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, October 26, 2009

From Criminals to a Protected Class in Hate Crimes Law

When President Obama signs the hate crimes law on Wednesday, an important six-year journey will be complete. What won't be fulfilled, of course, is the need for further legislation protecting the employment of GLBT people and recognizing our relationships. But the bill represents the transformation of our community from criminals to a class marked for protection from crime. Strictly speaking, the categories of sexual orientation and gender identity are netural since everyone has a sexual orientation and a gender identity, but the effect will be to recognize GLBT people in federal law.

Only six years ago the Supreme Court handed down Lawrence v Texas, which overturned state sodomy laws. Many states had already undone their sodomy laws, but some had not. Without the Court's ruling, any of the states could theoretically reinstate them. The Lawrence decision meant that same-sex relationships, though not fully recognized, could not be criminalized. And now in the space of just six years from Lawrence, crimes committed against us because of our sexual orientation and gender identity will receive greater scrutiny and more resources will be available to solve them.

Transgender people will count. Literally. Currently the FBI tracks hate violence based on sexual orientation, but not acts based on gender identity. Now both kinds of bias-motivated violence will be tracked, investigated, and prosecuted. That is good news for Tennessee where prosecutions are rare and our state hate crimes law does not include gender identity.

Progress can never be rapid enough for a group that faces discrimination and violence. We have much further to go to realize the promise of equal protection. But the movement from Lawrence to the hate crimes law is a breath-taking development and worthy of celebration.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Federal bill seeks to ban adoption bans at the state level

Congressman Pete Stark (D-California) has introduced H.R., 3827, the Every Child Deserves a Family Act. The bill would prohibit entities that receive federal funding from denying adoptions solely based on the marital status, sexual orientation, or gender identity of the prospective adoptive parents.

According to Congressman Stark:

When considering a potential placement for a child, the only criteria should be what is in the child’s best interest and whether the prospective parents can provide a safe and nurturing home. Bigotry should play no part in this decision. That is why I am introducing the “Every Child Deserves a Family Act.” This legislation would simply prohibit any entity that receives Federal child welfare funds from denying or delaying adoption or foster care placements based solely on the prospective parent’s marital status or sexual orientation. States and child welfare agencies that fail to end discriminatory practices would face financial penalties. This is the same approach that put an end to race discrimination in adoption and foster care placements.

If passed, this bill would obviously scuttle legislation in Tennessee and other states like SB 0078. The backlash is likely to take the form of Tenth Amendment angst. But, as Congressman Stark notes, the studies indicate that children do well in a variety of family settings. And if that's the case, then we probably should consider the Equal Protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, too. The bill, like other legislation affecting the GLBT community, is in for a long road to passage, but it's a good step.

Friday, October 16, 2009

frankj's fantasies and the rhetoric of the "real" Tennessee

Blogging has clearly become too incestuous when I am tempted to write about someone who posts anonymously at another blog. But in this case I'm going to yield to the temptation and follow the trail until it comes full circle and perhaps disappears back into oblivion where it belongs.

Someone who goes by the name of frankj has been adding notes to posts over at Post Politics lately. He continues to put the word gay in quotation marks. Here's a sample:

Even if the GOP takes Haywood County out of Naifeh’s district, imagine a team of eager Kos-educated East Nashville and Sylvan Park volunteers, some straight and yes, some “gay”, swarming Tipton County from their Kitchens going door to door for the Emeritus! Naifeh will befuddle the GOP once again [sic]

The image is supposed to be one of hipster gays and straights emerging from their urban enclaves and invading rural Tennessee with their enlightened values to rescue a politician in distress (Speaker Emeritus of the Tennessee House Jimmy Naifeh) from the Republicans. First, let's point out the obvious, Speaker Naifeh doesn't need rescuing. He's a good bet in any fight. Second, frankj, your fantasy of East and West Nashville hipsters--straight and "gay"--running from their kitchens serving up clever meals and Kos-style politics around Tennessee makes me wonder whether you're a producer for Bravo. I couldn't have thought of anything that "gay" myself. Besides, Cooper-Young in Memphis is much closer to Tipton County than East Nashville and Sylvan Park are. Don't you know anything about Tennessee?

And that really leads to the point. Behind this fantasy is the rhetoric of the "real" Tennessee. frankj never uses the word "real," but that's the principle at work. East Nashville and Sylvan Park can't possibly be the real Tennessee, right? As it turns out, 20 district Council Members in Davidson County voted for the non-discrimination ordinance. That makes the map a little more complicated. There must be a crisis of where the "real" Nashville lies. Perhaps frankj would describe it as "creeping East Nashvillism." That's just a guess on my part.

But what is the "real" Tennessee? Is it only rural Tennessee? Is it only red Tennessee? Does it matter that there are GLBT people and people who are liberal in every part of the state in various numbers? Does it matter that many of who are now in the blue parts of the state came from the red and rural parts of the state and throughout the South? Let's take it further. Is rural Houston County not real because the majority of its residents voted for Obama? Those pesky East Nashvillians must have distracted McCain voters with delights they imported from Batter'd and Fried.

Perhaps the conspiracy goes deeper. I wonder whether frankj thinks Governor Bredesen is secretly out to sweep away the real Tennessee. He brought in Volkswagen to establish a European beach head that will cool Tennessee into a light blue. I bet the whole idea was cooked up at the Gerst Haus. Brilliant!

-Chris Sanders

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Knox County Election Commission a Pioneer in Open Government

The Knox County Election Commission does a great job of making candidate information public. They use a Facebook page to make citizens quickly aware of all kinds of candidate information that you'd normally have to hope reporters would find. Of course, you can always go down to a county election commission, ask for the information, and try to fish out the change for the copies. But in Knox County, you know who's running for office within minutes of a candidate designating a treasurer. You also get easy access to financial disclosures. I hope the other county election commissions around the state will find similar ways of making this information easy to find.

Friday, October 9, 2009

TEP Foundation Updates

guest post by Nancy VanReece, TEP Foundation board member

The sister agency to TEP, The TEP Foundation, is rolling out fantastic opportunites to connect with their inititives.

Mission: The Tennessee Equality Project Foundation strives to eliminate prejudice and discrimination of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons by promoting and advocating equality through education, collaboration and victim advocacy .

The Projects of TEP Foundation are:
Anti-Violence/Hate Crimes
Safe Schools/Bullying
Outreach and General Education on LGBT issues
LGBT Health Issues
For more information about any of these projects please send us an Email

You can also now find us on FACEBOOK and on TWITTER

Events coming up in October that we invite you to attend



Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Coleman withdraws substitute NDO clearing the way for implementation of Barry bill

Tonight Metro Councilman Sam Coleman withdrew his substitute non-discrimination ordinance, BL2009-526, which was to be on third and final reading. It was filed as a substitute for BL2009-502 proposed by Council Member Megan Barry and twelve other sponsors.

In its original form, 526 barred discrimination against Metro government employees based on non-merit factors. It's hard to gauge intent, but the effect of the original bill was to leave out sexual orientation and gender identity. The bill was later amended to include sexual orientation and a variety of other factors, but it left out gender identity until Councilman Erik Cole successfully amended it.

The withdrawal of 526 leaves Nashville with a good result. Passing both bills would have cluttered the code or would have likely superseded 502, which was the bill that 51 groups had advocated. There were also questions about 526 raised in the Personnel committee and raised again by Sean Braisted that are important. Now Metro can proceed with implementation of 502 and Metro government employees will have protection from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The three-month legislative process is at last over. Sometimes you really do get the bill you ask for.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Family Action targets ENDA and DOMA and so do we

The Family Action Council of Tennessee has been writing about the federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act and the Respect for Marriage Act, which would overturn the so-called Defense of Marriage Act.

Family Action's objection to ENDA is that it would cause a problem for employers with religious objections to people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender and want to have the ability to fire them or not hire them in the first place. It should be noted that ENDA does not apply to religious organizations. But it would apply to organizations and businesses that are not religious in nature such as Exxon or the State of Tennessee. What if there is a director in one of their departments who has a religious objection to hiring people with different sexual orientations or gender identities? Too bad. I fail to see how a religious understanding of sexual orientation or gender identity should be the basis of whether someone at Exxon or in State government gets a job.

That's really the issue. It's not that the top leadership of most large employers like the State of Tennessee have established some policy that seeks to root out GLBT people. The problem with large employers with hundreds or even thousands of supervisors is that some of them will bring their views of us to the workplace and use their power to deprive us of work. ENDA would deter that sort of discrimination.

Family Action is nervous about the Respect for Marriage Act, not because it would immediately lead to same-sex marriage in Tennessee, but because of the surprising ways that federal action reaches into the states. I agree that the Repeal of DOMA will not immediately lead to marriage equality in Tennessee. But working to repeal DOMA is the one constructive thing people in Tennessee can do to bring it closer.

So this coming Sunday, which is National Coming Out Day, we'll be gathering to contact our Members of Congress about ENDA and the repeal of DOMA--two pieces of legislation that can make a big difference in states like Tennessee where the advances in equality are beginning but small.

The Road to Marriage in the South: Part 2

In my last post, I talked about developments in Illinois and Texas that put those two states on the road to marriage equality. I mentioned Virginia and North Carolina as the two states most likely to achieve marriage equality in the South. I should have backed that assertion up with a little checking. There are, in fact, small developments that bear out the prediction, though I suspect those victories are still years away.

In Virginia, Republican candidate for the House of Delegates Eric Brescia submitted an October 2 column to the Washington Blade arguing that equality requires Republican allies. He hopes to be that ally:

IF THE REPUBLICAN Party wants to be relevant for the newest generation of voters, it cannot continue to drive a social wedge between those who seek to protect “traditional marriage” and those who seek to extend the rights and responsibilities to couples who want to enjoy such a commitment. And if gays and lesbians want to enter into civil marriages in states like Virginia, they’re going to need Republicans in Richmond advocating on their behalf. The GOP is the majority party in Virginia’s House of Delegates and polls indicate Republicans could win the three statewide races — governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general — this November. No change in Virginia law will be possible without a broad coalition and an advocate for equal rights working within the majority party.

Whether you call him Don Quixote or a pioneer, he's right. Marriage equality won't come to the South without some Republicans moving on the issue. Whether Brescia becomes the first in a minor chorus or an anomaly for the next five to ten years depends, of course, on whether he wins.

Across the border in North Carolina, a billboard campaign for marriage equality has begun. Although some would consider any such campaign an in-your-face gesture, this one is really restrained. It shows four couples with the number of years they've been together and asks, "Haven't we waited long enough?" The campaign debuted in Greensboro, which is surprising because one might have expected Raleigh-Durham or Charlotte.

Both Brescia's candidacy and the North Carolina billboard campaign are the start or the new start of many difficult public discussions about marriage equality in the two Southern states that could lead the way. What they have begun will eventually spill over into their neighbor to the West and we welcome the discussion.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Marriage: The More You Ignore Me the Closer I Get

Some interesting marriage equality news has just come out. A Texas judge ruled today in a "gay divorce" case that the state's marriage ban is unconstitutional because it violates equal protection. The state attorney general has already said he'll appeal. No surprise there. What is surprising is that the judge made this ruling despite the fact that Texas not only has a statute defining marriage but a state constitutional amendment as well. Just like Tennessee.

Miles to the North in Illinois, a marriage bill has been introduced just months after the state had been looking at civil unions.

So what's the point for Tennessee? Both states are closer to Tennessee than any of the others that are on a path towards marriage equality. And I guess that's the other point--both states are now on some kind of path to marriage equality. In Illinois, it's going to be a legislative solution. In Texas, it could be a judicial solution. And even if the series of cases don't result in marriage, they could reignite a marriage equality movement there. Tennessee's path is more likely to be like Texas once it finally begins. Since we've just passed our first employment protections at the local level this year, it's unlikely that we'll move significantly on relationship recognition soon. But we need to be open to that kind of surprise, too. Perhaps one of our cities will adopt a domestic partner registry.

If more states closer to Tennessee adopt either marriage or civil unions, it will be harder to ignore the need for some reforms to family law. Tennessee couples have already gone to Massachusetts, Canada, and California to get married. If Memphians can go to Dallas, Nashvillians to Chicago, and Knoxvillians to Asheville (North Carolina or Virginia is likely to be the first Southern state to make a significant move on same-sex unions), then we're going to have a lot of cases related to divorce, inheritance, etc. in Tennessee courts that call for a policy remedy.

It's coming closer and we will not be able to predict what brings it to our borders and when. Perhaps some gubernatorial candidate will meet the new development at the state line. But even he can't hold it at bay forever.

Anger Nostalgia

Mike Byrd longs for the days when so-called progressives got their panties or boxers in a wad over the TN Eagle Forum. I'll admit that I still do sometimes. But I can honestly say it feels better to move a bill than be angry. Of course, this whole kerfuffle is premised on a column by an anonymous persona named Rex. I just can't be moved to respond to a tissue of hints. But since I know Mike and since he put the issues out there, I do feel some obligation to give an account.

Back when all we could do was be angry, I suppose our movement was purer. When no elected officials would take our calls or our endorsements, we weren't entangled in the evils and contradictions of power. And we also had no legal protections. My nostalgia for anger in the GLBT community does not translate into nostalgia for the days when we had few possibilities for advancing legislation.

Now that we are somewhat entangled in the ambiguities of lobbying and elections, I can't imagine why it would be a surprise that we might actually support two people who are in sync on our issues but at odds with each other on a variety of issues. Supporting and getting the support of people who are otherwise opposed is how policy moves ahead. And that is the job set before us when we don't have many legal protections.

As for the significance of the non-discrimination ordinance, I don't understand the argument that it does no good if there are lay-offs in Metro. The non-discrimination ordinance affects all the positions in Metro--whether the payroll grows or declines. We evaluated this policy option for a good two years before it was introduced and we're convinced it's a good bill. But thanks for the rain on our gay parade. Smirk.

On a personal note, Emily Evans is my Council Member. I was excited when TEP PAC endorsed her in 2007 and I am grateful for her support on the Metro NDO as well as her quick responses on other issues I've contacted her about over the last couple of years. She will certainly have my support in her re-election bid for what it's worth. And I know some people would say, "Not much." And that's just fine with me.

Mike, we should have a drink somewhere in the 23rd District soon.
-Chris Sanders