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.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Some of Memphis' finest are not protected on the job

Police Women of Memphis has garnered a lot of attention in Memphis and the entire country each Thursday night on the TLC channel. The women featured on the show project a positive image for Memphis and the Memphis Police Department.

The reality TV show features Officer Virginia Awkward and three other officers whose police work and interactions with the community make Memphis shine.

Last night, fans of Police Women of Memphis were treated to an inside look into the personal life of Officer Awkward. This week's episode included the renewal of marriage vows between Officer Awkard and her partner Ashley. The couple were married two years ago in Canada.

Officer Awkward recognized in the episode that her marriage is not recognized in her home state of Tennessee:

It's pretty ironic that I am a law enforcement officer, and there's a law that's keeping me from being myself.
Bur her marriage isn't the only part of her life where she has no rights. Officer Awkward has dedicated her life to protecting her community and enforcing the law. But unfortunately, current law does not protect Officer Awkard from employment discrimination on the job. Right now, she could be fired from the Memphis Police Department because she is a lesbian.

The City of Memphis needs to protect hard-working and committed employees like Officer Awkward. The Memphis City Council can do that by enacting LGBT-inclusive workplace protections with the Employment Non-Discrimination Ordinance.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Troubling news out of Memphis

Last night, Memphis City Councilwoman Janis Fullilove informed me that she had received four phone calls from unknown numbers threating her life. Each death threat referenced Fullilove's sponsorship of the LGBT-inclusive employment non-discrimination legislation supported by Tennessee Equality Project. Following these calls, someone threw a dead cat in Fullilove's front yard. Memphis Police have responded with added presence at her home. Fullilove and her family are safe for the moment.

The news is troubling and proves an important point. When I spoke to the City Council's Personnel, Intergovernmental and Annexation Committee on July 20 about two city workers who had experienced discrimination in the workplace, I mentioned that these individuals could not come forward because of fear of retaliation. These stories were met with skepticism because these individuals would not publicly share their experience. One employee was fired, so why would he continue to fear retaliation?

If an elected Memphis City Council member can be threatened and intimidated with violence for having the courage to advocate as a straight ally for LGBT inclusive workplace protections, imagine what a city employee working in sanitation services, the Police Department, or the Fire Department might experience. Gender and sexual orientation bias in the community and in the workplace is real.

Gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people are not the only ones who suffer from homophobia and transphobia in our society. Yesterday's threats prove that such irrational sickness and ugliness affects the whole community.

This incident serves to highlight why the workplace reforms sponsored by Fullilove and supported by the vast majority of Memphians is needed. Failure to enact these reforms would send a message that violence and intimidation driven by homophobia and transphobia is acceptable in the City of Memphis.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Memphians ask Mayor Wharton to take the lead on inclusive workplace protections

Take action today! If you live in Memphis, send a message to Mayor AC Wharton asking him to take the lead on LGBT inclusive workplace protections.

On July 20, a Memphis City Council committee asked Mayor Wharton to clarify his administration's position on the employment non-discrimination ordinance proposed by Councilwoman Janis Fullilove that would extend inclusive workplace protections to sexual orientation and gender identity or expression.

Mayor Wharton has a declared a vision for making Memphis a City of Choice for employers, job seekers and entrepreneurs. That vision "engages the broad community and at all times respects and embraces diversity." Cities with creative and successful economies embrace diversity in race, national origin, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation and gender identity or expression.

Call on Mayor Wharton to send a clear message of support for inclusive workplace protections to the Memphis City Council today!

And mark your calendars for each of the three readings of the employment non-discrimination ordinance before the Memphis City Council: August 10, August 24, and September 14. Equality advocates in the Memphis area must attend these Tuesday meetings at 3:30 PM at 125 North Main Street to show council members that we support LGBT inclusive workplace protections.

- Jonathan Cole, TEP Board Chair

You can help TEP promote legislation that advances LGBT equality at the local and state level. Make a contribution to TEP today at Without your financial support, your voice may not be heard.

Jobs Agenda, Equality Agenda

Marriage grabs all the headlines when it comes to so-called "gay rights" in the mainstream media. It's understandable. Relationships matter. Legally sanctioned relationships confer protections, rights, responsibilities, benefits, etc. They connect us deeply and that's why the symbolic warfare around them is so intense.

What doesn't get covered nearly often enough is the jobs agenda of the equality movement. Can you remember any story in a major Tennessee newspaper about the Employment Non-Discrimination Act in the last year? But there are some real opportunities to connect with moderate and even conservative Tennesseans on workplace equality.

Jobs are #1 for Tennesseans: The Tennessee Newspaper Network hired Mason-Dixon to conduct a poll on the priorities of the state's voters. The number one priority is jobs/economy. Only one percent of those responding saw family values, "gay rights," and the like as the most important issue. Because "gay rights" is so often defined as marriage, the majority of Tennesseans are going to continue either to oppose "gay rights" or to place our equality really far down the scale.

Dead letter until the courts get involved: Maybe it's just my opinion, but marriage equality is a dead letter in Tennessee until the courts get involved. We've got a state statute and a constitutional amendment defining marriage as one man and one woman. Given the proclivity of our state's GLBT community to send more money out of state to fight for equality than to invest it in Tennessee's fight, I don't see how it would be possible to raise enough PAC money and organize to repeal the constitutional amendment and the statute.

Straight voters and elected officials see a distinction: When given the opportunity, many straight voters and elected officials who may not support (or publicly support) marriage equality can support workplace protections from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. When TEP was working on the Metro Nashville non-discrimination ordinance, our opponents tried to make the issue about marriage. They even put stick figures holding hands on the stickers they wore into the Council hearings on the bill. But Council Members and the majority of the citizens in Nashville didn't buy it.

In fact, the justification for job protections rolls easily off the tongue. Consider what Memphis City Council Member Janis Fullilove said in an interview about the Memphis non-discrimination ordinance: "Every person has a right to make a living for his or her family or for themselves." We think that's a phrase that needs to roll off the tongues of more elected officials in Tennessee. We look forward to giving them that opportunity as we pursue more non-discrimination measures around the state.

Economic Development and Workplace Equality: Changing the law at the local, state, and federal levels to enshrine workplace protections is essential to any jobs agenda worth its salt, but it's not the only piece of the puzzle. Until we can get everyone in Tennessee and throughout the country covered, the GLBT community should take more of an interest in the economic development of our state. By recruiting Volkwagen to Chattanooga, Governor Bredesen may have done more for equality in Southeast Tennesssee than anyone ever has. Volkswagen scores a 100% on the Human Rights Campaign's 2010 Corporate Equality Index. Good paying jobs where you can be yourself and have benefits for your family are nothing short of a God-send in this very socially conservative part of Tennessee. Attracting these kinds of companies to Tennessee will help pave the way for lasting structural equality in our state.

A jobs agenda can be a winning equality agenda for Tennessee.

-Chris Sanders

Sunday, July 25, 2010

TN House District 64 candidate recruiting children in war against marriage equality

Rep. Ty Cobb's likely opponent in the House District 64 election in November is Sheila Butt. There's another Republican in the primary, but Ms. Butt has left him in the dust in fundraising, so she is all but assured to be the nominee. She may talk about jobs on the campaign trail, but I think her motivation for running is to advance doctrinaire Right wing public policy.

An email has been floating around linking to a children's book she has written, Seth & Sara Ask...Does God Love Michael's Two Daddies? I really wanted to see it for myself and fortunately a straight ally from Maury County sent me a copy. See the photo below along with some Butt campaign literature:

We could spend all day talking about the title. First, the very idea that she would publish a book asking the question whether God loves anyone should be a red flag. By starting with the question, she casts doubt in the reminder's mind. She uses the book to work toward the answer that, indeed, God loves Michael's two daddies, but that what they're doing is wrong. Never mind that they love each other and take good care of Michael. But at least they get God's love. Butt knows that if she started with the foundation that God loves everyone, she might have to concede that Michael's two daddies are responsible, loving, and healthy. And then she might have to concede that things like equality in adoption and marriage laws might be justified.

Second, I find it particularly pernicious that she puts her question in the mouths of children. The title is Seth & Sara Ask..., not Sheila Butt Asks... However, we should make no mistake that the question is hers as is the answer. She obviously feels the book is needed because children have to be taught that happy, loving families ought to be broken up:

"So that means that Michael's two daddies should not get married, doesn't it Daddy?" Sara asked. "It means they should not live together like a husband and wife."
"That is exactly what the Bible teaches," Dad said. (p. 10)

If she is elected, any legislation affecting the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community is going to evaluated through the lens of her ideas about how we need to change. She will not care that our community faces employment discrimination or that hate crimes are committed against our community. She won't care about breaking up families. The data won't matter, the stories won't matter. If you have any doubts, the campaign literature touts her membership in two intensely anti-gay organizations--American Family Association and Concerned Women for America. Definitely a campaign to watch!

-Chris Sanders

Thursday, July 22, 2010


As the parent of a small child, there was something that struck me as particularly discomfiting during the recent Memphis City Council meeting that I attended as a member of TEP. It is particularly disturbing to me as a parent and a citizen of Memphis that the opposition to a Non Discrimination Ordinance was represented before the City Council by Dr. Steve Gaines of Bellevue Baptist Church. Frankly, it made me ill to be in the same room with a man who thinks that “traditional family values” include failing to report to authorities someone who admitted to sexually abusing a child.

Dr. Gaines began his appearance before the Council by disclaiming that he represented all Christians. However he went on to claim that people of faith were under attack by homosexuals. His remarks about “people of faith” were designed to represent himself as a paragon of moral values despite his disclaimer. He was accompanied by members of the Family Action Council of Tennessee, a far right wing group whose primary agenda is lobbying to “protect traditional marriage.” FACT blames the growing acceptance of marriage equality for the decline of traditional marriage, in defiance of any rational basis for that conclusion. They do not, interestingly, lobby against no-fault divorce, which can be rationally tied to the declining success rate of heterosexual marriages.

While the presence of the Family Action Council is disturbing enough, the mere presence of Dr. Gaines as a representative of “people of faith” was appalling. Dr. Gaines has shown questionable, if not an outright lack of, moral judgment as pastor of Bellevue. In 2006, Dr. Gaines was made aware that a staff member had confessed to sexually abusing his own son. While the abuse occurred many years prior to the admission, the admission of a sexual assault on child should be reported immediately to the proper authorities. (See TN Code Annotated 31-1-403) Dr. Gaines did not report this admission for six months. Dr. Gaines kept an admitted child molester on the staff, with free access to all areas of the church. It was only when a third party made the congregation aware of the issue that the staff member was reported.

On what planet is this acceptable behavior from anyone? According to one of the Commercial Appeal articles about the scandal, Dr. Gaines explained that he “acted out of a heartfelt concern and compassion for this minister because the event occurred many years ago, he was receiving professional counseling; and I was concerned about confidentiality.” Seriously? What about a “heartfelt concern and compassion” for the victim, or the other members of his church, or the rest of the Memphis community? What about a concern for the law? Did Dr. Gaines believe he had the right to decide if this was a crime or not? Did he seriously believe that his personal forgiveness of this perpetrator of a crime against a child was a substitute for the justice system? The part of all this that truly makes me furious as a parent is that he protected his church’s reputation and the “confidentiality” of a child molester before he protected the children of this community.

Dr. Gaines represented himself before the City Council as a moral authority, speaking for “people of faith.” That is outrageous. He has shown an egregious lack of respect for the members of his church, the members of this community, and the duty as a citizen under the law to report a crime. It is unfathomable that a person who has so blatantly circumvented the law in order to protect the reputation of his organization, with callous disregard for the health and safety of his church members and the community at large, should be representing the faith community in any capacity. Perhaps Dr. Gaines thinks the people of this community have forgotten about his so-called “moral failure”; I can assure him we have not. Dr. Steve Gaines did tell the truth about one thing at the Council meeting; he does NOT speak for all Christians. He does not speak with any moral authority at all. He speaks, as he has in the past, for his own twisted sense of morality, nothing more.

- Michelle Bliss

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

They have no tolerance for tolerance except when it comes to themselves

Smart City Memphis has a must read blog post today regarding the Memphis Employment Non-Discrimination Ordinance that is being heard by the Memphis City Council.

Best quotes:
It’s an interesting paradox for so many of these folks. They have no tolerance for tolerance except when it comes to themselves. They have no patience with choices until it comes to theirs. They have no willingness to believe they may be wrong but they want us to accept silently the values alien to most of us that they espouse so loudly. As a Methodist pastor told us once (apologies to my Jewish friends), they judge everyone by the rules of the Old Testament but demand the love of New Testament when it comes to themselves.

Councilwoman Fullilove deserves a lot of credit for being on the right side of Christianity, but more to the point, she deserves credit for being on the right side of American democratic traditions when she suggested that government, in this case, city government, should represent the highest ideals and the best values of its people. Anti-discrimination policies should be superfluous by now, but sadly, as she knows from her past and she knows from listening to others knows about the reality of sexual orientation discrimination in our city – and notably many of our churches.

Brother Gaines and others apparently have no problem with selective discrimination – come to think of it, Southern Baptist Churches had no problem justifying discrimination against African-Americans even as the civil rights movement was under way. So, for many of us in our demographic, we find little to commend Rev. Gaines and other megachurch leaders when they profess to act as the moral compass for the rest of us.

At a time when tolerance is a selling point for cities, a vote against the city ordinance would stake out our claim to intolerance and sanctimony. It will chill efforts to recruit young professionals and immigrants to Memphis, and make no mistake about it, the success of cities today are directly related to both.

We are at a seminal point in Memphis history. Everything matters.
Memphis has a chance to position itself as a real City of Choice.

TEP PAC endorsements for Shelby County Mayor and Shelby County Commission

As early voting in Shelby County moves into full swing, TEP PAC is pleased to announce a new endorsement for Shelby County Government.

TEP PAC endorses Joe Ford for Shelby County Mayor. Interim Mayor Joe Ford has expressed a willingness to TEP PAC to deepen his commitment to advancing equality and protecting the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender citizens of Shelby County.

TEP PAC encourages you to vote for Joe Ford for Shelby County Mayor.

We also remind you to vote for TEP PAC's previous endorsements of Shelby County Commissioners Steve Mulroy (District 5) and James Harvey (District 3, Pos. 1).

Early voting continues through July 31. Election Day is August 5. Check the Shelby County Election Commission for locations and times.

Vote for Equality!

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.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Misconceptions In Memphis

As you know, today we brought the NonDiscrimination Ordinance and Resolution before the Memphis City Council with the support of Councilwoman Janice Fullilove. Jonathan Cole of TEP and Dr. Steve Gaines of Bellevue Baptist Church were chosen to speak for each side of the discussion. After each spoke, there was further discussion that neither side was able to address given the time constraints of the meeting. These are my observations as to the issues that TEP needs to address further as we go forward through this process.

First, it would appear that Dr. Gaines and his colleagues are unclear on the difference between the Ordinance and the Resolution. The Ordinance protects only City employees, as Councilman Flinn tried to make clear.
Second, there seems to be some confusion about the term "gender expression". Dr. Gaines seemed to indicate that his understanding was related to flamboyant behavior, or some perceived stereotype of what gays and lesbians act like in a professional environment. The use of this term is commonly associated with transgender employees, but applies to all employees. It denotes how a person's gender identity is communicated to others, through behavior, clothing, hairstyle, voice, and emphasizing, de-emphasizing or changing physical characteristics.
For example, a heterosexual female employee who wears her hair short, little or no makeup, and never wears skirts to work might be perceived as being 'masculine' and assumed to be a lesbian based solely on her appearance. Such a perception by coworkers or managers may lead to the heterosexual employee being discriminated against on the basis of a perceived homosexuality where such perception is false.
Third, this Ordinance is being portrayed as being discriminatory to people of faith. While Dr. Gaines asserted that he did not speak for all Christians, he proceeded to present a decidedly Evangelical Christian point of view in which he claimed that Christians were being discriminated against because of their personal beliefs if they had to abide by this Ordinance. He spoke at length about Christian businessmen not being able to perform contracts with the City. Once again, Dr. Gaines was confusing the Ordinance and the Resolution.
This Ordinance requires that employees and managers refrain from discriminatory behavior in the workplace. Current federal law (Title VII) places a similar burden on a variety of faiths besides Christianity. For example, in some world religions such as Islam, women are forbidden to associate with single males without being chaperoned by a male relative. In the United States, however, a Muslim male manager could not discriminate against a female employee in hiring, promotion, or discharge based on his personal religious beliefs about the role of women in society.
Finally, there was a discussion about whether or not such discrimination has actually occurred in City employment. Some of the Council seemed to feel that, because no discrimination had been reported to Human Resources, that no discrimination exists. As someone about to enter the field of Labor and Employment Law, I receive inquiries from people who feel they are being discriminated against on a regular basis by private employers.
Unfortunately, neither federal or state law offers them any recourse with the EEOC, so there is no record of their complaints. City employees have no current recourse either, and to complain without protections in place is to invite retaliation in the workplace by those committing the offense. To conclude, that since no one is filing complaints that will not be heard, a lack of official complaints is equivalent to no discrimination occurring is disingenuous and illogical.
Michelle L. Bliss
Vice Chair, Tennessee Equality Project Shelby County Committee
Board Member, Tennessee Equality Project Statewide Board

Saturday, July 17, 2010

A look at the numbers on the first day of early voting in Nashville

According to the list I received from the Davidson County Election Commission, 469 people voted on Friday. It looks as if there may be one duplicate on the list, so maybe it was 468. I don't have the statistics from the first day four years ago, but the number was higher than I expected.

Republican Surge?
: Judging from the campaign signs posted at the Election Commission, a crowded 5th district Republican congressional primary and the three-man horse race for the Republican nomination for governor must account for the numbers. About 45% of those voting on the first day pulled a Republican primary ballot. It should be noted that Friday's Jackson Day celebration may have kept many Democrats from voting after work.

GLBT Factor: Just over 2% of those voting on Friday are part of the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community. (The number could be higher. I don't know every GLBT person in Nashville, folks!) After voting (or before voting for those who were heading to the Election Commission on Saturday), the TEP Nashville Committee held our Vote + Happy Hour event at 3rd and Lindsley. You can find some of the pictures here.

Rutherford County Contrast: Despite being higher than I expected, the Nashville numbers are still low. Rutherford County provides a contrast where 1001 people voted on the first day, according to the Daily News Journal. But they had six locations and Davidson County only had one. 698 voted in the Republican primary in the Rutherford County with only 286 in the Democratic. Again, I think we can attribute those numbers to a crowded Republican field in the 6th district congressional race as well as the governor's race.

Voting on Saturday: Maybe the second day totals will be stronger in Nashville, despite the rather limited Saturday hours. One indication was the large crowd of volunteers for Jeff Yarbro's district 21 State Senate campaign who were gathered at the Election Commission Saturday morning to vote and then canvass neighborhoods. Stay tuned for more updates as the numbers come in over the next few days.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Memphis City Council to consider LGBT-inclusive workplace protections

Today marks the beginning of Tennessee Equality Project's campaign to bring inclusive workplace protections to the employees of the City of Memphis and City contractors. If you live in Memphis, we ask you to contact the Memphis City Council and urge your representatives to support non-discrimination legislation that includes sexual orientation and gender identity or expression for employees of City government and City contractors.

On July 20, the Personnel, Intergovernmental and Annexation Committee of the Memphis City Council will begin hearings on the legislation.

In 2009, the Shelby County Commission was the first local government in Tennessee to prohibit workplace discrimination based on non-merit factors such as sexual orientation and gender identity. A few months later, Nashville Metro Government enacted its own non-discrimination ordinance. We laid the groundwork by becoming more visible as a community and gained even more allies.

Now IT’S TIME to advance something positive in Memphis!

We know from the experience of working with Shelby County government that we are in for a fight. Our opponents spread the most horrible lies about our community. We will have to out-email, out-call, and out-rally them. That’s why we’re organizing to stay ahead of our opponents.

Right now, there are three ways to help:

First, send an email message

If you live or work in Memphis, send an email message to the Memphis City Council to let them know you support fairness and equality by clicking .

Second, send a handwritten letter to your Council members

In addition to your email message, handwritten personal letters to your elected representatives make an even greater impact in influencing legislation. Here’s how:
  1. Come by the Memphis Gay and Lesbian Community Center at 892 South Cooper Street on July 14, 2010 from 6-9 PM for the official Letter Writing Kickoff.
  2. If you cannot make the kickoff, come by the center during regular business hours (2-9 PM on Monday-Friday) to write letters to your City Council representatives. We’ll have tips to help you write your letter. If you leave your letter at the center, we’ll make sure it is delivered to the City Council office.

  3. Write your City Council members from home using the contact information found at the City of Memphis website.
  4. Volunteer today to host a letter writing party for your friends and family in your home.
Contact TEP at for tips on organizing your own party.

Third, speak in favor of workplace equality to the Memphis City Council

TEP will offer a brief workshop at its regular monthly meeting to help people prepare talking points to give at hearings on the legislation at Memphis City Council meetings. Speaking directly to the council is one of the best ways citizens can advance employment non-discrimination legislation. Join us on Monday, July 26 from 6-7:30 PM at the Memphis Gay and Lesbian Community Center at 892 South Cooper Street to perfect your message.

With your help, we can bring inclusive workplace protections to the City of Memphis. Thanks for all that you do to advance equality in Memphis and Shelby County.

- Jonathan Cole

Sunday, July 11, 2010

TN 6th District Congressional race

The Tennessean takes a look at the Democratic 6th District congressional primary today. The piece makes the standard comparisons of Ben Leming and Brett Carter--the two young veterans and family men.

Some contrasts emerge, too. One is the fundraising gap favoring Carter. Another is campaigning style. Carter's approach has been less visible, although he has been hitting the campaign trail. Leming, on the other hand, has engaged in a marathon across the district from day one of his campaign. But it's not just his omnipresence. It's the fact that he's consistently showing his engagement with voters around Middle TN in the press, on Facebook, and in his regular email communications. The third difference is approach on issues. As the Tennessean piece notes:

Leming says he wants to fight for traditional Democratic values, such as tolerance and helping others, and has publicly expressed support for a mosque project in Rutherford County that is drawing heavy criticism from the Republican candidates. Carter says he would be a moderate in Congress and demonstrates a reluctance to criticize the policies of either party on issues such as health care, immigration and the economy.

From what I can tell that distinction rings true. I haven't met Brett Carter, but I have met Ben Leming and had the opportunity to talk with him for about an hour. At a time when politics on the Right is often defined by who the enemy is, Leming is comfortable navigating those discussions. Both he and Carter have seen the enemy up close. For Leming that has resulted in a clarity about his politics. He knows that the enemy is not the Muslims in Murfreesboro who want to build a mosque. The enemy is also not GLBT military servicemembers who want to serve their country openly. He's not afraid to say so and it comes from a deep sense of the Constitution he's fought to protect.

On the whole, GLBT/family values issues are not pronounced this year in the district. On the Republican side, I didn't find anything directly referencing marriage or Don't Ask, Don't Tell on the web sites of Sen. Jim Tracy, Sen. Diane Black, or Lou Ann Zelenik. That doesn't mean we can expect them to be equality advocates. It's just that the federal deficit, health care reform, and immigration are the big issues on the Right.

If Republicans increase their margin in the Legislature and hence control over the redistricting process, this might be the last year that a Democrat can expect to make a case for holding Congressman Bart Gordon's seat. But at least this year, the people of the 6th district will have a clear choice in November.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Who's qualified for the bench?

The Memphis Bar Association released the results of judicial qualification poll today for candidates running for various judicial positions on August 5. From their press release:

The poll was sent to nearly 3,000 attorneys in Shelby County, including both members and non-members of the MBA. 795 attorneys responded.

The poll asked attorneys to select the one candidate in each race whom they felt was best qualified to serve as judge. If an attorney did not know the candidates’ qualifications or had no opinion, he/she was instructed to mark "no opinion."

The Memphis Bar Association has conducted a poll of candidates in contested judicial elections for more than 20 years, in the belief that local attorneys are in the best position to know a candidate’s qualifications and that the MBA has a responsibility to inform the voting public of attorneys’ opinions about the candidates.
Compare the MBA rankings with the judicial candidates who are actively asking for your vote and VOTE FOR EQUALITY.

Voting for Equality in Shelby County on August 5 (Part 3)

In Part 1 of this series, I reviewed the known positions on LGBT equality and campaign outreach to equality voters of candidates for Shelby County government. Part 2 was devoted to Primaries for the Tennessee House of Representatives and Governor. We end with the primary elections for the three congressional districts that touch Shelby County.


Shelby County includes the entire Ninth Congressional District and parts of the Seventh and Eighth District. There are no contested primaries in the 7th District on August 5. The Eighth district has a competitive Republican primary. The Democratic Primary in the Ninth District will determine who wins the seat in the General Election in November.

Seventh District

Incumbent Marsha Blackburn (R) of Brentwood probably enjoys the fact that she scored 0% on the HRC Score Card. Too bad she has no opponent in the primary. Republicans who vote their party in this district deserve better. choices in their primary.

Democratic challenger Greg Rabidoux of Clarkville has no legislative record on LGBT issues and his opinions are unknown. He has no challenger in the primary. However, he shouldn’t have to work too hard to get a better legislative score than his eventual Republican opponent after Nov. 2 should he win this election.

Eighth District

Republican Primary

The Republican Primary for this race is rather crowded. Each hopes to replace retiring Democrat John Tanner in this District.Three candidates have gone on record with their views on LGBTQ policy issues.

Dr. Ron Kirkland drew local, statewide, and then national attention after making the following comments about Don't Ask, Don't Tell and his military service in Vietnam at a Tea Party Forum in Paris, TN:

"I can tell you if there were any homosexuals in that group, they were taken care of in ways I can't describe to you."
Kirkland later refused to apologize for condoning violence against gay and lesbian servicemembers in a letter to the Jackson Sun. Read more about Kirkland and TEP's call for his apology and support of the repeal of DADT here.

At the same Tea Party Forum in Paris, TN, Randy Smith who served in the first Iraq War followed Dr. Kirkland's comments about DADT with:
"I definitely wouldn't want to share a shower with a homosexual. We took care of that kind of stuff, just like (Kirkland) said."
When called upon to do so by TEP and others, Smith apologized for his comments. He shared that he had a lesbian daughter whom he loves, but he does not approve of her "lifestyle." Read more here.

At the Tea Party Forum in Paris, Dr. George Flinn portrayed ending "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" as the latest in an effort by Obama and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to weaken the military. He also failed to confront the violence condoned by Kirkland and Smith at the forum. Flinn of Memphis also voted against an ordinance and a watered-down resolution that would protect LGBT county employees from discrimination while serving on the Shelby County Commission.

The other candidates in this race, Stephen Lee Fincher and Ben Watts, also failed to confront the violence condoned by Kirkland and Smith at the Tea Party Forum. Is silence complicity? Fincher won the endorsement of the anti-LGBT Family Research Council - a definite red flag - and was a TN Senate Co-Sponsor of SJR0031 that approved the Anti-Marriage Amendment for placement on the 2006 ballot for Tennessee voters.

Democratic Primary

Roy Herron (D) is on record opposing efforts to prohibit adoption of children by lesbian and gay parents. However, Herron was a TN Senate Co-Sponsor of SJR0031 that approved the Anti-Marriage Amendment for placement on the 2006 ballot for Tennessee voters. Only 3 out of 33 TN Senators voted against this amendment.

Kimberlee E. Smith's (D) views on lgbtq policy issues are not known.

Ninth District

Democratic Primary

Incumbent Steve Cohen (D) has received a the highest HRC Score (90%) of any sitting Congressman or Congresswoman from Tennessee. When he was still TN State Senator from District 30, he voted against the TN anti-marriage amendment. Cohen supported GLBT-inclusive hate crime legislation. He also support repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and the Defense of Marriage Act. He also supports a GLBT-inclusive version of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act in Congress. While in Congress, Cohen wrote a letter of support to the Shelby County Commission for the County Employment Non-Discrimination Ordinance.

Former Memphis Mayor Willie W. Herenton (D) served in that role for almost 20 years. While he was Mayor, Herenton spoke beside Judy Shepard when visited Memphis in 2000 in a special event at Calvary Episcopal Church. Herenton also participated in the ribbon cutting ceremony at the opening of the Memphis Gay and Lesbian Community Center. Mayor Herenton also supports a municipal non-discrimination ordinance for the City of Memphis. However, Herenton has distinguished himself as being against marriage equality as a candidate for this race.

Republican Primary

The positions of candidates Charlotte Bergmann, Jim Harrell, and Kevin Millen on LGBTQ policy issues are unknown. In this heavily Democratic district, asking them about LGBTQ issues may be a moot point.

As with previous posts, please share any known positions on LGBT issues for any of the above candidates. Early voting begins on July 16. After you vote early, join fellow equality voters on July 20 for happy hour at Tuesdays at Grace.

- Jonathan Cole

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Is Crafton out of touch? Reminder about the Davidson Co Juvenline Court Clerk race

July 16 is the first day of early voting in State Primary, but it also happens to be the first day of voting in the County General. In one of the most hotly contested races David Smith and Eric Crafton are vying for Davidson County Juvenile Court Clerk.

Normally we wouldn't draw much attention to a race like this since the work of the Juvenile Court Clerk doesn't have a direct impact on policy related to the equality issues our community cares about. However, it's worth raising the question of whether Davidson County voters should reward someone who has consistently shown himself out of touch with our values with another election win.

Judge for yourself.

*As a Metro Councilman, Eric Crafton voted against the 2009 Metro non-discrimination ordinance on first reading, second reading, and third reading. He wasn't content with quiet opposition. He spoke on the floor against the measure.

*He also led the effort to pass English Only in Metro, an effort that failed by a wide margin in January 2009 and was opposed by TEP.

Has he changed his views after these losses? The evidence is coming in. Earlier this year TEP asked the Council to seek a legal opinion on whether the Metro Human Relations Commission can gather statistics on discrimination in the private sector based on gender identity and provide educational programming on such discrimination. The legal opinion indicated that the Human Relations Commission could, in fact, do so.

*Last month, Councilman Crafton along with five other Council Members wrote a letter (linked at the Tennessean's politics blog) to the Human Relations Commission urging them not to use their authority to document such gender identity discrimination. Not only did they try to oppose the Commission's authority, but they also involved the socially conservative Alliance Defense Fund.

Make sure to know the facts before you vote. You'll have that opportunity July 16-31 during early voting and on August 5, which is Election Day.

-Chris Sanders

Monday, July 5, 2010

Voting for Equality in Shelby County on August 5 (Part 2)

In Part 1 of this series, I reviewed the known positions on LGBT equality and campaign outreach to equality voters of candidates for Shelby County government. Part 2 is devoted to Primaries for the Tennessee House of Representatives and Governor.


The Grand Prize for the Democratic and Republican Parties in Tennessee in this election year is the House of Representatives. The Senate will likely remain in Republican control in 2010. In the 2008 election, the Republicans won a one-seat majority that gave them control of the House of Representatives. The Republican leadership of the House thought their day had finally arrived. However, 49 Democrats voted for Republican Kent Williams of East Tennessee as Speaker of the House in exchange for a power sharing arrangement on House committee assignments. The surprise election of Williams upset the Republican House leadership.

The stakes are even higher in 2010. The 2011-2012 General Assembly will use the results of the 2010 U.S. Census to reapportion election districts for U.S. Congress, the State House and the State Senate. If you are a Democrat, there is a real concern that districts redrawn by a Republican controlled House and Senate will reduce the number of districts that elect Democrats in the State House, State Senate and U.S. Congress for an entire generation.

My read on either side of the partisan aisle is that most of the incumbent House Representatives and Senators from Shelby County are in relatively safe districts without primary opponents. I'll limit my comments to a few exceptions in Democratic Primaries.

House District 85

Johnnie Turner (D). Turner was appointed to replace her husband Larry Turner after his death by the Shelby County Commission. Both have been friends to the LGBTQ community. When Johnnie Turner served as the Executive Director of the Memphis office of the NAACP, she spoke in favor of the Shelby County Employment Non-Discrimination Ordinance mentioned above. The LGBT policy positions of her fellow Democratic opponents, Edgar A. Babian and Eddie Jones, are not known.

House District 87
Incumbent Karen Camper (D) is an equality advocate who co-sponsored a house bill that would add gender identity to Tennessee's hate crime law. The views on LGBTQ policy of opponent Justin Settles are not known.


The Republican primary for governor includes 5 candidates, three of them are competitive. Check out their views on adoption of children by gay and lesbian couples.

Congressman Zach Wamp (R) has served 8 terms from Tennessee's Third District (Chattanooga, East TN). In those 8 terms, Wamp has earned a consistent 0% rating on the HRC Score Card. Wamp is also a member of The Family, the fundamentalist organization that helped set up the proposed Ugandan death-penalty for gays law. Wamp has little to offer LGBT equality voters.

Senator Ron Ramsey (R) is currently Tennessee Lt. Governor and leader of the Senate. In 2006, he supported the anti-marriage amendment that was approved in 2006 and prohibits recognition of civil marriage of gay or lesbian couples.

Bill Haslam (R), Mayor of Knoxville, appears to be the most moderate of his peers. Haslam has not publicly supported or opposed any LGBT legislation, but he did offer the following response to the fatal shooting at the LGBT-friendly Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church in Knoxville:

It is often easy to make these tragic events, which are far too frequent, about the community in which they occur. Knoxville is a caring, compassionate city where diverse viewpoints are shared and respected. Every person, regardless of race, religion, age, sex, or sexual orientation is a person of human dignity and a valued member of our community.
Democrat Mike McWherter has no opposition in the primary, but be sure to note his responses on the adoption issue. When he was first asked about the issue, McWherter said he opposed adoption by gay couples, but he later changed his position to say:
My personal preference is to see children placed in the care of loving, traditional families, but I do respect our current system that allows for judges and other authorities to make the final determination on what’s in the best interest of a child.
Do you have any additional information about the LGBT policy positions of any of the above candidates? If so, please share in the comments. We can’t vote for equality if we don’t have all the facts.

Part 3 of Voting for Equality in Shelby County will cover the races for the Seventh, Eighth and Ninth Congressional Districts.
- Jonathan Cole

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Voting for Equality in Shelby County on August 5 (Part 1)

TEP is often asked about who to vote for in elections. In this election year, TEP is urging all voters to Vote for Equality. In advance of the August 5 election and early voting which begins on July 16, I offer the following information on candidates in elections in Shelby County to those who plan to vote for equality.

My posts will appear in three parts: County Elections, Primaries for Tennessee House and Governor, and U.S. Congress.

But let me begin with some explanation. Only TEP PAC can endorse or make contributions to candidates for state and local office. The information offered here will include TEP PAC’s endorsements and additional information that you can take to the voting booth with you.

I will try to limit my comments to candidate positions on LGBTQ issues. Mainstream media often don't ask about our issues but do cover other important policy positions of candidates that should also be considered before casting your vote.

I have relied on first hand knowledge, various news media and other reliable sources before posting this information. I encourage you to add to this body of knowledge with one request: Keep your comments constructive, objective and factual. Let’s do our best to educate each other in the democratic process.

If you are not sure if you live in a candidates district, you can verify this information on your voter registration card or at the Shelby County Election Commission website:


The two major candidates for Shelby County Mayor are Interim Mayor Joe Ford (D) and Sheriff Mark Luttrell (R).

Before Ford was appointed by the Shelby County Commission last Fall to replace Mayor A.C. Wharton, he served on the Shelby County Commission . Ford appeared at TEP’s Ice Cream Sundae Social on June 27 to ask for your vote. Last year, TEP supported an employment non-discrimination ordinance sponsored by Commissioner Steve Mulroy (see below). The original ordinance would have protected employees of county government, government contractors, and businesses in unicorporated areas of Shelby County. Ford voted against the original ordinance in a committee vote but later voted for a substitute resolution that allowed a change in Shelby County government policy that protects county employees from discrimination based on “non-merit factors”, including sexual orientation and gender identity.

At a Mayoral Forum sponsored by the Shelby County Democratic Party Executive Committee last April, Ford was asked if he would support an ordinance that established workplace protections for gay, lesbian, bi and transgender employees of the county and county contractors like the non-discrimination ordinance proposed by Commissioner Steve Mulroy in 2009. Ford was first to answer among his opponents that he voted for the resolution that passed last year while still serving on the Shelby County Commission. Ford said that the county does not currently discriminate on the job. Ford said he could not commit to the ordinance without seeing the actual wording.

Sheriff Luttrell has no legislative record on LGBTQ issues, but it is worth noting that he was in charge of the Shelby County Justice Center when Duanna Johnson was beaten by Memphis Police officer Bridges McRae. The videotaped beating of Johnson showed that Sheriff Department employees did little to nothing to intervene while Johnson was beaten. Luttrell defended his staff as reported in the Commercial Appeal (June 8, 2008):

Sheriff Mark Luttrell, who oversees the jail, said Thursday that the nurse didn't ignore Johnson, but performed a visual assessment of Johnson and determined the injuries weren't life-threatening. A few minutes later, the nurse tended to McRae while Johnson rocked back and forth behind them.

Since Johnson, not McRae, suffered the most severe injuries, it is strange that Luttrell would offer such a defence with no offer to review how Sheriff Department employees should respond at the jail when fellow law enforcement officers lose control. Luttrell seemed more concerned about the videotape being leaked to Duanna Johnson’s attorney at the time:

The Shelby County Sheriff's Office is investigating how an attorney got a surveillance videotape of their law enforcement lobby, which showed a Memphis police officer beating a suspect. The sheriff's office made one copy, which was given to MPD as part of the investigation of the incident, said sheriff's spokesman Steve Shular.

As Sheriff, Luttrell made no attempt to reach out to the LGBT community following the incident at the jail. We still don’t know what kind of training Sheriff Department employees receive for dealing with transgender detainees.

In deciding who to vote for, I plan to consider the following:

  1. Which candidate will do the best job in following the new county non-discrimination policy that includes protections for sexual orientation and gender identity?

  2. Which candidate would be the most supportive of reintroduction of a stronger employment non-discrimination ordinance for county employees and employees of county contractors (who aren’t currently covered by county policy)?


The reality on this race is that there is not a lot of concrete information available on the LGBTQ policy positions of the Democratic or Republican candidates for County Sheriff. To my knowledge, neither candidate has responded to direct questions on LGBTQ policy issues, but there are some indirect ways to compare these candidates. Both candidates have extensive law enforcement experience.

Randy Wade (D). Candidate Randy Wade's position on LGBT policies is unknown. However, Wade has worked in Congressman Steve Cohen's home office in the Ninth Congressional District. Cohen is known for holding progressive positions on GLBT issues (see below). By association, Wade may lean in the same progressive direction.

Bill Oldham (R). I know even less about the Republican candidate. Sometimes not showing up to certain events can be a good sign. Bellevue Baptist Church, a frequent stop for Republican candidates, hosted a "Stand for the Family" rally (aka anti-gay and anti-choice hatefest) on March 29, 2010. While campaign supports with stickers appeared for a few conservative Republican candidates for Sheriff, neither Oldham nor his campaign supporters were observed to attend. I freely admit that may be giving Oldham more credit than he may deserve.

If given the opportunity, I would ask the following of both candidates:

  1. Do you believe that Sheriff Department employees should be protected from discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity or expression?

  2. Do you support diversity training that includes discussion of LGBTQ people for department employees?

  3. How should the Sheriff Department treat transgender detainees?

If you know how the candidates respond to these questions, please post their positions.


Most of the races for the 13 seats for Shelby County Commission were decided in the May 4, 2010 primary because the opposing party did not offer a candidate. Commission District 5 is the only exception. For that reason, I’ll offer brief comments on each position.

County Commission District 1, Pos. 1
Mike Ritz (R). Incumbent Commissioner Ritz voted against the original employment non-discrimination ordinance in May 2009. But, Ritz did vote for a substitute resolution in June 2009 that allowed a change in Shelby County government policy that protects county employees from discrimination based on “non-merit factors”, including sexual orientation and gender identity. Ritz was the only Republican to vote for the resolution.

County Commission District 1, Pos. 2
Heidi Shafer
(R). Candidate Shafer hopes to replace Dr. George Flinn on the commission. She has no legislative record on LGBTQ issues, but I have heard reports that she actively campaigned for Tennessee’s anti-marrriage amendment ballot referendum in 2006 that prohibits recognition marriages of lesbian and gay couples.

County Commission District 1, Pos. 3
Mike Carpenter (R). Incumbent Commissioner Carpenter voted against the original employment non-discrimination ordinance in May 2009 and the substitute resolution enacted in June 2009 that allowed a change in Shelby County government policy that protects county employees from discrimination based on “non-merit factors”, including sexual orientation and gender identity.

County Commission District 2, Pos. 1
Walter Lee Bailey, Jr.
(D). Mr. Bailey is no stranger to the Shelby Commission having served many terms. He will be returning to the commission after a one-term break due to term limits. Mr. Bailey actively campaign for the original employment non-discrimination ordinance in May 2009. He spoke eloquently in favor of the legislation at a Unity Rally at First Congregational Church on May 31, 2010 and before the Shelby County Commission the next day.

County Commission District 2, Pos. 2
Henri E. Brooks (D). Incumbent Commissioner Brooks voted for the original employment non-discrimination ordinance in May 2009 and for a substitute resolution in June 2009 that allowed a change in Shelby County government policy that protects county employees from discrimination based on “non-merit factors”, including sexual orientation and gender identity.

County Commission District 2, Pos. 3
Melvin Burgess
(D). The candidate’s views on LGBTQ policy issues are unknown.

County Commission District 3, Pos. 1
James M. Harvey, Sr.
(D). Incumbent Commissioner Harvey voted against the original employment non-discrimination ordinance in May 2009. But, Harvey did vote for a substitute resolution in June 2009 that allowed a change in Shelby County government policy that protects county employees from discrimination based on “non-merit factors”, including sexual orientation and gender identity. Harvey pledged support for a full ordinance for the next term and received the endorsement of TEP-PAC.

County Commission District 3, Pos. 2
Sidney Chism
(D). Incumbent Commissioner Chism voted against the original employment non-discrimination ordinance in May 2009. Chism sponsored and voted for a substitute resolution in June 2009 that allowed a change in Shelby County government policy that protects county employees from discrimination based on “non-merit factors”, including sexual orientation and gender identity.

County Commission District 3, Pos. 3
Justin Ford
(D). The son of Joe Ford, Justin Ford’s position on LGBTQ issues are unknown.

County Commission District 4, Pos. 1
Chris Thomas
(R). While serving as Shelby County Probate Court Clerk, Thomas stood with Bellevue Baptist Church’s Pastor Steve Gaines, a small group of right-wing preachers, and Commissioner Wyatt Bunker outside the Shelby County Administration Building to oppose the Shelby County employment non-discrimination ordinance sponsored by Commissioner Steve Mulroy. Thomas is the white-haired, white man at the beginning of this Commercial Appeal Video arguing with the Rev. Elaine Blanchard and Midsouth Peace and Justice Center’s Jacob Flowers.

County Commission District 4, Pos. 2
Wyatt Bunker
(R). Where to begin? Incumbent Commissioner Wyatt Bunker sponsored the “hate fest” in front of the Shelby County Administration Building on May 26, 2009 opposing the Shelby County employment non-discrimination ordinance sponsored by Commissioner Steve Mulroy (See story here). Bunker also launched viscious slurs during the Shelby County Commission hearing of the employment non-discrimination ordinance. Commerical Appeal blogger Alex Doniach reported: “In light of the growing crowd, Commissioner Wyatt Bunker asked whether ‘those who identify themselves as men would give up their seats for those who identify themselves as women.’”County Commission District 4, Pos. 3Terry Roland (R). Candidate Terry Roland spoke against the employment non-discrimination ordinance during the Shelby County Commission hearing on June 1, 2010. He bragged about it during his campaign in the Republican Primary before last May.

County Commission District 5
This district is considered the swing-seat on the County Commission. It is the only district that was not decided in the May primary.

Steve Mulroy (D). Incumbent Steve Mulroy sponsored the employment non-discrimination ordinance on the Shelby County Commission in the Spring of 2009. He also enjoys the endorsement of TEP-PAC. Steve has appeared at local Pride events and other events sponsored by LGBT organizations. He not only deserves your vote, but your support as a campaign volunteer and contributor.

Dr. Rolando Toyos (R). Dr. Toyos is Commissioner Mulroy’s Republican opponent for this swing seat on the commission. Toyos grew up in the Bay Area of California and has a much more sophisticated view of GLBT people than many of his peers in his party. He’s not considered to be an opponent of LGBT rights, but if he were to win this seat, it would jeopardize the current non-discriminatory policy established for Shelby County government.


Judicial candidates are prohibited by the judicial canons of ethics from taking positions on policy issues, but there are a handful of honorable mentions.

General Sessions Criminal Court Division 7. There are 20 candidates in this race. Two of them have attended TEP events to ask for your vote. Billy Bond shared some ice cream in search of votes the TEP Ice Cream Sundae Social on June 27. Bill Anderson, Jr. attended the monthly meeting of TEP's Shelby County Committee on June 28 to ask for votes.

Criminal Court Judge Division 3. Candidate Gerald Skahan has attended two meetings of TEP's Shelby County Committee and the June 27 Ice Cream Sundae Social seeking votes from LGBT and allied voters.

Other Honorable Mentions on Shelby County Government elections.

The following candidates have attended and supported TEP events seeking votes from LGBT and allied citizens in 2010:

  • Corey Maclin (D) for County Clerk

  • Regina Morrison Newman (D) for County Trustee

  • Coleman Thompson (D) for Register of Deeds

  • David Winslow Upton for State Democratic Executive Committee District 30. Upton deserves much credit in advocating for the employment non-discrimination legislation enacted by the Shelby County Commission in 2009.

  • Dave Cambron for State Democratic Executive Committee District 31

  • Adrienne Pakis-Gillon for State Democratic Executive Committee District 31

Part 2 of this series will focus on competitive primaries for Tennessee Governor and the State House of Representatives.

- Jonathan Cole