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, September 29, 2010

A Tale of Two Attorneys General

Last week, TEP intercepted a message from David Fowler alerting the followers of his Family Action Council of Tennessee to contact Tennessee's Attorney General Bob Cooper about signing an anti-gay and anti-family amicus brief for the Proposition 8 case making its way through the Ninth District Court of Appeals. FACT abandoned it's pro-state's rights position in favor of Tennessee's Attorney General interfering in the affairs of the State of California (Tennessee is part of the Sixth District Court of Appeals).

David Fowler was a vocal opponent of marriage equality when Tennesseans voted in 2006 to amend the state's constitution to permanently eliminate the right of gay and lesbian couples to marry. Fowler's anti-gay and anti-family activism continues, but his attempt to re-victimize the LGBT citizens of Tennessee failed this time. General Cooper deserves credit for not bowing to pressure from Fowler and other anti-gay zealots who actively seek to take away the rights of law-abiding citizens. Cooper did not sign onto the brief. I'd like to think that TEP supporters swayed him, but I hear from those that know him that Cooper is a fair-minded official with a sense of balance in government.

This week we learned that the State of Michigan employs the kind of Assistant Attorney General that David Fowler might like to see holding office in Tennessee.

CNN's Anderson Cooper reports that Michigan Assistant Attorney General Andrew Shirvell is cyber-stalking, blogging and protesting outside the home of the student assembly president of the University of Michigan - who happens to be gay. Shirvell accuses Student Body President Chris Armstrong of pursuing a "radical homosexual agenda" (aka, equal rights). Shirvell has actually posted pictures of the student with rainbow flags and swastikas, essentially calling Armstrong a gay Nazi. He regularly shows up waving signs at his home and attends student council hearing over which Armstrong presides. <Insert snarky comment about Shirvell being a closet case here.>

Shirvell's boss, Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox, said his assistant's opinions do not reflect those of the Michigan Department of Attorney General, and his "immaturity and lack of judgment outside the office are clear." I hope this is true. But if this sort of behavior outside one's job is tolerated in a state employee in Michigan, perhaps Mr. Fowler would feel more at home there.

- Jonathan Cole

Friday, September 24, 2010

Take action against foes of marriage equality in Tennessee seeking to influence the Prop. 8 court case

In a recent email blast to its members, the Family Action Council of Tennessee issued a call to action (see below). FACT is hoping to persuade the Tennessee State Attorney General to sign on to an Amicus brief opposing marriage equality in the Perry v. Schwarzenegger case regarding the constitutionality of Proposition 8 in California.

We cannot let equality opponents to be the only voices the Tennessee State Attorney General hears. Call Attorney General Bob Cooper TODAY and ask ignore the invitation to join the Perry v. Schwarzenegger Attorneys General Amicus Brief.

You may reach his office at: 615-741-3491 (the actual number).  You only need to tell the switch board operator the following: "Please let General Cooper know that I oppose him signing on to the Attorneys General brief that promotes unfair discrimination in civil marriage law in the Perry case."

Equality advocates in Tennessee CAN influence the course of marriage equality elsewhere in our country. Today is the only day to act!

Today's message to members of the Family Action Council:

Let your voices be heard on marriage!? ?Today is our only day to speak up.

81% of Tennesseeans voted to make marriage between one man and one woman, but the federal court ruling in California that marriage violates the U.S. Constitution will make your vote null and void – our law will be unconstitutional too if the court ruling is upheld.

Several Attorneys General from other states will be filing an amicus brief today, Friday, in the now infamous Perry v. Schwarzenegger case regarding the constitutionality of Proposition 8 in California.

Tennessee’s attorney General, Bob Cooper, has received a copy of the Amicus brief and been asked if he wanted to sign on and join the effort to protect marriage.  We have learned that as of yesterday (Thursday) he had not agreed to "sign on" in support of marriage.

He wouldn’t stand against the national health care mandate. 
Don't let him fail to stand for marriage too.


Please contact Tennessee’s Attorney General, Bob Cooper, and ask him to join the Perry v. Schwarzenegger Attorneys General Amicus Brief to defend Tennessee’s right to be a sovereign state and define marriage as one man and one woman. 

You may reach his office at: (307) 777-7841.  All you need to tell the switch board operator is "Please let General Cooper know that I am in favor of him signing on to the Attorneys General brief in favor of marriage in the Perry case."

Please forward this to all your like-minded friends and family members. He must sign on by the end of today.  There is no time to lose!

David Fowler
The Family Action of Tennessee, Inc.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

TEP PAC announces endorsements in 2010 state legislative races

21 September 2010

For Immediate Release

Nashville- Tennessee Equality Project’s Political Action Committee, TEP PAC, has announced its 2010 General Assembly Candidate Endorsements*. Following the Primary Elections, TEP PAC reviewed legislative candidates’ records and policy positions for legislative districts throughout Tennessee. After careful deliberation, the following candidates were endorsed.

District 49- Representative Kent Coleman (D), Murfreesboro – part of Rutherford Co.

District 50- Representative Gary Moore (D), Joelton – part of Davidson Co.

District 51- Representative Mike Turner (D), Old Hickory – part of Davidson Co.

District 55- Representative Gary Odom (D), Nashville – part of Davidson Co.

District 59- Representative Sherry Jones (D), Nashville – part of Davidson Co.

District 60- Metro Councilman Sam Coleman (D), Antioch- part of Davidson Co.

District 85- Representative Johnnie Turner (D), Memphis – part of Shelby Co.

District 89- Representative Jeanne Richardson (D), Memphis – part of Shelby Co.

What does it mean when TEP PAC endorses a candidate? “The endorsement is a commitment to provide volunteers to work for campaigns- from phone banking to walking districts. TEP PAC will also assist in raising money for our endorsed candidates,” says Jenny Ford, TEP PAC chair. “These individuals stand behind our mission to promote equality for all, and we intend to do everything we can to get these candidates elected and in office to serve our state wisely and fairly,” Ford emphasizes. This is the second time the TEP PAC has endorsed candidates for the General Assembly.

If you would like to assist these candidates and TEP Steering Committees, please contact Chris Sanders at To learn more about TEP PAC, along with TEP Foundation and TEP, please become our friend on Facebook and visit our website .

*- The endorsements by TEP PAC do not necessarily reflect the position of Tennessee Equality Project’s Board or membership.

Tennessee Senators fail LGBT soldiers in DADT filibuster

Both Tennessee Senators failed their LGBT constituents and all U.S. service members with their votes to filibuster the "Don't Ask, Don't" Tell repeal today. More than three-fourths of Americans favor allowing gay and lesbain service members to honorably serve their country in the U.S. military. With today's filibuster vote, the U.S. remains in the company of oppressive dictatorships like Iran, North Korea, Pakistan, Venezuela and Saudi Arabia.

Senators Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker are out of step with the mainstream, and their votes do not represent the values of a free and fair democracy.

What a dishonor to the soldiers currently serving our country. Alexander and Corker insinuate that the bravest, most highly trained military officers in the world can't handle a gay person in their midst. Disgusting. Today, we are the laughing stock of the rest of the developed world.

- Jonathan Cole, TEP Board Chair, 901.301.3306

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Pleasant Surprise Edition: New allies? A Male Homecoming Queen Candidate in the Tri-Cities

Where I went to college, we called the major "government," and not political science. Politics is not a science, despite the fact that certain aspects of it admit of probability and predictability. We are often faced with unpleasant surprises, but sometimes we get the pleasant kind and that's what I want to talk about today.

New Allies?: On Wednesday we held the Nashville Victory Toast to celebrate the first anniversary of the passage of the Metro non-discrimination ordinance. We had a great crowd of elected officials and candidates, some of whom have not been supportive of our community in the past. So ethically, strategically, what do you do when a hand that has in the past pressed a button against you suddenly is extended in outreach? In Tennessee you grab it and welcome the gesture. We don't have the luxury that some coastal states have of huge support in their legislative bodies (with the exception of Metro Council). So we have to seize opportunities of outreach. But my word of caution is that the outstretched hand only marks a turning point; it is not the full transformation in itself. Following that initial moment there must be genuine, consistent efforts from both sides to build the relationship. So I am hopeful that Wednesday marked part of a long-term transformation in the case of a couple of elected officials. We'll see.

Long live the Queen: has the story of a Washington County male student who ran for homecoming queen. Some students are protesting, but school officials seem to have been careful in upholding the male student's rights:

"There is a male student who put his name on the ballot for homecoming queen," Washington County Assistant Director of Schools for Attendance and Discipline James Murphy said. "As far as this young man being on the ballot, there's nothing we can do about that at this point."

Although Murphy would not release the name of the high school junior or why he wanted to run, he said the teen also had a constitutional right. Plus, Murphy added the school's policy did not define the position of homecoming queen as one held by a woman.

"There was an opening in that policy that did not indicate who could run or who couldn't run," Murphy said. "We want to recognize everybody's rights. We certainly want to stay inside the law."

Yep, I'm pleasantly surprised that the administration is taking this position, although I understand they may have learned their lesson the hard way from past foibles with student rights. But the point is they learned it and this time around they should be praised for their handling of the matter so far. Civil liberties advocates should continue to monitor the situation.

The students who are protesting have a lot to learn, though:

"Junior and senior girls dream about this and can't wait to become juniors or seniors to become the queen or the princesses," David Crockett High School senior protestor Akita Cilley said. "The definition of homecoming queen is only for a female position. I just think it's wrong."

Maybe it's time for a new dream, Akita.

-Chris Sanders

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Politicos come out to celebrate Metro NDO at Nashville Victory Toast

It was a great night for politicking in Nashville as the GLBT community and allies came together to celebrate the first anniversary of the passage of the Metro non-discrimination ordinance.

Vice Mayor Diane Neighbors, Sen. Douglas Henry, Rep. Sherry Jones, Council Members at-large Megan Barry and Ronnie Steine, district Council Members Emily Evans, Erica Gilmore, Sean McGuire, Jason Holleman, Kristine LaLonde, Sandra Moore, and Sam Coleman (also a candidate for House district 60) joined the crowd Wednesday evening to mark a milestone in the history of Tennessee's zig-zagging path to equality.

I was particularly glad to see Sen. Henry and Councilman Coleman reach out to the community at this event. It was a great opportunity to extend the dialogue with these two officials.

Additionally, Metro Council candidates Nancy VanReece for district 4 and Pete Westerholm for district 6 stopped by.

It was a good night for reflecting on the last year and building toward advances of the future.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Why it should be stupid for the TN GOP to push the adoption issue

It's a good thing at a number of levels that I'm not running for governor because when issues like adoption get brought up I'd be tempted to go for overkill in fighting back. I'd make points that the electorate would only be able to follow if they had been paying attention all along. And I'd probably come across as a smart ass and lose for winning.

But I'm not running for governor. So here's my full response on why it's stupid for the TN GOP (the state party and not necessarily any particular candidate) to bring up the adoption ban issue.

Oh, you didn't know they had? Well, they did today in this press release attacking Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mike McWherter. Here's what they said:

“Mike is unabashedly pro-choice, has made it clear that he does in fact support gay adoption, and is on record supporting ObamaCare and the unbearable unfunded mandates his party leader seeks to impose on states."

Oh, I'm sure someone gave them the bright idea that's a smart tactic, but not really if anyone listens for 30 seconds. Here's how I'd argue it.

*Not fiscally conservative. Does the TN GOP really want to change the policy? If so, they must want the state to come up with over $2.8 million and over $2.1 million in the federal budget. See the fiscal note if you don't believe me.

*Reminds us of the failings of GOP officer holders like, um, the sponsor of the adoption ban bill. That alone should provide a zinger of a response.

*Doesn't bringing up the adoption ban bill indict all the Senate and House Republicans who didn't move the bill? Did the Lt. Governor, the Senate Majority Leader, or the Senate Caucus Chair try to advance the bill? No, I didn't think so. If stopping "gay adoption" is so important, then it seems as if there's plenty of blame to go around with the GOP. Maybe they realized it's not a good idea for children or for the budget or good to be associated with the bill sponsor.

*Will anyone really believe Mike McWherter is a big proponent of adoption equality? I don't think anyone believes that.

*Doesn't raising the issue run the risk of making Bill Haslam nastier than he wants to be? I don't think that anyone whose idea of naughty but charming is sneaking pies wants to be associated with trash talk about "gay adoption." It runs counter to the light narrative Haslam is trying to weave.

So clearly not only should that issue not get the state Republican Party traction, it ought to set them back. But I doubt anybody will take the opportunity to call them on it or several other obvious targets. Oh, well, that's how it goes. An activist can imagine, though.

-Chris Sanders

Monday, September 13, 2010

Do you support the Memphis Shelby County Metro Government Charter?

One of the most important matters on the November 2 ballot for Shelby County voters is the whether to approve the proposed Memphis Shelby County Metro Government Charter.

Before you vote on Nov. 2 (if you live in Shelby County), please study the issue carefully. I offer the following information about the proposed charter:
  1. The Memphis and Shelby County Metropolitan Government Charter Commission web page provides a copy of the charter, minutes of the commission who proposed the charter and other information.

  2. I also commend a three part series of articles about the charter from the Memphis Daily News: Charter 411, Mayor at Heart of Consolidated Government, Proposed Metro Council Would Be Two-Tiered Body. MSD provides a fairly unbiased and independent view of the proposal.

  3. For a PRO-metro government viewpoint, visit the website for Rebuild Government.

  4. For a viewpoint AGAINST metro government, visit the website for Save Shelby County.
When you are ready to make an informed decision, TEP invites readers of this blog to indicate how they will vote on the proposed merger of Memphis and Shelby County. Our poll on the upper, right-hand side of the blog page will be open through the last day of early voting (October 28).

Ask your friends and family to make the onePLUS! PLEDGE

The Tennessee Equality Project invites you to participate in the onePLUS! campaign. TEP's Shelby County Committee officially launched the campaign at the Memphis premiere of 8: The Mormon Proposition at MGLCC's Outflix yesterday, but the entire state of Tennessee can participate!

The onePLUS! campaign provides every member of the LGBT community the opportunity to increase the visibility of our community and the support we receive from our straight allies.

We are each one vote, plus every family member, friend, coworker, and employer who supports our right to equal protection under civil law. We are each ONE, PLUS!

Make a personal list of family, friends, neighbors, and coworkers who support you. Then send this link to each person on your list to ask them to pledge their support for LGBT equality in your community.

With your help we can increase awareness and increase support for the advancement of equality and fairness.

TEP's Shelby County Committee needs volunteers to help gather onePLUS! pledges at this Saturday's Cooper Young Festival to prepare for the return of a employment non-discrimination ordinance in the City of Memphis. Click our Facebook event to volunteer .

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Saturday Brunch on the Go: Probable Hate Crime in Vonore and more

Brunch came from Hardee's today. Cancel that. It was breakfast. It's too early for brunch and the ballcapped customers would have looked at me like I was crazy if I had asked them, "How's your brunch this morning?" Our president, H.G. Stovall, is on the road today and he and I always make a stop at Hardee's when we travel for TEP. So I raise my cup of Diet Coke to you, H.G., and wish you safe travels.

Hate crime in Vonore, TN: A fire that destroyed the home of a lesbian couple in Vonore about a week ago is finally getting some media attention. Here's WATE's coverage complete with a photo of "Queers" spraypainted on the house. More coverage is available from The Daily Times (Blount County). The couple had been harassed by a neighbor in the weeks leading up to the incident. The only fortunate, though ironic, aspect of the story is that the couple and their daughter were in Nashville celebrating their 5th anniversary of moving into the house while it burned to the ground.

PFLAG Maryville, the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church, and the East TN Equality Council have offered support to the family. If you would like to help, Knoxville Pridefest's blog offers specific ways to do that.

We are all hopeful that the family remain safe and that they get justice under the Tennessee hate crimes statute and the new federal hate crimes law. The matter is in the hands of law enforcement and we will all be watching how they handle the matter.

Don't Ask, Don't Tell: As many of you heard, a federal judge has declared the military's Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy unconstitutional. It's good news, but it's not stopping advocacy groups around the country from pressing the Senate for a legislative repeal. Tomorrow the TEP Nashville Committee is holding a Don't Ask, Don't Tell Barbecue at Stirrup to get our members to contact Senators Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker to support repeal. That will be an uphill climb, but we believe they still need to hear from us so that they know people in Tennessee want to see this outdated, harmful, discriminatory policy changed.

Volunteers are signing up: This week TEP PAC started recruiting volunteers for pro-equality candidates for the General Assembly. We're getting a great response. What I'm noticing is that candidates are having a tough time getting all the help they need. We believe that they will be a valuable resource to candidates who deserve the help. If you would like to volunteer 2 hours between September 20 and November 2 to help a good candidate, contact us at and we'll try to find a match for you.

Have a great weekend!
-Chris Sanders

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Sunday Brunch: Diet & Exercise edition

You'll notice a little more fruit on the menu today. Well, if you're going to eat sausage it's probably a good idea to throw in a few more antioxidants. Fruit is loaded with them and they help fight those free radicals. When you put it that way, it sounds downright repressive and reactionary. To us activists, free radicals just have to be a good thing, but they're definitely not in this case.

Diet: But maybe we can turn that around a bit. The radicals that are yelling the loudest about being free these days aren't progressives. They're the ones blathering on and on about trimming government, except when it comes to marriage and repealing Don't Ask, Don't Tell. And they're out working hard for their candidates. If we want to fight the free radicals then we'd better start adding more fruit (if I can reclaim that offensive epithet used about our community) to the body politic. Yes, I'm suggesting that heavy doses of the antioxidant vitamins G, L, B, and T found naturally in what some people call fruits is part of the remedy to these dangerous free radicals.

So does that mean raising our community's issues more often and with more urgency in our state's upcoming election? To a degree. What I'm really talking about, though, is higher participation by the GLBT community. In other words, let's use fewer fighting words and use more fighting action. And that brings us to

Exercise: I'm definitely no exercise physiologist, gym bunny, etc. You can tell that by looking at me. But I do know that there are three muscle groups that our community needs to work if we want to have an impact in the upcoming election. And all three can help a good candidate.

Fingers: Phone banking for the candidate of your choice is a great way to give those tiny muscles in your fingers a great work out. After just a few sets with lots of reps (pretty butch, huh?) you'll amaze your friends with feats of manual dexterity that will pay off in faster and more accurate texting, etc.

Legs: After canvassing the voters in a neighborhood for a couple of hours, your legs will definitely feel the burn. You'll not only get the definition in your legs that you've been wanting, you'll also see the results when you contact your winning candidate about the issues that are important to you.

Arms: You don't have to do all your heavy lifting in the gym. Hitting the polling places during early voting with your candidate's sign in your hands will give you plenty of opportunity to work and show off those arms. For an aerobic component, try your sign spinning skills just like those guys who stand on street corners advertising everything from "Cash for Gold" to mobile phones. You'll look great in that sleeveless thing in all the clubs.

If you'd like to join our diet and exercise program for this fall's elections, contact us at and we'll be glad to connect you with a candidate who could use some help.

-Chris Sanders