Last week the Center for American Progress came out with a report that has so far been little noticed in Tennessee called Keeping the Faith: Faith Organizing for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Moral and Civil Rights in a Southern State. Written by Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite and Marta Cook, the document examines the ways in which faith communities play a role in the debates over equality for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people in Tennessee.
What they found might surprise you:
- LGBT activists and faith allies in Tennessee have attained a remarkable level of success in a state with a high level of religious affiliation. Despite faith-based opposition that is well-organized and well funded, LGBT advocates have devel- oped creative strategies and messages regarding LGBT equality rooted in faith.
- Tennessee exhibits less of a religious/secular divide between faith groups and LGBT activists than exists in other states. Many LGBT advocates are themselves faith leaders, and many LGBT organizations recognize that effective faith alliances and targeted faith messaging are critical to success.
- Despite these efforts, serious challenges remain within key faith communities, including white evangelicals, Catholics, and African-American churches. Key to increasing the success of LGBT organizing work in Tennessee is expanding faith alliances. In some cases that means crafting outreach strategies and collaborative efforts to meet communities where they are.
- LGBT policy activism has been remarkably effective in the state, securing state- wide hate crimes legislation that includes sexual orientation as a protected cat- egory, and in securing the passage of three local non-discrimination ordinances that address employment issues.
- While certain African-American faith allies are doing brave and significant work in Tennessee to support LGBT moral and civil equality, most do not come from historic African-American churches. African-American and white faith allies agree on the need for more reciprocity in raising issues of social and economic justice for African Americans alongside issues of equal legal rights for LGBT citizens of Tennessee. They see this as indispensible to having more African Americans become a part of the LGBT movement in the state.
- HIV awareness/prevention campaigns have provided critical opportunities for concrete work between LGBT groups and African-American churches. This work tends to be below the radar and involves broader issues of health and sexuality education. Some African-American faith allies, white faith allies, and LGBT activists, however, see this issue area as a way for collaborative work to go forward between these communities.
- Creative faith collaborations, targeted faith messaging, and efforts to expand faith support for equality should not obscure the enormous obstacles that LGBT advocates and allies face in Tennessee. Opposition from religious and political conservatives has increased political support for intolerance and pro- duced negative effects within the LGBT community, where some distrust the validity of any faith activism.
- In addition to cultivating faith allies and making a faith case for equality in Tennessee, growing the organizational and technological sophistication of the LGBT movement in Tennessee is essential to more effectively compete with well-funded and organized opposition.