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.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Yes, you can still be fired for being gay or transgender in TN

In an otherwise wonderful piece in today's Tennessean on the hiring practices of a local charity, there was an important error:

Today, that has changed. New employees at World Relief have to prove they are Christians. They sign a statement of Christian faith and must get a letter of recommendation from their minister before being hired. At most workplaces, that would be illegal.But religious nonprofits, even those that get government grants, get special exemptions. They can hire and fire employees based on their religion or sexual orientation — something other employers can't do.

Yes, other employers in Tennessee can fire you for being straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender. There are no employment laws at the federal, state, or local level that would protect a Nashvillian or anyone in Tennessee employed in the private sector from being fired on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. That's precisely why the GLBT community is pressing so hard for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act or ENDA. Individual employers have inclusive policies such as AT&T, Vanderbilt University, and now Metro government, but there is no blanket law covering everyone.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Murfreesboro City Elections begin

Early voting starts Wednesday, March 31 for Murfreesboro city elections. Voters will choose three City Council members, a mayor, and three school board members, according to the sample ballot.

There isn't much diversity in Murfreesboro city government these days. All the Council members are men with only one African-American member. That may change if Madelyn Scales Harris is successful in her bid. Another interesting note in this election is the candidacy of MTSU student Thomas Connor Moss.

Election Day is April 20.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Tennessee's public square goes silent: Southcomm lays off state's most read political blogger

It was announced today that SouthComm (a media company that owns the City Paper, the Nashville Scene, and other outlets) has laid off seven employees including blogger Adam Kleinheider of Post Politics .

You might ask what this development has to do with Tennessee's GLBT community. The answer is plenty. Kleinheider's blog aggregated everything political and that included equality issues. He brought the battles for equality at the local, state, and federal level to thousands of consumers of mainstream political news in Tennessee.

It was the one essential site where you could find political news and commentary that got you up to speed for the day. And as I said, that included political news affecting the GLBT community. Apart from Out & About Newspaper, Kleinheider's blog was probably the most important way that straight politicos in Tennessee learned about the advances and retreats on important issues like the adoption ban, employment discrimination, marriage equality, and Don't Ask, Don't Tell. With a few exceptions such as Wendi Thomas and Bianca Phillips, Tennessee's print journalism isn't covering those issues with much depth or frequency.

More generally, Post Politics was a place where conservatives and progressives met to argue and engage in dialogue. It gave Tennessee politics a new mirror of itself. I say "it." In reality, it was one man. Previously at a similar blog called Volunteer Voters hosted by WKRN, Adam showed us a gap in Tennessee's political discourse that we didn't even know existed before he created just the thing to fill it. We didn't know we needed a place online where we could see it all and discuss it all. We hope he'll find another venue soon.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Housing discrimination finally getting much deserved attention

If you experience housing discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in Tennessee, you don't have many options. In fact, you only have one option, and that's if you live in Davidson County, and it's a very limited option. You can report it to the Metro Human Relations Commission. You will not be able to get the complaint resolved because there is no local ordinance, state statute, or federal law that will rectify the discrimination you've experienced. The Tennessee Human Rights Commission, for example, does not include sexual orientation or gender identity on its complaint form.

Despite the media focus on Don't Ask, Don't Tell and marriage, housing issues are very much on the minds of many in our community. Last week someone forwarded me an email exchange about a man in Nashville who had experienced housing discrimination. The victim was shocked that no laws applied. I was also recently asked about homeless shelters that are inclusive of transgender people.

The federal government is finally paying attention to these questions. Congressman Jerrold Nadler (D-New York) has introduced a bill that would amend the Fair Housing Act of 1968 to include discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. It is called the Fair and Inclusive Housing Rights Act of 2010 (H.R. 4820). Another encouraging sign is the recent announcement by the Department of Housing and Urban Development that they are going to study housing discrimination against the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community.

My guess is that the federal housing bill won't move a great deal until the study is completed, but that's no reason to hold off pushing for it. We'd love to see Congressmen Steve Cohen and Jim Cooper (and others) sign on as co-sponsors of the bill. With their support of ENDA and last year's hate crimes bill, it shouldn't be much of a stretch for them to support Congressman Nadler's legislation. Like protection from violence and employment discrimination, access to housing is one of the basics. The bill is easily in sync with the views of their constituents.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Southern GLBT youth running the gauntlet for prom

2010 is the year the prom became ground zero for the culture war in the South. Constance McMillin wanted to bring another young woman to prom in Itawamba County, Mississippi and was denied by school officials. The ACLU sued, so the school canceled prom. But now there's going to be a private prom and the story goes back and forth about whether everyone can attend with his or her chosen date. I'm betting not.

Inspired by Constance's stand, Derrick Martin of Cochran, Georgia decided to approach his school about bringing another young man to his prom. At first the school denied his request, but then they decided to grant it. As a consequence, his parents threw him out of the house. And people in the community have decided to protest the school's decision to be inclusive.

So let's summarize. First, people who are barely adults have to take a risk getting thrown out of their homes, risk getting denied by public school officials, and risk setting off the wrath of their community FOR PROM! Can anyone seriously deny that gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender youth are substantially more likely to commit or attempt suicide than their heterosexual peers?

I think if you asked people in these two small towns (before Constance and Derrick made their requests) what prom is about, they would say things like a high point of the school year, a rite of passage, a night of fun for the students; the word special would no doubt appear over and over. But now that these two extremely brave students have asked to have a night of fun, experience this rite of passage, and commemorate a high point of the school year with someone they care about, the prom is revealed to be a celebration and defense of heterosexuality.

No? Sounds like something from a p.c workshop at a lefty university? Well, here's what people in Derrick Martin's home town said:

"We knew Derrick was gay," said Keith Bowman Jr., a high school senior who showed up at the rally. "They don't want (Cochran) to be known as a pro gay town."

Most of the dozen attending the rally said they weren't bothered by Martin being gay or being allowed to attend prom with his partner. But they said the school system's decision has brought too much attention to their small town.

"People who don't know the area will think it reflects on everybody," said John Smith, a grandfather who owns an air-conditioning business in Cochran.

Guess what, Mr. Bowman and Mr. Smith, how you include or exclude people does reflect on the entire town. So we can now add another part to the gauntlet: (a) your parents might throw you out, (b) the school might say no, (c) the community might reject you, and (d) you have to keep quiet about it.

Issues like these are exactly why two events happening at opposite ends of the state in the coming weeks are so important. Jonathan has written in a previous post about the Stand for All Families Rally happening on Monday in Shelby County. The event will highlight those in Shelby County who stand for a message of inclusion in response to the Tony Perkins/Family Action Council of Tennessee event happening the same day. And on April 16 students in Knoxville will hold their Breaking the Silence event to bring attention to anti-GLBT violence and bullying in schools.

What these two events and the stands taken by Constance and Derrick illustrate is that youth are providing valuable leadership for inclusion in our communities and there are views that run counter to the kind of ideology that leads to invisibility, violence, and the pressure to take your own life. But can we step out of the situation for a second and acknowledge it's insane that we're making kids fight for the chance to participate in the prom and fight to be safe in our public schools?

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Stand for ALL Families in Shelby County

In collaboration with the Raise Your Voice Committee of the Memphis Gay and Lesbian Community Center, TEP invites you to participate in a rally to Stand for ALL Families at Neshoba Unitarian Universalist Church (7350 Raleigh-Lagrange Rd. in Cordova) on Monday, March 29. The rally will begin with a light supper at 6 PM followed by a diverse group of speakers at 7 PM celebrating loving families that include all people whether they are gay, lesbian, bi, straight, or transgender.

The occasion will directly confront a decidedly anti-family message given just a few miles from Neshoba on the same night. Bellevue Baptist Church is hosting Tony Perkins, a nationally known anti-gay activist, to commemorate the opening of Family Action Council of Tennessee's office in Cordova. The event is called “Stand for the Family: a rally to celebrate and promote traditional families.” Supporters of this event would like you to believe that “traditional” families are under attack. The reality is that “FACT” and their supporters are spreading an anti-family message of irrational fear and misinformation.

So, who is the Family Action Council of Tennessee and why are they coming to Shelby County?

FACT is a statewide organization that lobbies against fairness and equality that is struggling to establish a foothold in our back yard. FACT actively seeks to prevent loving families from adopting children (particularly gay, lesbian and other unmarried parents), opposes stable relationships and marriages for gay and lesbian couples, promotes LGBT discrimination in the workplace and seeks to dehumanize the lesbian, gay, bi, and transgender citizens of Tennessee.

Last year, a broad and diverse community of people gathered in support of local legislation that secured LGBT-inclusive workplace protections for Shelby County employees. The passage of the legislation sent a message statewide that Shelby County is an inclusive community that welcomes all people regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or gender identity and all people should be able to make a living and support their families without the fear of unfair discrimination in the workplace. Our local efforts caught some by surprise including the Family Action Council of Tennessee.

By inviting nationally-known anti-gay activists from outside Tennessee to Monday's event at Bellevue, FACT and their supporters plan to send an exclusive message to elected officials that only certain families that meet their narrow definition should be supported and protected. It's time to raise your voice and rally to celebrate every loving family in Shelby County.

Our message is one of inclusion: ALL parents and families want the same chance as everyone else to earn a living, be safe in their communities, serve their country, and take care of the ones they love.

Join us on Monday night and stand up for ALL families.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

TEP-PAC announces endorsements for Shelby County Commission

TEP PAC is pleased to announce several endorsements for the Primary and General Elections for the Shelby County Board of Commissioners.

These candidates have expressed a commitment to LGBT equality, and we need their voices on the Shelby County Board of Commissioners.

We encourage you to donate to and volunteer for these candidates and to vote for them if you live in their district. Click on the links on the following candidates’ names to learn more about their campaigns.

Shelby County Commission District 2, Position 3:

Both Reginald Milton and Norman Lester responded well to TEP-PAC's survey, but Reginald Milton won TEP-PAC's endorsement in the Democratic Primary and General Election. Contact Campaign Coordinator Tarrin McGee at 901-517-2870 to request a yard sign or volunteer to phone bank or canvass for Reginald Milton. Make a donation to Milton's campaign on his website ( or make it in person at the March 25th fundraising party from 6-8 PM (see Evite and on on Facebook).

Shelby County Commission District 3, Position 1:

Support and vote to re-elect incumbent James Harvey in the Democratic Primary and General Election. To volunteer for Harvey's campaign contact him at or 901-590-2348. Campaign donations may be mailed to 4118 South Plaza Blvd, Memphis, TN 38116.

Shelby County Commission District 3, Position 3:

Support incumbent Edith Moore in the Democratic Primary and General Election. You can assist Commissioner Moore's campaign by volunteering to canvass, phone bank, or hold a meet and greet for the candidate in your home. Contact Campaign Manager Ester Moore at 901-219-9109 or on web. Visit Commissioner Moore's website to learn more about her or make a donation to her campaign:

Shelby County Commission District 5:

Support and vote to re-elect incumbent Steve Mulroy in the Democratic Primary and General Election. Contact Volunteer Coordinator Savanah at 901-487-0344 to request a yard sign or volunteer to canvass or phone bank for Steve Mulroy. Visit Mulroy's website at to learn more about his positions on the issues and make a donation in support of his campaign.

Voting Information:

Early voting begins on April 14 and ends on April 29. May 4 is election day. For detailed information about early and election day voting locations and times, click here.

Let’s make sure we have strong allies on the Shelby County Commission.

TEP PAC is a state political action committee registered in Tennessee. Joyce Peacock, Treasurer. The endorsements of TEP PAC do not necessarily reflect the views of the board of the Tennessee Equality Project.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Tea with a side of hate

There's no controlling a movement. The actions of some shouldn't always define the reputation of everyone. But when members of a movement act out then everyone has a decision to make. Do you look the other way, do you apologize, do you celebrate?

Well, I'm waiting to see what the loosely organized groups that make up the tea party are going to do in light of the news that some of their members hurled racist and anti-gay epithets and spit at Black and gay members of Congress.

According to MSNBC's First Read:

African-American Congressman John Lewis (D-GA), a protege of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who helped organize the March on Washington, went to the House floor today to tell Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-SC) that a Tea Party protester called him a "n-----."

Another Democratic source confirms to NBC News that openly gay Congressman Barney Frank (D-MA) was called a "f--" by somebody in the Tea Party crowd.

Rep. Emanaul Cleaver (D-MO), another African-American member, was apparently spit on by a Tea Party protester.

Clyburn, who helped lead sit-ins in South Carolina in the '60s had this to say regarding the Tea Partiers:

"It was absolutely shocking to me, last Monday, I stayed home to meet on the campus Pomford University where 50 years ago, as of last Monday, March 15th I led the first demonstrations in South Carolina, the sit-ins...quite frankly I heard some things today that I haven't heard since that day. I heard people saying things today I've not heard since March 15th, 1960 when I was marching to try and get off the back of the bus. This is incredible, shocking to me.

Carol Swain has questioned the sources and motives behind the story in some tweets today, but concedes that it's "quite unfortunate if the incident occurred." Her questions come as a result of her views of Crewof42, a Twitter handle for Lauren Victoria Burke, whom Swain calls a "mouthpiece" of the Congressional Black Caucus.

First, I haven't seen anyone directly dispute that any of these incidents occurred. Second, I didn't notice that Swain dealt with the epithets directed at Congressman Frank. She may have, but I didn't see it. Third, it's not hard to imagine that a few individuals at a rally where the rhetoric is boiling might do just the kind of things that have been reported.

The Tea Party has already been getting a xenophobic rap. Will anti-Black and anti-gay stick, too? It depends. The leaders--and who can figure out exactly who they all are?--should condemn these actions. The outcome of the upcoming health care reform vote should give the movement plenty of opportunity for reflection on how they go forward. Part of that reflection ought to involve a frank discussion of their approach to minorities.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Divisive? Not really.

So let's go back to the discussion of the development that became public today--namely, the letter from Council Members Barry, Steine, and Cole arguing that the Metro Human Relations Commission has the authority to gather data and provide programming about gender identity discrimination and that they should use it.

One item really bugged me about the coverage in the Tennessean. Someone--whether the reporter or an editor--used this phrase: "It's the latest front in an ongoing and divisive debate about the rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender citizens in the workplace."

Is it? Is gathering data and providing diversity programming really that controversial in Middle Tennessee? I don't think it is. We'll soon see, but there's been a change that we ought to note. The story has only garnered about 27 comments as of late this afternoon, which is a lot lower than these kinds of stories got last year during the debate on the non-discrimination ordinance. The fact of passing the ordinance has made the topics of sexual orientation and gender identity less divisive.

And if you look at the rhetoric in the piece, Councilman Hodge's comments were not nearly as inflammatory as things he said on the floor of the Council last year. His comments could have been directed at any kind of issue in a variety of contexts. And that's what equality is becoming--another issue. I suspect that Councilman Hodge has realized that the world is not going to end because the ordinance passed. It doesn't even seem to have produced permanent divisions on the Council. Members (whether left or right on non-discrimination issues) find reasons to work together and work against one another on budget, zoning, and other issues.

Other developments signal a relative calm on gender identity as a public hot potato in our region. MTSU students with little fanfare voted in a referendum to add gender identity to their SGA constitution's non-discrimination policy. We've got Nashville and Murfreesboro representatives who are co-sponsors of the state hate crimes bill that would add gender identity to the current statute. Furthermore, a lot of people in Middle Tennessee work in places that already prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity--AT&T, Bank of America, and so on.

People are starting to get it more than we think. And while there are a few paranoid loudmouths freaking out about bathrooms, most people who even pause to consider the issue realize that discrimination is hard to justify and they've stopped trying.

Gender identity discrimination may receive higher profile in Metro based on Council Members' letter to Human Relations Commission

A few weeks ago, TEP approached a Metro Nashville Council Member and asked for the following guidance:

"A 2003 Metro Law opinion established that the Metro Human Relations Commission can investigate complaints of discrimination based on sexual orientation in the private sector in matters of employment and housing, hold educational programming on the same, and gather data on the same. Does the Metro Human Relations Commission have the authority to investigate complaints of discrimination based on gender identity in the private sector in matters of employment and housing, hold educational programming on the same, and gather data on the same?"

The answers to those questions is YES and that effort is moving forward, as this morning's Tennessean reports at the following link:

Metro Council Members Megan Barry, Ronnie Steine, and Erik Cole, three of the sponsors of 2009 Metro non-discrimination ordinance, have written to the Metro Human Relations Commission urging them to expand their educational programming and data collection on gender identity discrimination in the areas of housing and employment in the private sector. While not enforceable in the sense of compelling private employers and providers of housing to change their policies or stop discriminating, it is an advance in the sense that it would allow us to achieve a better picture of the discrimination occurring in Davidson County.

In contrast, the Metro non-discrimination ordinance dealt with employment discrimination in Metro government. It prohibits such discrimination and is enforceable.

TEP thanks and applauds Council Members Barry, Steine, and Cole for their action in seeking to clarify the authority of the Metro Human Relations Commission to collect data and offer educational programming on the problem of discrimination based on gender identity.

What this means is that there may now be some way for everyone who lives or works in Davidson County to report employment and housing discrimination, even though it is still not prohibited in the private sector. It is our hope that the Metro Human Relations Commission will embrace this newly established authority so that we can raise awareness of all forms of discrimination in Nashville.

We will keep you posted on further developments. If the Human Relations Commission embraces the authority to do educational programming and data collection on gender identity discrimination, as it has in the past on the basis of sexual orientation, we will provide you with further information on how to make a complaint of discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation or other factors.

Again, we offer our profound thanks to Council Members Barry, Steine, and Cole--three leaders who have worked to make Nashville a more inclusive city.

Chris Sanders, Board Chair and H.G. Stovall, President

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Misplaced Priorities, Absent Logic

Today's Commercial Appeal explores the legislative priorities that Ninth Congressional District candidate, former Mayor Willie Herenton, plans to emphasize in his campaign. The beginning of Herenton's campaign seemed focused more on racial polarization than on legislative priorities, so news of a campaign platform is a good sign. In particular, his interest in increasing funding and opportunities for pre-school and post-secondary education would go far to lift people out of poverty and grow the economy in the Ninth District. As a progressive voter, I was pleased to hear him champion this issue.

However, my heart sank as I kept reading.

Herenton's list of legislative priorities includes education, same-sex marriage, abortion, healthcare, deficit, seniors & social security, jobs and the economy, energy, and crimes.

Take a moment to reflect on the order of this list. Who can be certain if this list of legislative priorities is ranked in order of importance, but "same-sex marriage" is second on Herenton's list. With all that is going on today in this country, is "same-sex marriage" really the second most important issue on the minds of Ninth District voters --- before healthcare and jobs and the economy?

Even those who don't support marriage equality might find it troubling that same-sex marriage is #2 on Herenton's list of legislative priorities. Tennesseans voted to add discriminatory language to the state constitution in 2006 that prohibits recognition of marriages of gay couples in this state. So why is Herenton raising this issue when it was settled in Tennessee 4 years ago with 80% of the vote?

Herenton's continued high-profile inclusion of marriage discrimination in his legislative priorities disappoints, but look closely at what he says about it:

I am unalterably opposed to same-sex marriage base [sic] on my personal values and religious foundation. However, I also opposed any form of discrimination based on sexual orientation.
The above statement makes no sense. The second sentence does not logically follow the first. If Herenton opposes any form of discrimination based on sexual orientation, then he would support marriage equality for gay and lesbian couples. Denying gay couples the right to marry and denying recognition of a gay couple’s marriage license from another state is discrimination based on sexual orientation. Plain and simple.

The above statement begs important questions.

How do Herenton's personal values and religious foundation allow him to support legislation that promotes LGBT-inclusive employment protections? Faith leaders in the last several decades began to recognize the need for equal protection in employment for LGBT workers, but it has not always been this way.

On what rational basis does civil marriage equality violate his personal values and religious foundation? No church is required to perform any civil marriage – gay or straight – even in states where marriage equality is the law. Churches and other religious organizations are free to deny their blessing of a marriage on any grounds. But is the government?

Examples in current law are helpful in illustrating this troubling position. In this country, it is currently illegal to discriminate against a person applying for a job because of their race or religious affiliation. Our society has made it clear that a black person can apply for any job and have a legal recourse if they are not hired because of the color of his or her skin. The law also protects job applicants from being discriminated against because they are Christian, Jewish, Muslim, etc.

While it has not always been so, it is illegal in this country to refuse a marriage license to inter-racial or inter-faith couples. A black person can marry a white person. A Christian can marry a Jew.

Our society and government have determined that there is no rational basis for denying employment or a marriage license to persons because of their race or religion. Rational arguments now favor extending equal protections in employment and marriage for sexual orientation.

Herenton owes voters in the Ninth District a rational explanation of his position. First, why is marriage discrimination in his list of legislative priorities? Second, how does he explain his dissonant view on LGBT equality?

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Ignoring Southern states has hampered equality

News items over the last few weeks have made it very clear that the real battle for equality is not on the coasts, but it is south of the Mason-Dixon line.

A young woman in Mississippi is denied the chance to bring her girlfriend to the prom by local school officials.

The Virginia Attorney General has issued an opinion that public universities cannot include sexual orientation and gender identity in their non-discrimination policies.

The Oklahoma Senate passed a measure to obstruct state cooperation with the federal government in enforcement of its newly inclusive hate crimes law.

The only bright spot is that the media have been shaken from their laser focus on marriage and Don't Ask Don't Tell, issues which while essential often obscure other fundamental rights the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community is fighting for. Does anyone remember a recent major story on ENDA, for example.

Shift for a moment to the federal level where more good bills than ever have been introduced. They cover issues of employment, equality in immigration, Don't Ask Don't Tell, adoption, housing, etc. Are any of them really moving? None of them fast enough, that's for sure.

Many factors are relevant to the inaction on these federal bills. Obviously the necessary focus on health care reform and the economy come to mind for anyone who has a sense of scale and context. But I want to highlight another factor--the South. Southern lawmakers on the whole aren't the leaders in introducing, sponsoring, and publicly supporting these bills. There are a few exceptions, but not nearly enough.

Ignoring this phenomenon is a strategic error. The question for the greater American GLBT community is whether we will allow the South to be neglected. It's a critical issue because the three stories above are not isolated events that only affect the people in those states and cities. They shape the ideology of those who show up in Congress to vote on key pieces of federal legislation bearing on the equality of us all. If 75+% of the members of Congress from the South won't budge on federal equality legislation, we can't expect quick passage of any bill.

So what's the answer? Yes, we've got to get more aggressively involved in the election and lobbying of Southern members of Congress. But we've also got to work harder at passing state and local protections in the South so that more Southern members of Congress represent areas that embrace equality. Two recent examples come to mind. Asheville, North Carolina is considering and Kissimmee, Florida has passed partner benefits for their city employees. In order to multiply examples like that, more of the GLBT community in the South must get involved at the local and state level. We can't stop for a moment working on the federal bills, but we've got to give more time, attention, and resources to local battles in the South.

We can do it. It's just a matter of awareness and will. If we do, we'll not only help ourselves but the whole country, too.

-Chris Sanders

"Quarantined," says VA Attorney General

If you've followed recent events in Virginia, then you know that Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli has issued an opinion that Virginia public colleges and universities can't expand their non-discrimination policies beyond the categories passed by the General Assembly. That means, according to the Attorney General, that they can't add sexual orientation and gender identity. The state's higher education community is in an uproar and fighting back, which prompted the governor to issue and executive directive, which does not have the force of law and is less authoritative than an executive order, that says that there is to be no discrimination including on the basis of sexual orientation; he left out gender identity--something that is happening quite a bit in the discussion, I might add. TIME helps catch you up if you're just now hearing about this.

Despite the fact that governor blinked a little and shifted positions a tad, the attorney general's favorite song must be "I Won't Back Down" because he is standing behind his opinion and he's using a disturbing image in his justification, according to the Washington Post:

"What I said in my March 4 letter was accurate advice under Virginia law, and it still stands," Cuccinelli said in brief comments to reporters after addressing lawmakers on an unrelated issue.

Universities, he said, "don't have any more authority than the General Assembly gives them, which is a similar position as the localities. And until the General Assembly gives them more authority, they're quarantined by what they've got."

That's right; he used the "Q" word. Google the phrase "quarantine homosexuals" and you'll see what kind of trash comes up. Normally, I'm not much on these kinds of subconscious/psychoanalytical readings of politics, but I have to say the word "quarantine" was a bit arresting. Substantively, of course, what is disturbing is that he persists in denying protection to all students, staff, and faculty of Virginia's public colleges and universities.

The whole fiasco has one up-shot, though. It has done more than any other recent news story to drive home the point that our community lacks and needs job protections. Let's hope something positive comes from it.

-Chris Sanders

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

TEP PAC endorses Steve Mulroy for Shelby County Commission

TEP PAC is pleased to announce that we endorse Steve Mulroy in the Democratic Primary for the District 5 Shelby County Commission seat and we urge you to support his campaign and vote for him if you live in this district.

Mulroy is a strong LGBT equality advocate with a record of achievement. As sponsor of the Shelby County Non-Discrimination Ordinance in 2009, he opposed discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. We need Steve's voice to remain on the Shelby County Board of Commissioners.

Steve’s desire, his passion to make things right for all is powerful. His tenacity in ensuring passage of the LGBT non-discrimination resolution in the County Commission was inspiring, and it is an honor to join the growing list of organizations endorsing Commissioner Mulroy. Tennessee Equality Project knows Steve “gets it” and he gets it done.

Voting Information: Early voting begins on April 14 and ends on April 29. May 4 is election day. For detailed information about early and election day voting locations and times, click here.

How to Help: Attend Mulroy's Campaign Kickoff and Headquarters Grand Opening on Saturday, March 20 from 11 a.m.-1 p.m. at 4661 Knight Arnold (in shopping plaza at Perkins & Knight Arnold). Burgers, dogs, and karaoke with Myron Lowery and Edmund Ford Jr.

We encourage you to donate to Steve's campaign here and to volunteer for campaign office work, canvassing and phone banking. Call (901-301-3306) or email ( Jonathan Cole for more information.

Let’s keep a strong ally on the Shelby County Commission. Please support Steve Mulroy in the District 5 Democratic Primary election.

Jenny Ford

TEP PAC is a state political action committee registered in Tennessee. Joyce Peacock, Treasurer. The endorsements of TEP PAC do not necessarily reflect the views of the board of the Tennessee Equality Project.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

The real divide in activism is between those who are involved and those who aren't.

The debates about what kind of activism is needed to advance equality are multiplying. Some are calling for direct action in the form of protests, marches, civil disobedience, etc. Others continue to rely on lobbying and a sort of detailed government relations approach. Those are probably the two ends of the spectrum. I've spent most of my time on the government relations approach, but I've protested a few times--certainly when a local hotel fired people for being gay. When Kroger and Harris Teeter dropped Out & About Newspaper from their stands, we organized a successful save-your receipts from their competitors campaign that resulted in enough pressure to reverse the decision. I have no doubt that we'll use similar tactics again.

I worry about two aspects of these debates. The first one relates to data. People take up their approach to activism based on some combination of passion (usually anger), experience, and a hypothesis about what they believe will work. I do, too. What we really need is data on what works and I wish it took into account different situations such as regional differences and the type of policy target--e.g. a non-discrimination ordinance vs. a marriage ballot measure. But there really doesn't seem to be much. So I would describe myself as a bit agnostic when it comes to absolutist statements about activism. I have my hunches about what works, but I can't say that I know for sure that something else wouldn't work.

And it is because of that uncertainty that I think we should continue but contain the debates on our approaches to activism. Hence, my second concern is that I think we're missing the real divide, which is not between the direct action folks and the government relations folks. If we step back, we realize that it's between those who are involved and those who aren't. Our task really ought to be bringing more people into the fight for equal rights. And with a diversity of approaches available now there ought to be roles for everyone. I hope that this is where our energy takes us in the new decade--bringing more people into the movement.

-Chris Sanders

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Is Herenton using the Gay community?

Former Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton -- who frequently supported the gay community while in office – is now trying to use the gay community to score political points in the race for the 9th Congressional District.

In a March 1 letter to pastors in Shelby County, Herenton wrote, “As pastors, I hope you will join me in my opposition to same-sex marriage and the legalization of marijuana,”

With these words, Herenton casts a dark shadow over his previous record of supporting the GLBT community in Memphis.

On September 25, 2000, Herenton appeared at Calvary Church in Memphis beside Judy Shepard (the mother of slain hate crime victim Matthew Shepard) to proclaim the day “Memphis Against Hate Crimes Day". During his proclamation, Herenton said:
"I'm here tonight because this great city of Memphis ought to stand tall and protest vehemently against hate crimes . . . . This should be a city where people don't have fear because of the color of our skin or the religion we practice or the person we choose to love."
Within the same year, Mayor Herenton participated in the ribbon-cutting ceremony at the grand opening of the Memphis Gay and Lesbian Community Center in the Cooper-Young Neighborhood.

In January 2009, Herenton pledged his support for a Non-Discrimination Ordinance that would protect employees of the City of Memphis and City contractors from employment discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity or expression to leaders of the Tennessee Equality Project’s Shelby County Committee.

Voters in the 9th Congressional District should hold Herenton to his own words:

This should be a city where people don't have fear because of the color of our skin or the religion we practice or the person we choose to love.

It sounds like fear is all Herenton has to offer the intended audience of his March 1 letter.

-Jonathan Cole