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.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Former Metro employee shares story of discrimination

The following story, submitted by a former Metro employee, makes a compelling case for a clear non-discrimination policy that covers sexual orientation and gender identity.

"I am a former Metro employee. I held a Director level position for approximately three years at a Metro Nashville-Davidson County Department. I came to Metro with a 20 year background working in city & county government and 15 years experience specific to my specific field. I was excited to move to Nashville and honored when I became a Metro employee. Sadly after a few years I was no longer excited. In fact, I was discouraged, disappointed, and even a little disgusted. Worst of all, I had become disconnected from who I was and what I believed in personally and professionally. My story below describes my experience and the atmosphere I faced at work which eventually led to my launching a job search, leaving Metro and ultimately Tennessee."

To continue reading, follow this link.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Who's supporting the Metro NDO?

Here's the list so far of organizations supporting the Metro Nashville non-discrimination ordinance:

Human Rights Campaign
National Organization for Women, Nashville Chapter
Nashville GLBT Chamber of Commerce
Tennessee Transgender Political Coalition
Brothers United Network, Inc.
ACLU of Tennessee
PFLAG Nashville
Impact Equality
Nashville Women's Political Caucus
First Church Unity
National Black Justice Coalition
Davidson County Young Democrats
Democratic Women of Davidson County
Out & About Newspaper
SEIU Local 205
Tennessee Equality Project

Nashville couple unharmed by Denmark bomb scare

Out & About Newspaper is reporting that the World OutGames in Denmark were rocked by a bomb attack today. Nashville couple Sam Felker and Keith Little, who are participants in the games, were present but unharmed during the explosions. The Out & About story links to Sam and Keith's blog that describes their experience.

Sam is a member of the Metro Board of Health and also serves as one of TEP's district captains in the effort to pass the non-discrimination ordinance.

Everyone at TEP is glad that Sam and Keith are all right and wish them luck in the remainder of the games. But it's very sad that an apparent hate attack has disrupted these events and put people from our city in danger.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

More myths about the Metro Non-Discrimination Ordinance

Newschannel5 explores the Metro non-discrimination ordinance. Council Member Megan Barry does a great job of explaining the basis of the ordinance in terms of actual complaints of discrimination and the need to attract a talented workforce like private sector employers.

Those opposed repeat the same old arguments without any basis. Let's go point by point.

1. Special rights? Wrong. The same rights. What's the argument? Sexual orientation and gender identity are general categories that apply to all people. We all have a sexual orientation; it's not just for gay people. The ordinance would also protect straight people targeted for discrimination by a gay supervisor because they are straight. Gender identity is also a general category that is applicable to all people. Some people live their lives as men and some live their lives as women. Pretty basic. Men and women come across as more or less masculine and feminine on a full scale. Should it matter how masculine or how feminine people think you are if you can do your job? These are non-merit factors and shouldn't be the basis for firing or not hiring someone.

2. Sexual orientation is a choice? No, it's really not. Human beings don't really choose whether to be attracted to and fall in love with the same sex, the opposite sex, or both. It's not like going into a diner and saying, "I think I'll have the spaghetti today." Check the American Psychological Association if you don't believe an activist.

3. Won't there be lawsuits? It's not likely. Do we really think private employers choose to adopt employment policies that invite lawsuits and endanger the bottom line? The goal of non-discrimination policies is to prevent discrimination so people can focus on their jobs. Furthermore, the Tennessee Board of Regents has adopted the same non-discrimination policy that Metro is proposing and there have been no lawsuits based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

Stay tuned. I'm sure we'll have to break it down a few more times as the ordinance moves along.

Mixed results in shift toward progressive politics in TN cities

In a provocatively titled piece "The Coming End of the Culture Wars," the Center for American Progress looks at how much more progressive America and particularly urban areas have become since 1988. They look at issues such as guns, abortion, and same-sex marriage.

After pointing out recent failed attempts to marshal the culture war in national politics, the analysis describes the demographic trends driving the shift toward progressive politics:

BEGIN QUOTE "First, Millennials—the generation with birth years 1978 to 2000—support gay marriage, take race and gender equality as givens, are tolerant of religious and family diversity, have an open and positive attitude toward immigration, and generally display little interest in fighting over the divisive social issues of the past. The number of voting age Millennials will increase by about 4.5 million a year between now and 2018, and the number of Millennials who are eligible voters will increase by about 4 million a year. The 2020 presidential election will be the first where all Millennials will have reached voting age, and at that point the generation will be 103 million strong and have about 90 million eligible voters. Those 90 million Millennial eligible voters will represent just under 40 percent of America’s eligible voters in that year.

Second, the culturally conservative white working class has been declining rapidly as a proportion of the electorate for years. Exit polls show that the proportion of white working-class voters—scoring just 46.3 out of a 100 on the Progressive Studies Program comprehensive 10-item progressive cultural index covering topics ranging from religion, abortion, and homosexuality to race, immigration, and the family—is down 15 points since 1988, while the proportion of far more culturally progressive white college graduate voters (53.3 on the index) is up 4 points, and the proportion of minority voters (54.7 on the index) is up 11 points. State after state since 1988 has replicated this general pattern—a sharp decline in the share of white working-class voters accompanied by increases in the shares of minority voters and, in most cases, of increasingly progressive white college graduate voters.

Other demographic trends that will undermine the culture warriors include the growth of culturally progressive groups such as single women, and college-educated women and professionals, as well as increasing religious diversity. Unaffiliated or secular voters are hugely progressive on cultural issues and it is they—not white evangelical Protestants—who are the fastest-growing “religious” group in the United States." END QUOTE

Southern Voice took an in-depth look at the Center for American Progress' piece with respect to the situation in Georgia, so I thought we ought to do the same for Tennessee. They make it easy with an interactive map of states and major metropolitan areas. The following are the shifts or percentages of change toward (a positive number) or away from (a negative number) progressive politics in Tennessee's metro areas from 1998 to 2008:

Memphis 19%

Clarksville 2%

Nashville 3% (includes Murfressboro and Franklin)

Chattanooga 5%

Knoxville 0%

Kingsport/Bristol -11%

For the same period, the state as a whole gained 1%, but the data for 2004-2008 show a -1%.

It is important to note that the numbers don't start and stop with political boundaries. In other words, if the study just looked at units like Shelby County or the City of Knoxville, the percentages might be very different. Furthermore, we don't know on which issues Tennessee metro areas have become progressive. Might they have stayed the same on guns, but shifted on abortion or same-sex marriage or even immigration?

Additionally we could ask what the trend really is in Tennessee. As noted, the 20-year period shows a 1% shift toward progressive politics, but the last four years shows a 1% decline, which is mirrored in the composition of our General Assembly. Assuming that most of the demographic factors that are in play in the United States as a whole are partially at work in Tennessee, what accounts for the slower growth in progressive politics in our state? I think one would would have to acknowledge the continuing power of Evangelical Protestanism in shaping the state's political culture. According to the Pew Forum's U.S. Religious Landscape Survey, 51% of the state's population is Evangelical Protestant.

My guess is that as long as that number is above 45%, the shift toward progressive politics in Tennessee will be a slow one. Growing diversity within Evangelicalism and a growing disaffection with culture war politics might also bring about a more progressive shift. For example, more scandals like the one centering on Sen. Paul Stanley might peel voters away from linking Evangelical faith and socially conservative politics, but we probably won't know for at least 10 years.

In the mean time, progressives would do well to take advantage of the shifts in metro areas by focusing on what can be accomplished at the city and county level such as the defeat of English Only, opting out of guns in parks, and more inclusive non-discrimination policies.

Lemmings and Lawsuits: Debunking the arguments against the Metro NDO

The Tennessean explores how far ahead much of the private sector is on non-discrimination policies compared to Metro Nashville government. Family Action's David Fowler is quoted opposing the ordinance. His first argument sounds like the parent who asks the teenager, "If everyone jumped off a cliff, would you?"

"Just because someone else does something doesn't mean it's right, and we learned that when we all took off from kindergarten," said David Fowler, a former state senator and president of the Family Action Council of Tennessee. "So unless we are going to act like lemmings and just blindly do what everybody else is doing, we need to stop and think before we make this a law."

The Metro non-discrimination is not a lemming move. It is a policy that many people have carefully thought through for years. It has been tested in other cities and the private sector. It is a measured step that will be a real improvement for Metro government employees.

Fowler's other argument is that it would expose the city to lawsuits. One of the TEP district captains asked the general counsel for the Tennessee Board of Regents how many lawsuits based sexual orientation or gender identity discrimination have come forward since they adopted their non-discrimination policy. The answer is zero. The lawsuit myth is used to scare people based on the idea that the city will incur some huge expense. It just doesn't happen. The point of the policy is to prevent discriminatory incidents!

Look for more lies, myths, and scare tactics to emerge before the second reading of the ordinance.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist: One Year Later

Monday is the one-year anniversary of a dark moment in our state's history--the horrible shooting at Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist. Reading last year's post, I can recall the feelings as I opened my inbox and saw the email from a friend in Knoxville bearing the news. The killings, the injuries, and the horror of the survivors made the world focus on a congregation in Knoxville, Tennessee. We got hints early in the aftermath that the attack was motivated in part by the fact that the congregation is accepting of GLBT people and its liberalism.

TEP members across the state were anguished about the attack and we continue to be in awe of the resiliance of the congregation.

The Sunday Knoxville News Sentinel takes a look at the TVUU a year later. We'll give John Bohstedt, who is interviewed in the piece, the last word on the anniversary of the tragedy:

Bohstedt, a retired University of Tennessee history professor, said his church appears to have emerged from the ordeal as a stronger community. But don't talk to Bohstedt about seeking or achieving closure. He doesn't believe in such a thing.

"That's a particularly toxic myth," he said. "You learn how to go on and how to appreciate what you've got ... but it's not at all about closure, because things are never the same."

Bohstedt doesn't have an answer about what should be done with Adkisson.

"I think that a person who could come to that place where he was, shows there is real evil in the world in the shape of human beings.

"I don't think he was mentally ill in any normal sense of the word. I'm not even sure he's redeemable. He had been working on this bad streak for 58 years. He had it pretty well developed."

Bohstedt, however, describes himself as an "incurable optimist" and prefers to focus on how the congregation and other churches came together after the shooting.

"I think we've discovered strength we didn't know we had," he said. "We have found out how much our bonds of supporting each other in love mean. You know how crucial that is, to keep our life going both individually and as a community."

Spectator to the outrage of others

Maybe some are wondering why we haven't had much to say about Sen. Paul Stanley's nearly complete fall. There's not a great deal we could have added. His actions in themselves are bad. I feel sorry for anyone who's ever been part of his family. But we all know that one element that heightened the scandal was the fact that he has been active in attempting to ban adoption by gays and lesbians. And we all know it because media outlets remembered it and made sure everyone else heard about it. Groups like TEP didn't have to do a thing to draw attention to that fact. We just stood aside as the media began devouring the Senator from Shelby County.

And that's just as well. We've got other things to do.

We didn't have much to say when Sen. Jeff Miller fell either. Again, the media enjoyed reminding everyone more than we ever could about his successful attempt to pass a state constitutional amendment banning our marriage rights. So you might say we outsourced our outrage and moved on.

Or maybe I should say, we're long past our outrage with both men and all the others like them. You see, we had our fit when the policies that attacked ourselves and those we love were introduced. Anger about policy isn't a compelling story, though. It takes a 22-year old intern, lurid photographs, and blackmail to generate real (meaning loud but fake) outrage. It's the kind of outrage that people who used to watch Jerry Springer might enjoy.

So "Should I stay or should I go now?" Stanley asks himself. If he left, I wouldn't miss him. But another self-righteous busy-body would probably take his place.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The 'Gay Panic Defense' is Alive and Kicking in Cook County, Illinois

Michael Rowe has an article on HuffPost about the acquittal of a man who stabbed another man 61 times. Apparently all you need to do to get an acquittal is claim the victim was gay and made unwanted sexual advances towards you for a jury in Cook County, Illinois to let you walk.

Now, the newly freed killer claimed the victim assaulted him while he was passed out drunk. There were no witnesses and no evidence the victim was gay. He claims all sixty-one stab wounds were made in self-defense. All sixty-one stab wounds. I can only assume he was too drunk to realize the victim was dead after the first couple of stabs, and just kept going.

This should scare everyone, LGBT and Straight. What kind of madness is it to let a murderer walk because they blame the victim? "He/She made me do it because they were touching/staring/flirting with/scaring me." Does this mean that if I am in Cook County I get to stab the creepy guy in the elevator and claim he made unwanted sexual advances to me? Or does that not work for me because I'm female? How does this work exactly? Latinos make you nervous? How about African-Americans? Caucasians? Asians? The disabled? Evangelicals scare me...those WWJD hats and t-shirts are intimidating! Where does it end?

Of course I am being somewhat facetious, but really, this is frightening. Sixty-one stab wounds is not self-defense...sixty-one stab wounds is, literally, overkill. And he is walking free because he claimed the victim made homosexual advances towards him that required stabbing the victim sixty-one times to fend off.

I don't know who scares me more...the killer or the jury.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Attention, old media: This is the kind of political coverage I want

OK, so I've been ranting on Twitter at the four large dailies in Tennessee--the Tennessean, the Chattanooga Times Free Press, the Knoxville News Sentinel, and the Memphis Commercial Appeal because I didn't find anything in their online editions about the absence of Tennessee Senators Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker during the hate crimes cloture vote last night.

So what kind of coverage do I want to see on policy issues affecting the GLBT community?

1. Stories on the major bills--federal, state, and local. Where's the coverage of ENDA or Matthew Shepard? Where was the coverage this spring on the state hate crimes bill?
2. The positions of our elected officials on these bills. There has been no story in the Tennessee press about the fact that Congressman Jim Cooper is a cosponsor of ENDA. And shouldn't it give a reporter pause if both our state's U.S. Senators are absent from a key vote on a bill? There were about 20 cosponsors of the state hate crimes bill, but no story.
3. Give a sense of the case for both/all sides. What are the key arguments being brought forward to advance and defeat legislation?
4. Give us a legislative path/calendar. Let us know when the votes are going to take place.
5. Stop saying GLBT issues are controversial when the controversy hasn't yet developed. The Tennessean did this with respect to the Metro ordinance when no real opposition had materialized.

Is that too much to ask? Help the public debate this stuff. Damn!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Senate passes hate crimes amendment to defense bill

Tonight the U.S. Senate passed Sen. Patrick Leahy's (D-Vermont) amendment to the defense bill. The amendment is popularly known as the Matthew Shepard Act which would add sexual orientation and gender identity to federal hate crimes protections as well as provide resources to local law enforcement agencies to deal with hate crimes.

The debate focused on two lines of opposition. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) attempted to argue that there was no need for the bill since states are handling hate crimes adequately. He proposed an amendment that would make provision to study what the states are doing. Laws differ from state to state. Only about half include sexual orientation and very few include gender identity. Another problem with the Hatch proposal is that many states in the form of county sheriffs and local district attorneys are not availing themselves of state hate crimes laws. Can anyone name a recent example of a DA in Tennessee going for the penalty enhancement in a case in which sexual orientation was motivation for the crime? Finally, the federal bill provides resources to local law enforcement agencies to deal with this class of crime.

Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kansas) was more successful in his line of objection. He expressed concern that Matthew Shepard would have a chilling effect on speech and the expression of religion. His amendment to the amendment clarifying the scope of these freedoms and their limitations with respect to hate crimes passed by a large margin. But by passing his amendment he gives conservatives fewer reasons to oppose Shepard.

There's still much work to do before the bill gets to the president's desk for signature, but it's on the right track.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Turnaround year for Transgender People in Tennessee

2008 was a horrible year for transgender people in Tennessee. The attacks and murders put Tennessee on the map in the national media. Some began calling Memphis the most dangerous place to be transgender in the country.

A series of events this year indicates that 2009 could be an important turning point in the rights and protections of transgender people in Tennessee. Just today Memphis-based FedEx announced that its non-discrimination policy will now include gender identity, and 10 Metro Council members in Nashville filed a non-discrimination ordinance that includes sexual orientation and gender identity. Last month, the Shelby County Commission passed a non-discrimination resolution that protects County employees on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity or expression.

Earlier in the year, Rep. Jeanne Richardson (D-Memphis) and Sen. Beverly Marrero (D-Memphis) introduced a hate crimes bill that adds gender identity or expression to the current statute. The bill actually got out of a House subcommittee this year when much of the Legislature was focused on budget, guns, and abortion.

An incredible effort went into those advances. A lot of credit goes to people in Shelby County who are making an incredible effort to address the discrimination and violence experienced by the transgender community. Their work is helping the entire state have a new conversation about transgender rights. And a lot of credit goes to our allies the Tennessee Transgender Political Coalition for their tireless advocacy.

I am hopeful that we are now on a tragectory that will continue to gain momentum. The violence and discrimination suffered by transgender people is a blemish on our state. The policy efforts we've seen this year to address the problem honor us all.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Tennessee Equality Project Shelby County Committee Hosts Inaugural Picnic

The sun was out and the mercury was rising, but the scene at Peabody Park on June 28 could not have been more picturesque. It was a scene of a community coming together to talk, laugh, and play. The Tennessee Equality Project's (“TEP”) Shelby County Committee fired up the grills for over sixty adults and children who gathered at Peabody Park for what organizer Michelle Bliss called “an old fashioned picnic.” Bliss stated that the picnic really had a two-fold purpose, the first being the obvious fundraiser portion of the picnic. More important though, was the opportunity to give LGBT families and friends a family-friendly event for pride. Sometimes we can get so wrapped up in activism and causes that we forget what's important is the human connection. Ultimately, we are all looking for people who love us for who we are, and accept our quirks,” Bliss said. The picnic was just that, community members young, old, straight and queer, connecting with each other and forgetting the worries of society. Jonathan Cole, Shelby County Committee Chair for TEP, said that the picnic was a total success and he is already looking forward to next year’s picnic. Proceeds from the picnic go directly to the lobbying efforts of TEP to bring equality to the LGBT community in Tennessee.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Commissioner Mulroy receives Movers and Shakers Award from MGLCC

Len Piechowski (right), President of the Memphis Gay and Lesbian Community Center, presented Shelby County Commissioner Steve Mulroy (District 5) with a 2009 Movers & Shakers Award at today's community center board meeting. Mulroy sponsored legislation last spring that established workplace protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender employees of Shelby County government.

Steve's pioneering efforts challenge the Nashville Metro Council and the Memphis City Council to pass similar legislation. TEP expects workplace protections for LGBT employees to grow in all areas of Tennessee.

Steve Mulroy is the only elected official to receive this award after successfully passing legislation designed to protect the rights of LGBT citizens in Shelby County.

Congratulations Steve! You earned it!

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Closeting the gay factor in the GOP gubernatorial race

According to Hayes Hickman in the Knoxville News Sentinel, all the Republican candidates running for governor are vying for the conservative label.

But most of the quotes and analysis focus on the issues of guns and abortion. If that sounds familiar, it mirrors the focus of conservatives in the Legislature this year. There is also an interesting section on the controversial nature of accepting stimulus funds.

One might think that in such a long piece on what it means to be a conservative running for governor in Tennessee, some anti-equality rhetoric might make an appearance. The closest the article comes is this blurb about Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey:

Ramsey, whose platform includes "traditional values" that recognize that "the family is the core unit of society," said he gives no less importance to Tennessee's economic challenges.

Family Action's David Fowler, who is quoted extensively, hints at but does not name GLBT issues, thus compounding their absence:

"So far, in the literature I've read from all the candidates, the issues of greatest concern to their conservative base have not been addressed."

If guns, abortion, and the stimulus are openly discussed, what else could Fowler mean but GLBT issues? But then again, what's a conservative in Tennessee to do--run against gay marriage? It's already banned by statute and constitutional amendment. Would running against adoption by gays and lesbians get a GOP candidate very far in a statewide race? How about running against the hate crimes bill? Not likely.

These candidates certainly aren't at the point of turning pro-gay, but they may have realized that running against the GLBT community is a non-starter...if it even crossed their minds to begin with. Let's hope that's the case.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Family Action Council of TN raises funds to promote LGBT equality

By TEP’s count, 37 followers of David Fowler’s Family Action Council of Tennessee met earlier today at a local Memphis restaurant to plot against equal opportunity and fairness in Memphis and the State of Tennessee. Specifically, they gathered behind locked doors to review their legislative “accomplishments” in the Tennessee General Assembly and spread lies about the grass roots movement in Memphis for a Non-Discrimination Ordinance. The Memphis NDO will establish workplace protections for LGBT employees of the city and city contractors.

Little did they know that they were also doing their part to promote equal rights for the LGBT citizens of Tennessee. When Tennessee Equality Project learned that David Fowler and FACT were coming to Memphis, TEP’s Shelby County Committee issued a call for pledges of support. Supporters pledged to give a $1 or other amount to TEP for every person who attended the meeting. The Shelby County Committee of TEP wishes to thank everyone who made a pledge of support to TEP for this event. But we’d like to give special thanks to David Fowler for doing his part to promote LGBT equality in Tennessee.

If you missed your chance to pledge to TEP, it’s not too late. You can donate online at

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Metro non-discrimination ordinance puts some minds in the toilet

The Tennessean's Brad Schrade explores the prospective Metro Nashville non-discrimination ordinance in today's Tennessean, talk of which brings out the crazy fantasies on the far Right.

First, David Fowler of Family Action of Tennessee says that there is no objective way to know sexual orientation and gender identity. The issue, however, is whether there are grounds for establishing that discrimination took place because of those factors.

Fowler really had to reach in order to find a fantasy scenario with which to scare his Williamson County neighbors (yes, that's right, he lives in Williamson County, not Davidson):

Asked about the unintended consequences, he said passage of a bill would lead to lawsuits and confusion and awkward situations, citing a recent publicized case in Maine in which a transgender student who was biologically a boy was allowed to use the girls restroom.

Come on, Mr. Fowler. An alleged case in Maine about bathrooms is supposed to be enough to deny Metro employees basic job protections. This is a typical tactic on the Right and one that experience shows people don't buy. In fact, lots of employers already have inclusive non-discrimination policies in Nashville. Many employers already include sexual orientation and gender identity/expression in their non-discrimination policies. Here is a partial list.

Let's get our heads out of the toilet and do what's right for Metro government employees. IT'S TIME!

Monday, July 6, 2009

Remembering PFC Barry Winchell

Ten years ago today, PFC Barry Winchell died as the result of an attack by a fellow solider after enduring harassment for his relationship with Calperinia Addams, then a transgender performer at a Nashville club and now a spokesperson for PFLAG. Horrible in itself as a human loss, Winchell's murder also reminds us of the need to end the unworkable Don't Ask/Don't Tell policy and to pass the Matthew Shepard Act to fight hate crimes against the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Politicos on Parade at the Music City Hot Chicken Festival

I went for a couple of hours to the Music City Hot Chicken Festival and it was quite a sight. Despite the fact that there were several vendors, hundreds of people stood in line just to get a bite. People came from all over. I talked to people from Canada and, of course, all the counties surrounding Davidson. Folks from Virginia and North Carolina, too.

Elected officials and candidates were well represented. Former Mayor Bill Purcell and Vice Mayor Diane Neighbors, who are two of the honorary chairs of the event, were making the rounds. Mayor Karl Dean and Council Members Carter Todd and Emily Evans seemed to be having a good time.

School Board member and Juvenile Court Clerk candidate Karen Johnson and TN House District 58 candidate Steven Turner were working the crowd, too.

And what's a great Nashville event without lots of progressive bloggers? I ran into Mike Byrd, Ilissa Gold, and Liberadio's Mary Mancini (who, of course, is also a broadcaster and podcaster extraordinaire!). Milder temperatures seemed to make the hot chicken a little more bearable for the festival goers, but it didn't take long to work up a sweat out there today.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Metro Human Relations Commission: User's Guide

If you live in Nashville and are discriminated against in employment, housing, financial services and transactions, and public accommodations on the basis of sexual orientation, you can file a complaint with the Metro Human Relations Commission. Sexual orientation, though not gender identity, is explicitly mentioned on their page. The Human Relations Commission can investigate the complaint, but cannot compel a settlement in the case of sexual orientation discrimination.

You should file your complaint within 180 days of the discriminatory action. The website provides all the information you need:

How to File a Complaint

To file a complaint of discrimination with the Metro Human Relations Commission please call our office at 615-880-3370 OR visit the Metro Human Relations Commission office.

The Human Relations Commission staff will assist you in writing a brief outline of facts, and word a charge of violation of local civil rights law or policy, on a form, which requires your notarized signature. You know your complaint better than anyone else. Give the Commission staff person all the details and answer all questions as fully as you can. Names, dates, places, addresses and details of what happened should be as accurate as possible. Documents such as payroll slips or rent receipts can help to support charges. If you have witnesses, it’s important to give full names, and how the Commission staff can contact them.

The executive director is very clear on the Human Relations Commission's authority to take and investigate complaints based on sexual orientation. He has said so in public and in conversation with me.

If you call and try to file a complaint based on sexual orientation and a Commission employee for some reason seems unsure, you may have to refer the employee to the website linked above and to the legal opinion given by then Law Director and now Mayor Karl Dean that establishes that the Human Relations Commission can accept such complaints. But since the information is correctly listed on the website, you shouldn't have any difficulty.

I would remind anyone filing such a complaint that you will not get a settlement. There are no federal, state, or local protections for you if you face discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, unless you are covered by the School Board's contract with Metro teachers. What filing a complaint accomplishes is making those who engage in discrimination publicly accountable. In other words, they have to explain themselves to a government body and no employer likes to do that. Complaints--if they go to a hearing--can additionally invite media and public scrutiny.

But until we pass federal, state, or local protections, that's all the recourse our community in Nashville has.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Robin Smith's mixed feelings on Tennessee's marriage ban

From her congressional campaign site:

"In 2006, more than 80% of Tennesseans declared their support at the polls for the belief that marriage is between one man and one woman. I stand with that 80%. No one should ever be discriminated against or feel threatened for the life they lead, but Tennesseans have spoken on this issue."

That's right. She stands with the ban 80%. 20% of her is fighting back against it. After all, "No one should ever be discriminated against."

OK, OK, we're kidding. We know that what Smith means is that she is standing with the 80% of people who voted for the marriage ban. Now that's courage! Standing with the majority. After all, she wouldn't want to be thought of as "pro-gay."