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.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

"What does that say about Tennessee?"

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.

-Chris Sanders

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