Wednesday, December 29, 2010
The Tennessean and their political blog In Session are reporting that Wes Aull is considering entering the race to replace 5th District Metro Nashville Councilman Jamie Hollin who has announced he is not seeking reelection.
Aull serves as treasurer of the Tennessee Equality Project and is a CPA who works in the 5th district. He is also an active member of the Historic East Nashville Merchants Association.
Tuesday, December 28, 2010
The Memphis Flyer and Out & About Newspaper have published helpful lists of top stories affecting Tennessee's gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community in 2010. So I wanted to take a look at the top 10 political stories affecting us. Here are my views in no particular order:
*The first two are national in scope, but they're important for those of us in Tennessee.
- Equality in Hospital Visitation. In April President Obama signed a memorandum directing Health & Human Services to prohibit discrimination in hospital visitation based on sexual orientation or gender identity in facilities that participate in Medicare or Medicaid.
- Repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell (almost). The House and Senate passed a stand-alone bill repealing the military's outdated Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy this month. It will take effect once a few sign-offs take place.
- Violence. Hate crimes in Tennessee based on sexual orientation were down in 2009 according to a May 2010 Tennessee Bureau of Investigation report. The document still fails to include hate crimes based on gender identity. Despite the 2009 statistics, 2010 brought some ugly incidents such as hate-motivated arson of a lesbian couple's house in Vonore and the Jackson Police Department's treatment of transgender woman Akasha Adonis after she was brutalized at Kohl's.
- Failure of the Don't Say Gay bill. This discriminatory, needless piece of state legislation met its Waterloo yet again this year after a few sneak attacks.
- Failure of the Memphis Employment Non-Discrimination Ordinance TWICE! Sadly a majority of the members of the Memphis City Council couldn't agree that city employees should be able to work in an environment free of discrimination.
- Elections. It would be tempting to leave it at that. But I want to hit some of the low moments. The ugly comments by 8th congressional district candidate Ron Kirkland about gay people in the military, the short-lived almost New York Senate candidacy of Harold Ford Jr. that got derailed in part over his evolving views of marriage equality, a Tennessee House candidate writing children's books against marriage equality, 5th congressional district candidate David Hall's anti-equality push polling, and so on.
- Oak Ridge goes G, L, and B, but not T. One surprise (to me) is that Oak Ridge voters decided to amend their charter in November to prohibit discrimination against city employees based on sexual orientation. It is a lost opportunity that gender identity was not also included in the measure.
- Metro Nashville Human Relations Commission empowered to document gender identity discrimination. Earlier this year, TEP requested that Council Members seek a legal opinion clarifying whether the Metro Human Relations Commission has the authority to document discrimination in the private sector based on gender identity. A 2003 legal opinion had already established similar authority with respect to sexual orientation. We are pleased that the answer is YES. We hope the Commission embraces its authority and that victims report discrimination.
- Nancy VanReece announces Metro Nashville Council bid. Nancy VanReece announced this year that she will be seeking the 4th district Metro Council seat. Go, Nancy!
- Belmont. The termination of Belmont University's soccer coach Lisa Howe has turned national media attention on Nashville and not in a way we would have liked. This event, along with other cases of discrimination against faculty and students that have come to light, has triggered many proposed political remedies. To clarify Metro Nashville Government's position, Mayor Karl Dean called on city boards, commissions, and authorities to update their non-discrimination policies; Council Members Jamie Hollin and Mike Jameson filed a bill to revoke Belmont's Rose Park lease with Metro unless and until they updated their non-discrimination policy (a bill which has been deferred indefinitely); and a bill has been proposed that would require vendors contracting with Metro to include sexual orientation and gender identity in their non-discrimination policies. It remains to be seen whether Belmont will ever get beyond its public assurances and adopt such a written policy.
Sunday, December 26, 2010
Calendar Notes: It's Boxing Day. Of course, it's Sunday, too. So I'm not sure whether those in the former British Empire get tomorrow off or not. But here's hoping they do. It's also St. Stephen's Day or the Feast of Stephen--you remember, the day that prompted Good King Wenceslas to look out "when the snow lay round about/ Deep and crisp and even." Seems fitting for today.
Praise: Speaking of good, there's a great piece in today's Commercial Appeal titled "12 Who Made a Difference." And one of them is TEP's own chairman Jonathan Cole.
Cole said one of the things the group has been successful at is "engaging the GLBT community in a more formal way in the political process.
"If we don't send a message to our local leaders, then we can't expect leaders we send to Washington to express those same values."
The list of cities more progressive than Memphis on GLBT issues is long, but Cole is staying put.
"Do I ever want to give up? I will take breaks, but I don't feel I need to throw up my hands yet," he said.
The fight for equality "is not for summer soldiers and the sunshine patriots. It's a commitment for the long haul."
Amen to that!
Blame?: In my view, there's been some odd criticism of some folks who have been great supporters of equality legislation in Nashville.
Let's start with yesterday's Tennessean. It included a piece about 18th District Councilwoman Kristine LaLonde and her role in the Belmont University controversy. LaLonde was a cosponsor of the 2009 Metro non-discrimination ordinance She has spoken about the conversations occurring inside Belmont to make the campus more welcoming. As a faculty member she is a voice for equality. We shouldn't forget that it was the faculty resolutions on this issue that prompted trustee emeritus Mike Curb to get involved in the matter. If the Belmont Board of Trustees is going to make a change, it will require concerted action from the faculty and from benefactors like Mike Curb to move things along. So while I understand the source of the questions that some have raised, I would hate for people to lose sight of the factors that will actually bring change to Belmont and the role LaLonde is playing. Besides, the bill revoking Belmont's Rose Park lease has been deferred indefinitely, so that piece of the puzzle is a moot point now.
My thoughts would be along the same lines with respect to Mayor Karl Dean. The Mayor just recently sent a letter to boards, commissions, and authorities asking them to update their non-discrimination policies to match's Metro's in response to the inflammatory comments by the Belmont board chair/Convention Center Authority chair. The Convention Center Authority has already updated its policy. However, there have been a few complaints that the Mayor should have taken this action in 2009. Sure, and why not long before that, for that matter? But here's the thing. When we were working with the Mayor and allied Council Members on the non-discrimination ordinance, we asked for a very focused ordinance that would have impact and pass. No one in 2009 talked about the boards, commissions, and authorities. We either assumed the ordinance would cover those bodies or it didn't occur to us. In 2009 the Mayor and allied Council Members did everything they were asked to do in supporting the bill. That includes speaking publicly for it, working on strategy for it, voting for it, signing it, and implementing it. It is the first law of its kind in Tennessee and it happened because people worked together like a symphony.
It's going to be tough to pass something like the bill requiring vendors contracting with Metro Government to have an inclusive non-discrimination policy if we aren't focused on keeping our friends from the 2009 effort motivated to stick together. After a snowy holiday, let's get back to work on making something positive happen.
Tuesday, December 21, 2010
The holidays have come as they always do to Metro. The tree outside the Courthouse in full array was a wonderful sight for all the visitors in festive red making their way inside the building. Christmas get-ups? Nope. "Save My Fairgrounds" supporters in red t-shirts, but it somehow still fit the occasion.
After a long discussion about when to have a public hearing on fairgrounds issues, BL2010-823 came up. It would revoke Belmont's Rose Park lease unless and until Belmont makes some changes to its non-discrimination policy. Sponsors Mike Jameson and Jamie Hollin agreed to defer the bill indefinitely so that the Belmont community could have time to deal with that matter. Today's Tennessean perhaps gave a hint of things to come in an extensive interview with Belmont President Bob Fisher who appears to be attempting to make change. Until sexual orientation and gender identity are included in Belmont's written policy, the job will not be done in TEP's view. But it looks as if there is some positive movement.
In speaking on the deferral, Councilman Jameson previewed the other bill that he, Councilman Holllin, and Councilwoman Erica Gilmore (and hopefully additional sponsors) are introducing in January--a bill that would require vendors contracting with Metro Government to include sexual orientation and gender identity in their non-discrimination policies.
Legitimate, reasonable way forward: This bill offers Metro the opportunity to bolster its commitment to equality and diversity and to do so through a legitimate point of connection with the private sector--its contracting dollars. Opponents will look at the bill as "imposing" something on the private sector. But in our view, no one is forced to compete for Metro contracts. It's a privilege and all contracting procedures list standards. There's no reason that equal opportunity employment shouldn't be considered as one of those standards. It's reasonable that Metro tax dollars should achieve the added benefit of equal opportunity while meeting the basic needs of providing services. Furthermore, many companies have already adopted these protections. So would the burden be that great, after all?
Timing is everything: The fact that Metro elections are just around the corner makes the issue sensitive to many. We certainly wouldn't have chosen this time for the bill to come forward, but the situation at Belmont has made clear to the public that discrimination on the job still occurs. And it's hard to say whether the next Metro Council will be as progressive as the current one. So while many will argue that the timing isn't great, it's hard to argue for putting off dealing with discrimination. At least, we hope it will be. Time will tell. So we'll come back from the holiday truce and see whether Metro has the will to move forward. Nothing is certain at this point.
Sunday, December 19, 2010
Late yesterday I gave three interviews to the Nashville media about the Senate's vote on repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell. When the topic of the NO votes of Tennessee's Senator Lamar Alexander and Senator Bob Corker came up, two of the reporters asked me,
"What does that say about Tennessee?"
That's the question a lot of us have been asking over the last couple of years as Tennessee's elected officials have said and done so many things that make us wonder just who is welcome here.
But I got to thinking that if two reporters who don't spend 24/7 thinking about equality issues could independently ask me that question, do all of us who care about our state and its leadership need to be asking that question more often and raising the volume?
I think the question is particularly acute in Nashville right now because so many of us are embarrassed at how Belmont University is handling issues of discrimination against faculty, staff, and students on campus. More than a few straight allies have said something like this to me: "Right now the national media is looking at Nashville through the lens of Belmont."
Nashville isn't alone. Many residents of Memphis have been exasperated at Mayor A.C. Wharton's trumpeting of "City of Choice" rhetoric while the City Council has failed twice to pass a basic non-discrimination ordinance. Instead the city opted to hire an image manager.
We don't need image managers. We don't need to focus primarily on the talk outside the state. We need to stop letting our elected officials get away with doing and saying stupid, harmful things. And if that means USING what the rest of the country thinks about Tennessee as a gong, so be it. But the goal is (a) stopping the negatives and (b) starting to build up positive public policy. Then image will take care of itself. If the goal is complaining, then we won't get very far.
Friday, December 17, 2010
TEP treasurer Wes Aull, who was present for this morning's meeting of the Convention Center Authority, reports that the body adopted a non-discrimination policy that includes both sexual orientation and gender identity. He reports a unanimous vote on the second item of the agenda.
The Authority's action followed Mayor Karl Dean's request that all Metro boards, commissions, and authorities adopt such policies.
Wednesday, December 15, 2010
The U.S. House of Representatives has passed a bill to repeal the Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy by a vote of 250 to 175.
Voting for repeal were Congressmen Steve Cohen, Jim Cooper, and Bart Gordon.
Voting against repeal were Congressmen Marsha Blackburn, Lincoln Davis, John Duncan, Phil Roe, and John Tanner. Congressman Zach Wamp is listed as not voting.*
Note: Marsha Blackburn prefers "Congressman" so we're honoring her general request to the media that she be noted as such.
Monday, December 13, 2010
December 13, 2010
Dear Members of the Metropolitan Council:
We join many citizens of Nashville in expressing concern over reports of discrimination against members of the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community at Belmont University.
· The widely reported termination of women’s soccer coach Lisa Howe when it was revealed that she and her partner are having a child
· Denial of official recognition to Bridge Builders, a student group for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender students and their allies http://nashvillecitypaper.com/content/city-news/belmont-administration-gay-student-group-not-here
· The rescinding of a tenure-track position to instructor Rebecca Chapman http://www.nashvillescene.com/pitw/archives/2010/12/09/belmonts-ongoing-discrimination-problem-the-rebecca-chapman-story
· A November Washington Blade story about award-winning singer-songwriter Levi Kreis recounting discrimination as a student http://www.washingtonblade.com/2010/11/24/great-balls-of-honesty/ .
Belmont University is a private university and its board of trustees must determine which policies and practices best fit its mission, even as we hope to see policy change at this important Nashville institution. But we believe it is imperative that the Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County not entangle itself in situations that may give rise to discrimination. Relationships with private entities or individuals should not compromise the principle of equal opportunity that has been reaffirmed many times by the Metropolitan Government.
We do not seek new legislation or, at this point, any alteration in the city’s relationships with Belmont. We seek clarity and accountability with respect to the city’s relationship with Belmont and its key officials.
Therefore, we request that the Metropolitan Council’s
· Convention, Tourism and Public Entertainment Facilities Committee discuss with the chairman of the Convention Center Authority, who is also chairman of the Belmont University board of trustees, whether his publicly expressed views about gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people will inhibit his ability to represent Nashville as a welcoming city in which to do business
· Personnel, Public Information, Human Relations, Housing Committee hold a hearing with the chairman of the Convention Center Authority, who is chairman of the Belmont University board of trustees, to determine whether his publicly expressed views about gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people inhibit his ability to uphold the 2009 ordinance that forbids discrimination against Convention Center Authority employees based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Questions should be raised about his awareness of and assent to the law, as well as the chairman’s role in the hiring, evaluation, promotion, and discipline of Convention Center Authority employees
· Parks, Library, and Recreation Committee determine whether the Rose Park relationship brings the risk of discrimination against gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender persons in the provision of services. The space is to be used for athletics, an area of the university’s life that has received significant negative attention in the national media. The Metropolitan Government should assure the public that this important relationship will not implicate our city in further detrimental incidents.
We are grateful for your service to Nashville and we hope that you will seek information that will be valuable in assuring our fellow citizens that the Metropolitan Government is acting conscientiously to avoid any arrangement that enables discrimination.
Yours,H.G. Stovall, President
Chris Sanders, Chair, Nashville Committee
P.O. Box 330895
Nashville, TN 37203
Saturday, December 11, 2010
Have you been reading and listening carefully to the reports and statements about discrimination at Belmont University? If you have, you might have noticed that there's a lot of talk about sexual orientation but there needs to be more discussion of gender identity.
When the topic comes up, it's up to you and me to make sure gender identity is included in the discussion.
Guess what! There's a great word that can help--AND. That simple conjunction has the power to make our movement inclusive. "Sexual orientation AND gender identity"--see, it's easy.
Why it's important: Transgender people experience an unusually high level of discrimination and violence in our society. We all know that. The trick is to remember it every time we're talking about changing a policy. Adding just sexual orientation doesn't protect transgender people. Here's an axiom of activism: If you don't ask specifically for something (namely, the inclusion of gender identity), you have almost no chance of getting it. So ask for it!
I want to reiterate what TEP said in our statement on Monday:
"Therefore, we call on the Belmont University board of trustees to reconsider these actions and to amend their policies to protect staff, faculty, and students from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity."
There's not a superfluous word in that sentence. We think the policy change should protect faculty, staff, and students and it should include both sexual orientation AND gender identity. If we as a community are not united in calling for every bit of that, people who need protection will be left out. And that's not acceptable.
Are you willing to use the word AND to make a difference?
Monday, December 6, 2010
Many of you have heard about the termination of Lisa Howe, Belmont University's women's soccer coach. Some reports say she resigned, others that she was fired after she revealed to university officials that she and her partner are going to have a child. Students at Belmont, including members of the women's soccer team, have stated publicly that Coach Howe was asked to resign or fired. Adding to the confusion, Belmont's own statements on the matter have changed in light of the public outcry.
As the law stands, Belmont has the right to take any of these actions. But having the legal right to do something doesn't make it right or prudent. Belmont's actions are embarrassing for Tennessee. They do not express a true commitment to diversity and they fall short of the marks of an institution of higher learning. Discrimination shows a reckless disregard for the lives of those it affects. It is particularly cruel and repugnant to terminate a talented, winning coach who has earned the loyalty of her players when she is about to start a family at a time when jobs are scarce.
Therefore, we call on the Belmont University board of trustees to reconsider these actions and to amend their policies to protect staff, faculty, and students from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
This incident is also a painful reminder that the Tennessee Human Rights Act lacks protections for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender persons. The people of our state need to begin a serious dialogue about amending the Act to include sexual orientation and gender identity. Many leading employers in Tennessee have already added these protections to their policies including the following: the University of Tennessee, Vanderbilt University, the Tennessee Board of Regents schools, Metro Nashville Public Schools, the Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County, Volkswagen, AT&T, Bank of America, SunTrust, Dell, OfficeMax, FedEx, Caterpillar, UPS, etc.
Tennessee can only move forward when we truly value the merit and talent of our workforce. That won't happen until employees can work without fearing discrimination and that includes discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
Thursday, December 2, 2010
The other victim who was hit by the assailant called the police. Four Jackson Police Department officers responded to the scene. Officer Ashley M. McCullar interviewed Akasha, her mother, and the woman who was attacked. At first, Officer McCullar treated Akasha with respect. But Akasha noticed a marked change in attitude towards her when the officer learned she was transgender (Akasha's photo I.D. lists her name as Johnathan Quick):
When the officer first arrived on the scene and asked about the assault, he addressed me as she then asked for my i.d. and my name. [When] the officer saw that it was a male name, and I was a male to female transexual, he immediately changed his demeanor in how he treated me and the other witnesses. He rolled his eyes and turned his back to not look at me and said that he had 'other places to be.' There was no more conversation directed to me but to fellow officers and [other] people. He was short and rude/dismissive to witnesses and to the officers I was the 'He not She.' The officer told my mother that the case would take a few days to write up and he would get the surveillance tape and then walked away. In the officer report he put in that "the black male then defended himself and put Quick in his place."After learning that Akasha was transsexual, Akasha states that the officer made no real attempt to apprehend the suspect nor cared to view the surveillance video knowing that the suspect had not yet left the store.
|Akasha's injuries were so severe |
that her teeth could not be saved.
Akasha's mother posted about the incident on her Facebook page. A Kohl's employee posted a comment in response which read: "no it happened before I got there. i got there at 5 AM. they said it was a guy and a guy dressed up as a woman . they said the he/she/it got its wig knocked off and some teeth knocked out." The employee may not have realized that Akasha's mother was relating an incident about her own child. The employee later deleted the comment from Facebook, but the comment was preserved in a forwarded Facebook email. The comment provides evidence of insensitivity and bias against transgender people on behalf of Kohl's employees.
Since the incident, Akasha and her mother tried to call attention to this gruesome attack, the lack of response by Koh'ls Store employees, and the bias exhibited by the Jackson Police Department by contacting local media (including WBBJ and the Jackson Sun newspaper). In a Jackson Sun report on Black Friday, Jackson Police minimized Akasha's injury:
The damage to Kris’ ankle is slight and likely not as painful as the punch in the mouth taken by one shopper at Kohl’s. Jackson police said two people got into a fight at that department store sometime before its 3 a.m. scheduled opening. Police said one person was socked in the mouth, but there were no serious injuries.
Akasha and her mother filed a complaint against the officer and asked for a written copy of the police report. The report given to Akasha omits a statement collected from an "unknown witness" cited in a separate section of the report recording the observations of Officer McCullar. The Officer recorded that the unknown witness said "Quick was outside in line and became upset with the black male subject and Quick then threw the first punch, the black male then defended him self and put Quick in his place." It appears that Officer McCullar is witholding part of the report that may shed light on whether the officer was recording his own transgender bias or that of the unknown witness. The other witness was the other woman attacked by the assailant at the entrance. What reason would she have to say that Akasha had been put in her place?
When Akasha and her mother contacted the Jackson Police Department to complain about their mistreatment, they were informed that JPD could not obtain a copy of the video surveillance from Kohl's without a subpoena. Since when is a subpoena necessary when a crime is committed?
Kohl's contacted Akasha today to request that she visit the store to complete an incident report for their company. When Akasha informed Kohl's representative of JPD's statement about needing a subpoena for the surveillance video, she was told that the police were welcome to a copy. Kohl's appears to be responding more appropriately at this stage, but the company appears to share liability for allowing an uncontrolled mob to put its customers at risk on store property. Let's hope that Kohl's cooperates in a full investigation of the incident by sharing the video and offers some assistance to Akasha with her medical bills.
This story is still unfolding, but several things are clear. Kohl's staff stood idly by while one of its customers was brutally attacked by an assailant who was allowed to walk freely into the store. Comments from store personnel demonstrate transgender bias of employees. The Jackson Police Department demonstrated bias in their treatment of Akasha, their minimization of her injuries, and in their reporting of the incident. JPD bias immediately following the incident may make it impossible to find the assailant and bring him to justice.
At this time Akasha is considering options on whether to pursue civil rights complaints.
Wednesday, December 1, 2010
On Tuesday, the Illinois House passed the civil unions bill and today the Senate did the same.
"Closer" is the only word I know to capture the situation.
Closer to being law: The bill has yet to be signed by Gov. Pat Quinn, but that is expected to happen soon. Still, nerves are bound to be raw after all the effort put into passing the bill. It always seems as if there is just one more hurdle. As they say, the waiting is the hardest part.
Closer to equality: We all know that civil unions aren't full marriage equality. And even if a marriage bill had passed, we know same-sex marriages in Illinois wouldn't be recognized in most states or by the federal government. And a civil union doesn't confer all the same benefits of a marriage even at the state level, but...what an amazing achievement! Even the benefits conferred by a civil union will help real couples support each other and their families better than they currently can. We should celebrate the hard work of activists and lawmakers in passing this legislation. It is incredibly hard passing positive protections for our community.
Closer to Tennessee: Tennessee still doesn't border any states that offer civil unions or marriage equality. But Southern Illinois is just a barge ride up the river and Chicago is a quick and relatively cheap flight from Nashville and Memphis. Is this as close as Tennessee is going to get to any form of relationship recognition until the federal courts get involved? The bill reminds us that no public body in Tennessee offers a health insurance partner benefit--not State government for its employees, not our public colleges and universities, and not our cities and counties. Might achieving partner benefits in some public body or institution be a good move in the next couple of years for Tennessee's gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community? It's worth taking another look.
Finally, I have to wonder what impact the development has in Northwest Tennessee where news likely pours in from Kentucky, Missouri, and Illinois. Will it increase the temptation for same-sex couples to move? Or will they most simply take a moment to acknowledge the news, swallow hard, and mentally try to move on from facing the ramifications of living in a state that has a marriage discrimination amendment to its constitution instead of civil unions or partner benefits? And what will their neighbors think? Nothing because it doesn't affect them? Or will they have a moment of empathy for their GLBT neighbors or will they say, "Thank God we don't live in Illinois; it's just so liberal"?
Unfortunately, I suspect that's as far as it all goes--a series of private, disconnected reflections not leading to any advances for people who need public protections for their relationships. The gains of states around us bring a sting of pain for those of us in Tennessee, but we still celebrate this important advance for the people of Illinois.