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.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Presidential proclamation on Pride month and the remaining items on the equality checklist

President Obama has issued his proclamation of June as Pride month. After detailing the actions his administration has taken, which are far more than his predecessors though themselves fraught with compromise, he lays out remaining issues to be addressed as we move toward full equality:

"Much work remains to fulfill our Nation's promise of equal justice under law for LGBT Americans. That is why we must give committed gay couples the same rights and responsibilities afforded to any married couple, and repeal the Defense of Marriage Act. We must protect the rights of LGBT families by securing their adoption rights, ending employment discrimination against LGBT Americans, and ensuring Federal employees receive equal benefits. We must create safer schools so all our children may learn in a supportive environment. I am also committed to ending "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" so patriotic LGBT Americans can serve openly in our military, and I am working with the Congress and our military leadership to accomplish that goal."

I am glad to see repeal of DOMA, adoption rights, ENDA (vaguely) , and safe schools mentioned. These are all advances that would help Tennessee's GLBT community given the constant fight we have over adoption, the lack of employment protections, ongoing challenges with bullying, and our state constitutional amendment that enshrines marriage discrimination. I think the President's remarks also acknowledge that what the Senate Arms Services Committee and the full House have passed is not yet a real repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell.

The President's proclamation is hopeful. The questions that remain are how hard the President is willing to work to advance these proposals and how hard the community is going to have to work to bring pressure to bear on him and the Congress to cross the finish line.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Don't Ask, Don't Tell "repeal" compromise advances in Senate committee, full House

On Thursday the Senate Armed Services Committee and the full House of Representatives advanced the compromise measure toward the eventual repeal of the military's 17-year-old Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy that bars gays, lesbians, and bisexuals from serving openly in the military.

Tennessee's congressional delegation doesn't appear to have played a significant role in the proceedings in either body. Neither senator from Tennessee is on the Armed Services Committee. Congressman Zach Wamp rose briefly for a parliamentary question about adding time for debate. His smirk betrayed the move as an effort at delay. The House roll call is not available yet. UPDATE: Now the votes are available. AYE = Cohen, Cooper, and Gordon. NO = Blackburn, Davis, Duncan, Roe, Tanner, and Wamp.

The amendment is not what the GLBT community had hoped for or called for. It does not stop discharges of servicemembers. It provides no comprehensive non-discrimination policy. It doesn't even guarantee a repeal at the end of the Pentagon study. But it is the path to repeal that was available in this Congress. It is also a path that GLBT servicemembers' groups got behind. So, as with much legislation, most of the community held their noses, supported it, and worked for passage.

There are still a few steps left in passage of the bill carrying the amendment, but there is reason for optimism that it will pass and the process of real repeal can begin. Tonight is not a victory, but it is another chance.

-Chris Sanders

TEP partners with Friends for Life for HIV/AIDS Advocacy program

Tennessee Equality Project has partnered with Friends for Life in Memphis to teach advocacy skills to people living with and affected by HIV. Friends for Life launched an eight-week Advocacy Academy on May 19 funded by a grant from the Ford Foundation. Approximately 20 people enrolled in the class.

TEP will provide training on how to contact and speak to elected officials and research information on local and state government. TEP will also consult with graduates of the Advocacy Academy to develop a field plan focused on the advancement of HIV/AIDS public policy.

TEP has offered training in advocacy for several years to its members and allies for many years to prepare citizens for Advancing Equality Day on the Hill in Nashville and other local legislative initiatives. The advocacy skills taught in TEP workshops are not only useful for LGBT people and their allies. Such skills are valuable for anyone willing to advocate for public policy. Friends for Life approached TEP because of its strong track record for empowering the voices of sexual minorities in Shelby County and Tennessee.

TEP looks forward to empowering the voices of those living with HIV.

-Jonathan Cole

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Hate crimes based on sexual orientation go down in 2009

According to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation's crime statistics, hate crimes based on sexual orientation went down in Tennessee in 2009 vs the previous year. There were 52 sexual bias crimes in 2009 vs 60 in 2008.

Nevertheless, there were incidents in Nashville. The Tennessean describes two:

"In March, a man walking downtown on Second Avenue was confronted by a man who asked if he was gay. When he responded that he was gay, the other man punched him in the mouth. The victim required stitches."


"In December, a man walking near Second Avenue North and Commerce Street with his friends was called an anti-gay slur, punched and tossed to the ground. He was treated for a dislocated elbow."

Overall, the report is good news. The report is a reminder that areas that are becoming more tolerant such as Nashville still have work to do in reducing the number of bias related incidents.

The report does not cover crimes based on gender identity unless it is now putting such crimes in with the category gender. The federal hate crimes law was signed in 2009 which covers both sexual orientation and gender identity, so hopefully the 2010 report that comes out next year will have a full breakdown of statistics. The lack of specific reporting is another reason to pass the Richardson/Marrero bill in the Legislature that would add gender identity and expression to the state hate crimes statute.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Politics of Ignorance: Marriage Rhetoric in TN Elections

A quick comment on the appearance of rhetoric about marriage in the upcoming August primary in Tennessee and the need for protections against job discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in our state. Video link here: . Best of all, you get to push (or punch, if you prefer) my nose to play the video.

-Chris Sanders

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Harvey Milk the state activist

May 17 is the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia and May 22 is Harvey Milk Day. So this week we're going to look at issues in activism in the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community.

We're going to start out with Harvey Milk as a statewide activist, a role near and dear to us at the Tennessee Equality Project. Take a look at this fascinating interview Milk gave about the Briggs Initiative (Proposition 6) that would have banned gays and lesbians from working in California's public schools:

In some ways, the whole movement is summed up in this interview. Milk moves easily from local to state to federal politics. He is fully conversant with the religious arguments and is staking out a constructive position of his own. He takes the divisions within the community in stride and calls everyone to get involved rather than criticize. He's making common cause with labor and racial and ethnic minorities. He presents in ten minutes so much of the blue print we're still trying to follow today. Best of all, he represents American optimism at its best, an optimism that was richly rewarded with the defeat of the Briggs Initiative.

-Chris Sanders

Won't you be my neighbor? The Neighborhood Movement and Equality in Nashville

Discussing the lack of openly gay country stars with the recent and notable exception of Chely Wright, The Independent (Ireland) observed yesterday:

"Yet Nashville has no corresponding equivalent of San Francisco's Castro district."

Certainly there is the business district on Church Street and there is a significant presence in East Nashville and in the 37212 Zip code, but the Nashville GLBT community is pretty well spread out in Davidson County. The Independent is basically right; we are without a defining gay neighborhood.

Coincidentally yesterday was also the Neighborhood Summit in Nashville sponsored by the Nashville Neighborhood Defense Fund, MNEA, IAFF (Nashville Firefighters), FOP, and SEIU. I attended to get a better understanding of the language of "neighborhood" that so animates Metro politics. I've specifically been interested in the points of connection and divergence between the neighborhood movement and our work for equality in Nashville. It's particularly important considering the passion that neighborhood issue evoke, equal to our own in the fight against discrimination.

Points of contact: Neighborhood associations and two of the sponsoring organizations of the Neighborhood Summit (SEIU and IAFF) endorsed the Metro non-discrimination ordinance last year. The majority of the current and former Metro Council Members who spoke at the summit have supported non-discrimination efforts. Current Council Members Emily Evans, Mike Jameson (who was a sponsor of the 2009 ordinance), and Jason Holleman all supported the ordinance. Former Council Members Ginger Hausser and David Briley supported the 2003 ordinance. It's difficult to find a theoretical point of contact, but it appears that many of the leading neighborhood advocates also happen to be equality advocates in our city.

Points of divergence: There aren't really any direct points of divergence. When it comes to GLBT homeowners, I don't hear any Not In My Back Yard rhetoric. Maybe that was part of old Nashville, but not so much now. Understandably the two movements will sometimes back very different candidates for office.

Why is that? The GLBT community is perhaps not as suspicious of business and development as the average person involved in his or her neighborhood. I think that's because business has led the public sector in establishing non-discrimination policies and providing partner benefits. I'm not making the case that our community shouldn't have a healthy suspicion of business and development interests. But I think this difference makes it so difficult for us to wrap our minds around why the Nashville Neighborhood Defense Fund endorsed Carolyn Baldwin Tucker for Vice Mayor in 2007. But NNDF didn't make that endorsement based on her opposition to the 2003 non-discrimination ordinance. It wasn't any attempt to glorify those positions at all.

That's precisely why it's important for equality advocates in Nashville to do more homework on neighborhood concerns if we want to be effective. It's a source of passion and power in our city's politics that could lead to new strategies for advancing legislation. Given the strong involvement of a number of members of our community in their neighborhoods, there's every reason to believe we can make those connections if we try.

-Chris Sanders

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Anti-equality candidates make the news in Tennessee

As the flood water recede and we all continue with recovery efforts, the work for equality resumes and just in time. Anti-gay candidates are making the news in Tennessee.

Shelby County: A hat tip to Jonathan Cole for the link to this piece in the Commercial Appeal describing the increasingly partisan dynamic we can expect on the Shelby County Commission in August. Republican Terry Roland will be joining the Commission and here's what we know about him:

Roland, from Millington, is well known for his ability to raise the volume on issues, demonstrating it forcefully last year as a citizen during debate over an anti-discrimination ordinance opponents said provided unneeded protection based upon sexual orientation.

"I'm not looking for a fight, but I'm not backing down from one," Thomas said. "I'm not going to lay down and let people roll over us."

His colleague Chris Thomas is ready to fight, too:

But Thomas said, "If we are in the minority and there are things we are strongly opposed to, I am going to sound the alarm and try to put public pressure on them. Sometimes when you are in the minority, it's what you have to do."

The Commission has added social conservatives ready for battle at a time when the Family Action Council of Tennessee has hired a new director of community relations for Shelby County. Given the growth of TEP's own Shelby County Committee and the fact that we'll have two officers and a total of five board members from the Memphis area, the Mid-South will continue to be an important battleground for equality issues.

8th Congressional District: The story of 8th District congressional candidate Ron Kirkland's remarks about violence against gay servicemembers and Don't Ask, Don't Tell has now entered its third week. Kirkland's comments are beginning to become part of the way he is defined as a candidate even as other controversial statements are added to the mix, as the Jackson Sun's Nicholas Beadle points out:

While his comment about gays being "taken care of" in the military has drawn far more attention, another remark 8th Congressional District candidate Ron Kirkland made about illegal immigration at an April Tea Party forum in Paris has also raised some eyebrows.

Equality advocates will keep up the pressure. There were letters to the editor of the Jackson Sun and the Tennessean last week about Kirkland's joke about violence. As of Sunday morning 190 people have clicked through this trackable link to contact the Kirkland campaign to call for him to apologize and to support the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell. We're not holding our breath, but we will continue to draw attention to the issue. The summer is looking pretty busy.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Ron Kirkland the prophet: National liberals are NOW coming after him

In yesterday's Jackson Sun, Dr. Ron Kirkland, candidate for TN's 8th district congressional seat, said that "liberal forces from all over the country" were attacking him. Presumably that letter was written on Saturday. At that point, the story wasn't national. Now it is. National gay blog Good As You called out Dr. Kirkland today:

Oh no, please, Mr. Kirkland -- do go ahead and describe it to us. We'd love to hear it. Really. It'd be somewhat refreshing in this world where brute injustices are often covered up with the constant claims that "gays are seeking special rights."

Think Progress has also picked up the story.

Dr. Kirkland may not be good at compassion, or good at interpreting the Constitution, but he does have the gift of prophecy. We've only been alerting our fellow Tennesseans to the story and asking them to contact him. But he has succeeded in getting the national attention he had predicted. Congratulations, Dr. Kirkland.

If any of you--whether you're part of the "liberal forces all over the country" or just a Tennessean who advocates equality--would like to contact the Kirkland campaign and register your opinion, you can do so at this link.

Update: Huffington Post , Memphian Evan Hurst at Truth Wins Out, and Bianca Phillips of the Memphis Flyer pick up the story.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Ron Kirkland tries to make himself the victim

You can't find a direct link to it, but Dr. Ron Kirkland has finally responded to the demand that he apologize for joking about violence against gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender servicemembers in a letter to the editor of the Jackson Sun:

Candidate Kirkland stands by his conservative values

Since recent reports have been published about the Tea Party Forum in Paris on Thursday evening and my defense of the “Don't ask, don't tell” policy in the U.S. military, I have been attacked by liberal forces from all over the country. Allow me to be perfectly clear. I will not back down. When any of us is cowered into apologizing for speaking the truth, our constitutional freedoms are diminished, not increased.

Allow me to be perfectly clear about my position on this issue. I support the 'Don't ask, don't tell' policy currently in force in our military. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen have recently asked our liberal president to not tamper with the current policy until a military commission can further study the issue.

As an Army veteran who served our country in Vietnam, I know the unique demands of military service. I believe that 'Don't ask, don't tell' best protects the safety of all of our service men and women and helps remove unneeded distractions from a sometimes uncomfortable, unpleasant and stressful military environment.

I do not condone nor support violence against any of our fellow Americans, especially in our military. But the fact remains that mistreatment sometimes does occur, and “Don't ask, don't tell” helps prevent it.

I understand that not everyone agrees with my policy positions, and there may be further attacks on my strong pro-life, pro-traditional marriage and limited government positions. My response then will be the same as it is now. I will stand strong for our conservative Tennessee values.


Dr. Kirkland is trying to assume the mantle of the victim, but this is a diversion from the violence against GLBT servicemembers that he was joking about and for which he still fails to apologize. He predictably says that liberals all over the country are attacking him. No, not really. The story really hasn't gone national yet. Just a blip outside Tennessee. We've only asked the people of Tennessee to contact him here, as we did yesterday in this video:

Over 140 people from Tennessee appeared to have contacted the campaign.

He says that he doesn't condone violence against anyone. Perhaps, but his remarks were still outrageous and not fit for a doctor who is running for Congress.

He then goes on to make the argument that Don't Ask, Don't Tell actually makes GLBT servicemembers safer. The argument is ridiculous. Allowing servicemembers to serve openly and honestly without a policy that tells them to go into hiding is the best route to making everyone safe. How can anyone be safe when compelled to lie?

Late addition on the First Amendment: As I thought more about Dr. Kirkland's letter, I realized that he completely turned the First Amendment on its head. He's complaining that people are trying to get him to cower and that threatens his "constitutional freedoms." He presumably means First Amendment free speech. He is wrong about that, first, because the First Amendment protects citizens from government abridging speech, not candidates from being challenged by citizens. But he is also off base because he ignored the last part of the First Amendment: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances." It is the job of citizens to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. If he can't handle it as a candidate, how is he going to handle it as a Congressman?

The rhetoric of the Kirkland campaign is as bankrupt as the Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

TEP calls on Dr. Ron Kirkland to apologize for his joke and to support repeal of DADT

For background on the story you can go to this story in the Jackson Sun. To contact the Kirkland campaign, go to the form on his campaign website.

Note: We had to shoot the video quickly because of the tornado watch and floods, so sorry about being a bit rushed.