Monday, November 30, 2009
In extensive remarks on eve of World AIDS Day, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton identified discrimination against the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community as a barrier to the fight against HIV/AIDS:
"Obviously, our efforts are hampered whenever discrimination or marginalization of certain populations results in less effective outreach and treatment. So we will work not only to ensure access for all who need it, but also to combat discrimination more broadly. We have to stand against any efforts to marginalize and criminalize and penalize members of the LGBT community worldwide. It is an unacceptable step backwards – (applause) – on behalf of human rights. But it is also a step that undermines the effectiveness of efforts to fight the disease worldwide."
No doubt, she had in mind the discriminatory, oppressive legislation being discussed in Uganda. This legislation would go well beyond criminalizing homosexuality; it would intensify witch-hunts against gay people. Clinton's statement is an important step in putting the breaks on this kind of government-sponsored terror against its own citizens.
Although I would not count on Secretary Clinton having the backing of the Congressman from Tennessee associated the Family/Fellowship, which may be supporting the Uganda discrimination bill, I hope she will have the support of another Chattanoogan, Senator Bob Corker, who sits on the Committee on Foreign Relations.
Thursday, November 26, 2009
Many of you have heard by now that former Tennessee Congressman Harold Ford, Jr. is considering a bid for the U.S. Senate in New York. But will his positions on abortion/choice and same-sex marriage come back to haunt him if he jumps in the race? Glenn Thrush is taking note:
His positions -- including his opposition to gay marriage and opposition to some abortions -- put him to the right of Gillibrand, who was considered one of the most conservative members of the state's House delegation during her two-plus year tenure as an Albany-area rep.
Gillibrand, who may indeed be vulnerable, nevertheless figured out that she needed to move left to represent voters throughout the state. It will be interesting to see how Ford approaches the culture war issues if he enters the race. If Gillibrand made some changes, I don't see why Ford couldn't. After all, time has passed since he was in Congress. He is allowed to say that his views have evolved. Will it fly with New York skeptics?
Wednesday, November 25, 2009
Members of Chattanooga's GLBT community are starting to circulate some blog links tracking the connections between the Fellowship/the Family and Uganda's horrid anti-gay bill. And why would Chattanoogans care particularly about this piece of legislation in a country far away? Well, Congressman Zach Wamp, who represents the area, has lived in The Fellowship/The Family's housing for years.
Guilt by association isn't real guilt. It only raises questions. But it's worth asking the question of whether Congressman Wamp was one of the Members of Congress who may have prayed with Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni. Here's the meat of one of the blog posts at Truth Wins Out that makes the question relevant:
Sadly, this witch-hunt has the blood stained fingerprints of leading American evangelicals. The Fellowship, (aka The Family) one of America’s most powerful and secretive fundamentalist organization’s, converted Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni (pictured top) to its anti-gay brand of Christianity, which is the “intellectual” impetus behind the anti-gay crackdown. The clandestine organization’s leader, Doug Coe, calls Museveni The Fellowship’s “key man” in Africa. Jeff Sharlet, author of “The Family”, writes of the African strongman’s conversion:
“So,” Doug Coe told us, “my friend said to the president, ‘why don’t you come and pray with me in America? I have a good group of friends—senators, congressmen—who I like to pray with, and they’d like to pray with you.’ And that president came to the Cedars (a religious retreat), and he met Jesus. And his name is Yoweri Museveni…And he is a good friend of the Family.”
I think the people of Tennessee have a right to know whether the Congressman has met with Museveni and what he thinks about legislation that criminalizes and punishes homosexuality to such an amazingly harsh extent. After all, the Congressman has publicly branded homosexuality a "sickness" and a "sin."
I know that some people will call these "charges unfair." I'm just pointing out what citizens of the Chattanooga area are pointing out and asking, "What's the deal?" I'm not charging the Congressman with anything other than being found frequently around sources of hate and discrimination. I would like for him to articulate his own views in his own words about these events.
A hat tip to Andy Pyburn for some of these links.
Saturday, November 21, 2009
The Manhattan Declaration of some Catholic, Evangelical, and Orthodox leaders has received some notable coverage over the last couple of days. The declaration itself isn't terribly long, certainly not long enough to deal realistically with any of the issues that it addresses such as abortion, stem-cell research, or same-sex marriage. But it is long enough to raise the question of whether it is trying to reverse a trend signaled in the 2008 Evangelical Manifesto, in which some leading Evangelicals called for less of a politicization of the faith. I'd like to take a look at the sections of the document and argue that it has failed to make an adequate case for its position on same-sex marriage.
Preamble: The Preamble is a quick trip through 2000 years of Christian history. It is a story of Christianity resisting and fighting evil. There is no hint about same-sex marriage in the preamble. But there are lines that deconstruct the narrative that the writers wish to weave. They note in passing that Christian women were "at the vanguard of the suffrage movement." Indeed, they were. It seems odd to me that the document, written by representatives of faith traditions that are the least likely to recognize women's leadership in the Church, would highlight this fact. But what should be suggestive about this bit of history is that the Church has encouraged people to achieve things in the secular realm that it would not allow them to achieve in the spiritual. So why would it not celebrate the Christians today who are working for same-sex marriage in the civil realm? I guess that would confuse the clear lines of us and them that the writers are drawing.
Declaration: Thankfully, the declaration acknowledges that the writers or signers are speaking on their own behalf and not on behalf of their faith traditions. They mention as their sources of authority Scripture, natural human reason, and the nature of the human person. So we basically have a mixture of Bible and Robert George's conception of natural law. It is in this section that we find the first explicit comments on marriage: "...the institution of marriage, already buffeted by promiscuity, infidelity and divorce, is in jeopardy of being redefined to accommodate fashionable ideologies." And that leads them to their definition: "marriage as a conjugal union of man and woman, ordained by God from the creation, and historically understood by believers and non-believers alike, to be the most basic institution in society." Here the writers seem to be covering their bases in that they locate marriage as they understand it in the divine command but also in society. But the words "historically understood" complicate both the roots of marriage--the divine command and society. In fact, they complicate the picture sufficiently to make their own swipe about "fashionable ideologies" incoherent. The historical interpretation of God's commands about marriage and the social pressures shaping marriage show great variety. Those of us who are seeking to give legal sanction to same-sex marriage are not outside the narrative that the Manhattan signers develop, but we are a part of it. Those of us who are people of faith are attempting to be faithful to our religious views and our partners in seeking marriage, and we are also responding to social changes that make it possible for us to establish lasting relationships, like our non-religious counterparts. There is no one ideology of same-sex marriage. The question for many of us arises out of Scripture, natural human reason, and the nature of the human person, just as it does for the signatories of the declaration.
Marriage: Following the declaration are sections on issues. I'll skip to the one on marriage. One finds a rehearsal of the benefits of marriage, how God has honored it, and a discussion of the threats to marriage. There is an interesting acknowledgment about the causality between same-sex marriage and problems in the wider marriage culture: "The impulse to redefine marriage in order to recognize same-sex and multiple partner relationships is a symptom, rather than the cause, of the erosion of the marriage culture." I was pleased to see this admission. Of course, the section goes on to argue that the impulse must nevertheless be resisted since it would lock confusion into place. But at least these leaders are on the record as saying that same-sex marriage does not directly hurt heterosexual marriages. But did you notice what else they did with that line? They put same-sex marriage and multiple partner relationships together. And they did the same in the following paragraph. Since there isn't to my knowledge legislation pending about multiple partner relationships, the effect is fear-mongering. I guess we can at least be thankful that they didn't bring up bestiality, though they did conjure the image of incest. As I've said before, the nearest analogy is between opposite-sex marriage of two partners and same-sex marriage of two partners. Those are the only viable ones under debate. Adding anything else has nothing to do with the issues at hand in politics today. Britney Spears songs notwithstanding, there is no lobby for threesomes.
Of course, they develop their argument for only allowing opposite-sex marriage based on "sexual complementarity" and procreation. Procreation always seems to be the obvious argument, the common sense position. But it's not. Not every opposite-sex married couple wants to procreate or can procreate, whether that be for age or medical reasons. So marriage need not be about procreation. The complementarity issue also seems to be common sense to many straight people, and one occasionally hears it explained in terms of pegs fitting into holes! I'll resist the urge to be crude in return and simply say, even if there were no same-sex couples...straight people have found plenty of ways to use their pegs and holes that don't have anything to do with procreation and certainly have nothing to do with sexual complementarity. The Manhattan folks won't be saying anything about that because they know how ridiculous they would sound if they started regulating those practices.
Religious Liberty: This final section is the most melodramatic. It is an attempt to scare socially conservative Christians into believing that the state will begin infringing the Bill of Rights with respect to some of the political questions addressed in the document. The state is not going to make any religious body perform a same-sex marriage. But some religious bodies want it both ways. They want the budgeting and tax advantages of forming separate 501c3 organizations to do social work and still not have to comply with non-discrimination laws. My advice would be keep your ministries in house. If you form a separate corporation to do social work and employ over 15 people, there is a reasonable expectation that you will have to comply with federal, state, and local non-discrimination laws and give spousal benefits to whoever is legally married in that jurisdiction. The dramatic language of resisting the state in the same way that the early Church did is laughable. The early Church kept its ministries within the Church and some of its members went to their deaths when they were compelled to worship idols. What those who complain about non-discrimination policies really want are the state-granted advantages of having their social ministries in a separate corporation. My guess is that in many cases, compromises would allow even their separate non-profits to be exempt.
Despite their rhetoric, they will never be commemorated in the liturgy for whining about their affiliated 501c3 charity resisting a local non-discrimination ordinance. They will not end up in the martyrologies. Those men and women were made of much stouter stuff than the signatories of the Manhattan Declaration.
Friday, November 20, 2009
The demise of Window Media, which operated important GLBT news publications like the Washington Blade and Southern Voice, should make those of us in Tennessee pause and be grateful for what we have right here. The Washington Blade staff have banded together to form DCAgenda, so there are some signs of recovery. But the situation shows the vulnerability of local communities to the financial difficulties that plague national media companies.
Local GLBT newspapers play a vital role in not only reporting the news, but giving a community a sense of itself. It would be difficult to gauge the role that Inside Out Nashville, Out & About Newspaper, and the Triangle Journal have played over the last few years in creating forward-moving discourse in Tennessee's GLBT community, particularly in Memphis and Nashville/Middle Tennessee.
They are information hubs with spokes that reach deeper into the community than any of our other organizations. It would be hard to imagine the impact if they simply ceased publication one day. Local ownership of these publications has been good for the community.
The obvious gap in the picture is East Tennessee. Knoxville, Chattanooga, and the Tri-Cities are not currently served by their own GLBT newspapers. Those communities find themselves in a bit of a vicious circle in that there may not be enough ad revenue to support a publication, but without a newspaper it is hard for a community to become sufficiently connected and to grow. Social networking tools are starting to help connect those communities, but the effect is more diffused.
Hopefully, we will be able to sustain our Memphis and Middle Tennessee publications. It's a tough business in a market that is constantly changing. The cost of losing them is something I hope we don't have to face during these critical years in the movement for equality.
Thursday, November 12, 2009
Tonight in a Facebook posting, MTSU SGA Senator Brandon Thomas, who is also Vice President of MTSU Lambda, published a letter from university President Sidney McPhee announcing the addition of gender identity to the school's non-discrimination policy. Congratulations to the students who worked for this policy change and thank you to the MTSU administration for being responsive.
Dear Mr. Thomas
I wanted to let you know that we will be amending the appropriate MTSU policies concerning discrimination to incorporate gender identity as one of the bases for which discrimination against any employee, applicant for employment or student will not be tolerated.
I appreciate your input with regard to this matter as well as your concern and support of our mission to maintain a campus environment welcoming and supportive to all individuals.
Sincerely, Sidney A. McPhee President
What the LDS church has done in Utah is an immensely important and positive step and places the Mormon church in a far more positive and pro-gay position than any other religious group broadly allied with the Christianist right. They have made a distinction - and it is an admirable, intellectually honest distinction - between respecting the equal rights of other citizens in core civil respects, while insisting - with total justification - on the integrity of one's own religious doctrines, and on a religious institution's right to discriminate in any way with respect to its own rites and traditions.
In the Midsouth, more evangelicals are "coming out" for LGBT equality in measured ways. In a Nov. 11 Letter to the Editor of the Memphis Flyer, two evangelical Christians wrote in support of legislation establishing LGBT-inclusive workplace protections:
We wish to register our support for the proposed amendment to Memphis Ordinance 9, which is intended to establish a nondiscrimination provision regarding sexual orientation or gender identity.
As Christians belonging to Bible-believing churches in Memphis, we feel obligated to note that the dominant evangelical voices heard in the Memphis media do not reflect the views of many evangelicals in our community. We are in agreement with evangelical opponents of this amendment on many issues, including the uniqueness of Jesus and the nonnegotiable nature of biblical ethics. But we believe that the protection of economic rights for all our fellow Memphians is an important part of showing love and support for the dignity of people created in the image of God, their Creator.
Our hope is that this amendment not only discourages discrimination but fosters relationships among diverse segments of our community.
The landscape for dialogue and acceptance of basic rights is changing. Can you imagine these sorts of positions expressed by faith leaders 5, 10, or 20 years ago?
Tuesday, November 10, 2009
As I've said before, you shouldn't go into a fight assuming who your enemies are. What few would have predicted has happened. The LDS Church endorsed a couple of Salt Lake City non-discrimination ordinances that provide protection from discrimination in housing and employment. And then the City Council unanimously approved them.
The Mormons admitted what the Family Action Council of Tennessee would not. Non-discrimination in housing and employment has NOTHING to do with marriage:
An LDS Church representative read a supporting statement at a public hearing before the Salt Lake City Council regarding the ordinances proposed by Mayor Ralph Becker.
"The church supports this ordinance because it is fair and reasonable and does not do violence to the institution of marriage," said Michael Otterson, managing director of the LDS Church's public affairs office.
I wouldn't expect the LDS Church to drop their opposition to same-sex marriage any time soon, but their stance clarifies exactly where they draw the line. They don't view GLBT issues as a zero-sum game, as the Tennessee Eagle Forum and Family Action seem to. Given their numbers in Utah, which exceed the percentage of Evangelical Protestants in Tennessee, this development is amazing. It COULD show the way forward in red states. Considering that the majority of Metro Council members didn't buy into the Eagle Forum/Family Action strategy of arguing that non-discrimination is a slippery slope to marriage, it might be time for the Right in Tennessee to reconsider its strategy.
The difficulty, of course, is that there is no single spokesperson or head of Evangelicalism in red states like Tennessee. So it's not possible to turn off the faucet of opposition automatically. Then again, the faucet may only be dripping to begin with. Past Family Action newsletters have bemoaned the fact that they tried to get churches involved, but they wouldn't because they didn't equate the Metro NDO with marriage. Some Evangelicals in Tennessee are already beginning to make the distinctions in private that the LDS Church has now made publicly.
Friday, November 6, 2009
After the Prop 8 loss in California, there was a lot of blame gaming going on. One of the immediate targets was the African-American community. Those comments caused a lot of mistrust within the GLBT community because many strangely forgot the presence of Black gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people. Those comments could have also caused a huge rift between the GLBT community and major African-American civil rights organizations such as the NAACP, which has been an important ally for our cause.
Memories of those thoughtless accusations die hard. James Withers of 365gay.com hasn't forgotten them a year later in the wake of the crushing Maine defeat:
"These realities of black-American life cannot, and should not be ignored; however, too many of us blithely support a narrative where homophobia is somehow purer in black and brown communities. Yes we have California, but there is also Washington, DC, and those who leaned on race to explain Prop 8 have been strangely silent on the DC City Council.
From Maine to California, many black, brown, and white faces will gladly vote against gay marriage. If there is anything that crosses the racial divide it’s bigotry for lesbians and gays."
I occasionally hear similar comments and questions from people in Tennessee. What amazes me is how few people see the obvious reality that African-American lawmakers have been leading opponents of discrimination. When the marriage amendment was working its way through the Legislature, 3 of the 7 House members voting against it were African-American, and 1 of 3 senators voting against it was African-American.
The Metro Nashville non-discrimination ordinance story is also instructive. 3 of the 12 sponsors were African-American Council Members. On third reading, only one African-American Council Member voted against the ordinance, but he was advancing his own ordinance that ended up being amended to include sexual orientation and gender identity. 1 African-American Council Member was absent for the vote. Without the support of the African-American Council Members, the ordinance could never have passed.
The lesson is always that if you don't reach out, you don't know who your friends are. And when you think you know who your opponents are, follow the money. The organizations that fund anti-equality measures are not predominantly African-American. But shouldn't that be obvious? Given the discrimination that African-Americans still face in this country, why would we think Black leadership organizations would be throwing money at discriminatory legislation and ballot measures?
Hopefully, the movement for equality is still moving in the sense that we are coming to the realization that we have to meet discrimination with targeted resources wherever we find it in particular contexts (by political district, by religion, by race and ethnicity, etc.). Going into a fight bedeviled by what we imagine one group will do just sets us up for more losses and more blame gaming.
Q: Are you registered to vote in Tennessee?
A: 90.7% or 430 respondents said YES; 9.5% or 45 respondents said NO.
A few are still registered to vote where they lived previously or they are college students, but it's a high percentage of members of our community and allies who registered to vote here in Tennessee.
Q: Have you ever given money to a political campaign?
A: 63.7% or 302 said YES; 36.5% or 173 said NO.
Q: Have you ever volunteered in a political campaign?
A: 46.2% or 219 said YES; 54.2% or 257 said NO.
This is good news. Not only is the GLBT community registered to vote, but the majority are interested in supporting candidates financially and about half are willing to volunteer. Further questions on the size of contributions and the amount and kind of volunteering would be interesting. But it all points to the fact that our community understands the importance of electing supportive candidates.
Q: Have you ever emailed, called, or visited a member of the Tennessee General Assembly about a piece of legislation or an issue?
A: 69.2% or 328 said YES; 31.0% or 147 said NO.
Q: With adequate lobbying and citizen support, do you think your city or county government would be ready for non-discrimination legislation (or further non-discrimination legislation) in the next 2 years?
A: 72.8% or 313 said YES; 27.2% or 117 said NO.
Members of our community are clearly not afraid of or unaware of how to reach out to their elected officials. The results may also mean that we've made it easier for them to do so over the last few years. What is striking is the fact that an overwhelming majority of our community lives in a community that they believe could move forward with non-discrimination legislation in the next 2 years. That bodes well for citizen support efforts in moving legislation at the local and state level. We're ready to fight for advances.
Here's a sampling of where the respondents came from (cities with 5 or more)
No surprise about the concentration in urban areas or in Middle TN. The distribution also tracks well with the locations in which we have County committees with the exception of Chattanooga. Murfreesboro's numbers are striking. A potential powerhouse for equality needs to be nurtured there.
Tuesday, November 3, 2009
Now the good news, the Washington state ballot measure approving domestic partnerships appears to be passing. And in Kalamazoo, Michigan a ballot measure on the city's non-discrimination law passed. Many openly gay candidates won races around the country including Annise Parker of Houston who was the top voter getter in the mayoral race. She now advances to the runoff. A lesbian won a seat on the Akron City Council and a gay man won a seat on the Detroit City Council. And Chapel Hill, North Carolina has elected Mark Kleinschmidt as the city's first openly gay mayor.
These results aren't official and in some cases may not turn out to be final. It's a mixed picture and it will take some time to figure out where the movement for equality goes in the wake of tonight's results.
Nashvillian Kim Troup discusses her experience of volunteering in Maine's Vote No on 1 campaign. Her son directs key projects in the campaign. Citizens of Maine are on their final day of voting on whether to keep or repeal marriage equality. What follows are Kim's reflections on volunteering in the campaign:
November 3, 2009 – Last week I spent 7 days on the ground with the “No On 1/Protect
I spent all of my time working with the Satellite Phone Bank and the phone from home “Call for Equality” program. My son, Matt Moonen, is the director of these 2 efforts so it was fun for us to reverse our previous roles and have Matt as the staff director and me as the volunteer. The first couple of days I did tons and tons of data entry into the VAN system. If you’ve worked on a campaign recently, you’re probably familiar with this database of registered voters. We were getting constant updates from the field efforts and it was critical to update the VAN to make sure voters were marked as a supporter, non-supporter or as undecided. It was a tedious job but important for our Get Out the Vote (GOTV) strategy which went into full swing on Wednesday. This effort targeted our supporters reminding them to get out and vote while allowing the campaign to not waste time calling voters who were on the other side. We had multiple satellite phone banks going on all over the country each day. Many of our sister organizations that belong to the Equality Federation such as the Human Rights Campaign, Equality CA, Equality Maryland, MassEquality and our own TN Equality Project held one or more phone banks for the campaign. Other groups like the Courage Campaign of CA, the Vermont Freedom to Marry Coalition and Love Makes A Family of CT were also involved. Matt estimated that more than 75,000 calls were made to
Each day we had hundreds of individual volunteers making phone calls from their home through the Call for Equality Program. We conducted webinar trainings for these volunteers daily walking them through our updated script and how to use the Call Fire computerized system to make calls to
Local press was in the office almost daily with many state officials as well as congresswoman Chellie Pingree holding press conferences in support of “No On 1.” The governor held a press conference at campaign headquarters on Thursday and then appeared on Rachel Maddow that evening. I was able to attend a live televised debate at the
Today is election day in
Monday, November 2, 2009
"America is a country rich in resources and filled with countless caring men and women who hope to adopt. These individuals come from all walks of life, united in their commitment to love a child who is in need of the protective arms of a parent. We must do more to ensure that adoption is a viable option for them. By continually opening up the doors to adoption, and supporting full equality in adoption laws for all American families, we allow more children to find the permanent homes they yearn for and deserve."
Perhaps to outsiders the language is vague. But those of us fighting adoption bans at the state level know exactly what the President is talking about. Our only questions concern what can be done and when. A partial answer comes in Congressman Pete Stark's bill to cut off funds to states and entities that discriminate in their adoption laws. The President seems to be sending a signal that he would support a bill like Stark's, but nothing is concrete at this point.
Since Tennessee has not passed discriminatory adoption legislation, despite the fact that it has been introduced many times, we have nothing to worry about. Hopefully, the federal bill will give the Tennessee General Assembly pause as it considers SB 0078 in 2010.