawrence, our only two big Supreme Court victories. Obama is quite literally destroying our civil rights gains with this brief. He's taking us down for his own benefit.

What follows in the post is much of the text and it's a good reminder that we shouldn't expect any goodies at the federal level soon. Now returning you to your regularly scheduled program in Tennessee.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Quotation of the Day: "...think of the lobbyists."

New York Governor David Paterson:

"Think about the advocates that came up here on issues," Paterson said. "Whether you agree with them or not, they rode the buses up here in January and February on Tuesday - the lobby days."

"Think of the lobbyists who have invested in themselves to try to persuade legislative leaders and legislators on issues, and think of all the people around the state who are waiting, they’re on their seats to see what is going to happen with property taxes."

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Quotation of the Day

From today's Tennessean:

"Once you have a clear agenda, it's amazing how much a board and superintendent team can drive the right work," she said. "If you have no agenda and you're not using data, the last idea that came up is as good as the next one." --Anne Bryant, executive director of the National School Boards Association

True for any organization, but worth repeating!

I went to a garden party

Our apologies to Ricky Nelson... District 24 Councilman Jason Holleman and the Food Security Partners of Middle Tennessee are hosting a community garden tour on June 13 "to raise awareness of a community gardening bill before Metro Council," which is also sponsored by Holleman.

The announcement goes on to discuss the current state of community gardening law and the nature of the ordinance:

The community gardening bill before Council defines community gardening as “a group of individuals growing and harvesting food crops and/or non-food, ornamental crops, such as flowers, for personal or group use, consumption, or donation.”

Current law prohibits community gardening as a primary use of lots in residential districts. This means that neighbors who join together to use a vacant plot of land to grow vegetables for themselves or for donation to a food bank or church are in violation of the zoning code, even when they grow on their own land or with permission from the land owner.

Furthermore, current law prohibits growing fruits, vegetables, or flowers for sale in any of Nashville’s urban services district.

The bill would not permit residents to raise livestock in the city; nor would it allow community gardeners or commercial community gardeners to operate farm stands in residential areas.

Holleman’s bill is currently being co-sponsored by ten other members of the Metro Council: Kristine LaLonde, Emily Evans, Erik Cole, Mike Jameson, Bo Mitchell, Megan Barry, Jerry Maynard, Sandra Moore, Erica Gilmore, and Darren Jernigen.

Monday, June 8, 2009

In Your Face(book) Page

Well, just when readers of the Commercial Appeal discovered that TEP uses Facebook for activism, suddenly we encounter the anti-TEP. Here's their page. They are Tennesseans Against the Tennessee Equality Project. Hot damn! We've arrived.

They've even peppered their page with some lies: TEP is well funded and has actual employees. Yeah, I was, um, just processing payroll a minute ago, and, ah, oh yeah, we don't have employees as was pointed out in the same Commercial Appeal article above.

Accentuate the Positive: Our piece in Out & About Newspaper

From today's Out & About Newspaper on how fighting for positive legislation helps us repel negative attacks:

The lesson is clear. We must give citizens and lawmakers something positive to support. Even though the hate crimes bill was rolled until next year, consider the “wins.” We put the opposition on the defensive. They had to spend a lot of time on the hate crimes bill and they showed their true colors with the most obscene rhetoric and lies you can imagine. Another huge gain is the new allies our community won by asking legislators to be co-sponsors of the bill. TTPC did a great job of winning our community lasting allies in the Legislature who will no doubt help us on future legislation.

The same dynamic is at work in the recent fight for the County non-discrimination resolution. The Tennessee Equality Project and our allies didn’t get the full ordinance that we wanted, but the wins were significant. First, we got a resolution that can be used to protect gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender employees in civil service hearings and chancery court if they are wrongfully terminated based on bias. Second, a multi-racial, multi-faith coalition came together to stand for equality. Federal, state, and local officials endorsed the effort and allies like the NAACP were brought in.

Let's build on our success

It's nothing new for TEP to offer comment on the news of the day. But for the first time in Memphis (perhaps all of Tennessee?), a major print publication makes TEP the main subject in the news.

The Commercial Appeal reporter paid us a key compliment in this story:
The TEP was founded only four years ago and reported about $37,000 in spending on its 2008 tax return. But it outmaneuvered opponents by mobilizing hundreds of people in favor of an ordinance meant to block job discrimination against gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people in Shelby County.
Think of what TEP could accomplish with an even bigger budget with contributions from you. Make a commitment to TEP now by making a contribution.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Coming out for fairness and equality

The audio from last Monday's Shelby County Commission meeting (6/1/09) is now available on the Shelby County Government website. I was again moved by the persuasive and heartfelt witness of community members advocating for fairness and equality in the workplace.

Many took great risk in speaking out. But as Harvey Milk said more than 30 years ago: We must come out!

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Shelby County resolution in HRC's Back Story

Our own Jonathan Cole contributes a piece on the Shelby County non-discrimination resolution for the Human Rights Campaign's Back Story blog.

Celebrating in Tennessee and New Hampshire

While Tennesseans have a lot to celebrate with a recent win in Shelby County, we can also applaud New Hampshire joining the club of states who have embraced marriage equality.

Matt Alber's video of the "End of the the World" might be prescient. Perhaps it's the end of the world as we knew it.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Beck says, "Let Tennessee be Tennessee."

Perhaps channeling former Lt. Governor John Wilder, Glenn Beck talks with Barry Goldwater, Jr. about same-sex marriage among other things:

But if somebody came with a clear message and said, "Look, you just want government out of your life and so the states can decide."

Look, you want gay marriage in California, that's great. Let California be California. Let Tennessee be Tennessee.

Just stop arguing about these things. That's for the state to decide. What we need to do is just protect and defend the United States. We just need to make sure that there are roads and everybody is operating honestly with each other.

OK, a certain kind of federalism. It's a position with a pedigree and a following. But I have a hard time accepting aspects of the position as a principle, although I accept the reality of it pragmatically. On principle, most politically active GLBT people support full marriage equality, hate crimes legislation, employment non-discrimination laws, etc. As a practical matter, one has no choice but to adapt to the political culture in which one lives and advance what can be advanced. So it's not a question of letting Tennessee be Tennessee. Tennessee will be Tennessee whether one likes it or not. I happen to like living here, so I work for what is possible within the political culture of the state. But that doesn't mean that I accept there will be no change. With generational change, a global media culture, and the movement of more and more people into the state, political changes will come. The activist's job is to help shape them towards equality.

Truly Real? Questions about discrimination and the force of the Shelby resolution

The critics of the Shelby County non-discrimination resolution continue to moan and quibble. First, some are saying that Shelby County doesn't have a discrimination problem, according to the Commercial Appeal. Here's a typical example of the sentiment:

Constance Houston, 54, one of dozens of citizens who spoke at the County Commission meeting on Monday, said she's against homosexuality on religious grounds but doubted gays are discriminated against.

"There's no discrimination here in Memphis. None, whatsoever," said Houston. She added that workers should keep their sexuality to themselves on the job. "Keep whatever you do in your bedroom," she said.

Darn those exhibitionist gays, always getting it on at work! People who say there is no need for workplace protections always end up making the case for them with their wild fantasies. The article goes on to cite a study from the Williams Institute at UCLA and the work of a University of Memphis psychologist on discrimination confirming workplace discrimination against the GLBT community.

And then there's the question of whether the resolution can really do anything about discrimination. I've had some questions about whether a resolution has force, so I'll just cite the Commercial Appeal again on this point:

The resolution that passed on Monday doesn't include the words "gay" or "lesbian," but the records of the legislation make it clear that this was the context, and the measure could help county workers fired on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity to win back their jobs in civil service hearings or appeals to Chancery Court, county attorney Brian Kuhn said.

Let me add some background on that question. When it became clear in the Commission's General Government Committee meeting that we might not be able to get the votes for the full ordinance, we discussed the option of the resolution in the course of the lobbying effort. During that process, we also discussed the option of commissioners reading into the record some of the non-merit factors to be included so that we could establish that the legislative intent of the resolution was to cover sexual orientation and gender identity/expression. If there were no possibility of enforcement, we would not have supported the resolution. But the resolution gave the opportunity for enhanced protection with a clear majority of the votes. It does what we need it to do, even though it's the minimal method for doing so. If it were a nonbinding resolution, it would have been described as such at the Commission meeting and in the press and there would have been very little cheering in the Shelby County GLBT community. But it has the force of policy.

Update: If you still have lingering doubts about the force of the resolution, please, read yesterday's discussion in the Memphis Flyer. Whether you buy it or not, it was this understanding that provided the basis for our approach and it's the reason we agreed to it.

The bullies lost

Last Monday's victory is such a great win for us. We have won the public debate over whether to include and protect GLBT citizens in the workplace.

I maintain that Bunker and his bully buddies did us a tremendous favor last week in front of the County Administration Building. Their awful behavior galvanized the community against oppression.

Wyatt Bunker's mean and ugly comments at last Monday's Commission hearing in which he joked about male identified people giving up their seats for female identified people in the packed room will not be forgotten - even by his base of support. Bunker is that Middle School bully who I'm sure we all experienced when growing up. We can all take satisfaction in the fact that the bully lost this time. It reminds me of one of the last scenes in the movie Some Kind of Wonderful (I've just dated myself) in which Eric Stoltz's character walks up to the school bully at a party in his home and tells him "You're over".

Our community did just that last Sunday and Monday. I am so proud to see our community stand up to bullies.

Monday, June 1, 2009

A step forward for Shelby County and Tennessee

A substitute resolution by Commissioner Sidney Chism passed the Shelby County Commission by a vote of 9 to 4 in place of the ordinance introduced by Commissioner Steve Mulroy Since it is a resolution, it does not require the three readings that an ordinance does. The measure is a compromise from the original ordinance which sought to prohibit discrimination in County government employment, discrimination by those contracting with the County, and discrimination in businesses in unincorporated parts of the County. The resolution forbids discrimination based on non-merit factors in County employment. During the proceedings today, specific factors were read into the record to establish legislation intent. Sexual orientation and gender identity were included.

It remains to be seen how forceful the resolution is, though it does have the force of law once it is signed. It does, at least, highlight a principle that will make Shelby County government a more welcoming employer for the GLBT community. It also gives the County EEO a way of investigating complaints. We'll just have to see how firmly the County will stand behind the language when the complaints come, but we're pleased with the vote.

You can follow all the tweets here. Commercial Appeal story here.