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.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Attention, Legislators: Another study says gay couples are fit parents

An East Carolina University study concludes that gay and lesbian couples are as fit to adopt children as their straight counterparts. Let's hope that it's another blow against SB 0078, the adoption ban bill still hanging on in the Legislature. Some very liberal definitions of the family have emerged in Tennessee in recent years--a man, a woman, an intern, and a camera, for example. I am hopeful that future studies can explore these variables. I find that more and more people want to know how such trendy social experiments affect one's qualifications to parent.

-Chris Sanders

Saturday, September 26, 2009

National Coming Out Day Billboards vandalized in Memphis

Last week, the Memphis Gay and Lesbian Community Center launched a billboard advertising campaign for National Coming Out Day in October. Last night, one of those billboards was torn down in an act of vandalism. This particular billboard portrayed a good friend who was discharged from the Marines under the military's Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy. In the ad, he was saluting in full uniform with the caption "I'm gay, and I defended your freedom."

This act of vandalism hurts in so many ways. This crime dishonors all soldiers who commit their lives to the safety and security of our nation. This crime is an affront to the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender citizens of Memphis who merely wish to enjoy the same rights and responsibilities that others do. This crime seeks to silence free speech. This crime is a hate crime perpetrated on property due to bias against those who are gay or lesbian.

This crime will not send GLBT citizens and their straight allies in Memphis back into shadows of the closet. We are your family, your friends, your neighbors, and your coworkers. We are proud. We are unafraid. We stand with newly stiffened spines.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Mayor Dean signs Metro NDO

Mayor Karl Dean signedBL2009-502 today around 11:00 a.m. Central Time. The ordinance prohibits discrimination in Metro government employment based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Thanks to all the Council sponsors and Mayor Dean for your support!

The ordinance is the first law in Tennessee that provides employment protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Other bodies have adopted similar policies such Metro Nashville Public Schools, the Tennessee Board of Regents, and the Shelby County Commission--all of which provided important precedents for the Nashville effort.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Choosing the terrain: How equality legislation can win in Tennessee

"...having chosen the terrain, each charge achieved the maximum impact." So Desmond Seward describes the 13th century military victories of the Christians during the Reconquista (The Monks of War, 164).

No matter what you're doing you stand a better chance of winning if you choose the contest. 2009 marks a turning point in equality legislation in Tennessee because our community has chosen the battle sites more than ever before. For the most part, we've played defense since the 1990s. 2005 marked the high point in the defensive battles when a flood of anti-equality legislation was introduced in the General Assembly and the marriage amendment passed in its required second legislative session to go to the ballot in 2006.

Those battles forced us to develop a strong defense. But even if the other side isn't scoring, it's a lot like a scrum in rugby. If the ball's not heading your way as it comes out, your scrumhalf is still yelling, "Losing."

Despite the fact that we still have to take defensive positions on adoption and other bills, we've added a mildly successful offense this year. TTPC worked with legislators to introduce a hate crimes bill that garnered about 20 House sponsors and actually made it out of a House subcommittee. The Shelby County non-discrimination resolution that passed in June wasn't the ordinance that we wanted, but it provides more protections than were available before the Shelby County Commission took up the matter. The Metro Nashville non-discrimination ordinance passed the Council with a few votes to spare.

In all these cases, choosing the policy target and the venue for its hearing made a profound difference by throwing our opponents off their game. 2009 has also revealed that our level of organization is solid, which even our opponents have been forced to admit. Giving people something positive to fight for enhances the organizational efforts by attracting new and battle tested troops hungry for victory. Even in a socially conservative state like Tennessee, when the elements of choice and organization are yours, you have an even shot at winning. Expect more of the same in the coming months.

-Chris Sanders

Friday, September 18, 2009

State and Local vs Federal? The controversy over the March

Adam Bink has an interesting post at Open Left about a controversy within the GLBT community about the National Equality March and whether we should focus resources on state and local issues vs. federal.

The controversy turns in part on rhetoric and in part on strategy. The public face of the March, Cleve Jones, says that the state by state strategy has failed and he's tired of fighting that way. He desires a major Civil Rights style push at the federal level.

The rhetoric is annoying and yet understandable. But I think most of us in the Tennessee GLBT community can see past it. The people we know from Memphis, Cookeville, Knoxville, and so on who are connected with the March have been great state and local advocates. And I have no doubt that they will continue to work hard on those issues when they return from the March. I suspect they wish it were not necessary to fight so hard to gain so little in Tennessee. But I bet they continue to do so even as they add a substantial focus on federal issues to their work. So while I agree with the critique of Jones' remarks, I don't think they're an indictment of the March itself.

The issue of strategy is what really matters, but perhaps we are presented with a false choice between state/local and federal. Many of us working at the state and local level don't consider such work a failed strategy. For example, in Nashville, every Metro position will now be covered by a non-discrimination policy that didn't exist before. I can't see how that's a negative. If anything, it helps affirm Congressman Jim Cooper in his support of the federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act. It gives confirmation to those members of the Davidson County delegation to the General Assembly who have fought against the adoption ban and for the state hate crimes bill. And if we were to pass equality legislation at the state level, wouldn't it increase the odds that more of Tennessee's congressional delegation would support federal equality legislation?

And the March will paradoxically help in exactly the reverse order with respect to activists. Marchers will go to Washington, D.C. to make a huge show of force for full equality at the federal level. When they come home they will hopefully continue to work for that. But you can't tell me that they won't have any fire to defend our adoption rights here in Tennessee. And you can't tell they won't care about non-discrimination efforts in our cities where we are making progress. I can't speak about the situation in other states. But I've talked to and worked with the leaders who are going from Tennessee, and I know they care about their communities and their state.

There's enough work to go around and I hope those who go to DC come back inspired to help at every level. I believe they will inspire those of us who can't go to expand our efforts to keep working for full equality. We can all gain from the March if we look at it the right way.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

TEP endorses National Equality March

The Tennessee Equality Project endorses the National Equality March. We support the stated goal of "Equal protection in all matters governed by civil law in all 50 states."

It is our hope that the National Equality March inspires new activists to work for equality in ways that advance vital policy goals. In Tennessee, our hate crimes statute excludes gender identity and expression. We have no protections from employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity or expression. We lack any form of relationship recognition unless our employer chooses
to provide partner benefits.

At a time when our professional lobbying and citizen engagement
efforts are bearing fruit, we see fresh opportunities to pass state
and local legislation that makes life better for our community. In
that spirit, we invite the participants in the March to become
actively involved in the movement to advance equality in Tennessee when they return.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Opposition to the NDO: Phantom of its Former Self

One could say a great deal about why the effort to pass the Metro non-discrimination ordinance succeeded. I had thought about writing extensively about that, but I think I'll leave it at this. A very smart, strategic group of Metro Council Members led by Megan Barry were masters of the process and the arguments. It was an honor to help develop the ground game to support their efforts, and TEP is extremely grateful for their work.

But I will say a bit about why the bill didn't fail. The opposition really never materialized. Despite the press continually pointing out that the bill was "controversial," the controversy was a mere echo of 2003.

Churches: I think we can put to rest the old canard of the "churches vs. the GLBT community" with respect to policy issues that come up in Metro government. There were certainly some Evangelicals who opposed it. But Family Action itself indicated that efforts to mobilize congregations against the bill were failing before third reading:

"Although Family Action of Tennessee (FACT’s 501(c)(4) sister organization), a few churches and other organizations tried to rally Nashville-area Christians to urge their council members to defeat this ordinance, it moved forward by a vote of 23 to 16, with one abstention."

Nashville congregations had other things to do, like the support the ordinance, for example. Ten congregations--Jewish, Christian, Unitarian--supported the effort. In fact, we kicked off our campaign in October 2007 in a Church setting. Councilman Bo Mitchell's comments yesterday during the Personnel Committee meeting reflected the changed situation when he said that his "God doesn't discriminate." Sure, the inflammatory comments of Councilman Jim Hodge made an appearance in the debate, but they didn't seem to have any persuasive force.

Local vs. Imported: The opposition also failed because they could not mobilize support inside Davidson County. I heard again and again that Council Members were receiving negative emails from Franklin and Murfreesboro. The one letter to the editor in the Tennessean against the bill came from Cookeville. In fact, last night, some came from as far away as Bartlett to oppose the bill:

Among them was Liese Thomas, who drove from Bartlett, Tenn., in Shelby County.

"I believe that one man and one woman's marriage is the stabilizing force of all healthy civilizations, and where there are any deviations, the civilizations start to crumble," she said.

Even though the bill didn't address the issue of marriage, Thomas said her argument applied because approval of any "deviant behavior" inevitably leads to destruction of values.

I guess she missed her chance to say that back in June when we were working on the Shelby County non-discrimination effort. I have no idea why the opposition thought the Council wanted to hear from people outside Davidson County.

Web vs. ?: I don't know what tactics the opposition used to reach people. Their use of social networking media seemed non-existent. I know that we used it extensively as one tool among many to drive contact with Council Members. The opposition's resources, not to mention their language, struck me as primitive.

Obviously we'll be doing a great deal of thinking about what worked and what didn't work over the coming days as we prepare for the non-discrimination effort in Memphis City Council. But today we celebrate a great victory! Thank you, Nashville.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Bill Introduced in Congress to Repeal DOMA

This morning, Representative Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) introduced a bill in Congress to repeal the so-called "Defense of Marriage Act." If passed by the Congress, Rep. Nadler's legislation would be a real step forward in the march for full equality and we applaud his efforts, but LGBT people must stop settling for compromises and half measures.

Equal rights are not a "gay" issue. They are about our shared human rights: safety in our schools and jobs, equitable healthcare and housing, and protection for our families, to name a few. Like all other Americans, LGBT people are guaranteed equal protection under the law by the 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution. Free and equal people do not compromise, and that's why we're marching on Washington next month with one simple demand: Equal protection for LGBT people in all matters governed by civil law in all 50 states. Now.

Please ask your Representative to co-sponsor this legislation as an important first step, and remind them that there are no fractions of equality.

When Harvey spoke at Gay Freedom Day at San Francisco City Hall in 1978, he invoked the words of the Declaration of Independence: "All [people] are created equal. No matter how hard you try, you can never erase those words." No more compromises. We are equal.

-Adapted from Cleve Jones message to Equality Across America Members