Tennessee newspapers have been full of stories and comment on equality issues lately. Today's Tennessean devotes its editorial section to Vanderbilt University applying its non-discrimination policy to all student clubs and organizations. Yesterday's Knoxville News Sentinel contains a column about civility in public discourse with a slap at the Don't Say Gay bill. The day before the paper featured a story on East Tennessee native Bleu Copas considering rejoining the Army in the wake of Don't Ask, Don't Tell's repeal. And the day before that, the Tennessean took a look at the statistics and stories of the growth in the number of same-sex couples in Tennessee.
That level of coverage and positive editorial comment has become business as usual for Tennessee's four largest newspapers for 2011.
Why? For a few years now the editorial perspective of these papers has been supportive of equality for the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community. It seems that the state's four big dailies are doing their best to keep up with the public policy and cultural debates on equality that are heating up in Tennessee. That level of coverage is welcome. At a time when the Legislature has gone on the attack against equality, the four dailies are one of the last lines of defense against a crushing socially conservative agenda. It may be that their advocacy mirrors one of the most important developments in coalition-building our community has seen this year, namely, Tennessee's four largest cities taking a stand against HB600. Of course, one could argue that the city governments are just beginning to catch up to their newspapers in this respect.
Their readership may be falling off and they are going through tough times financially, but we can't ignore the fact that despite these challenges Tennessee's big newspapers continue to step up and defend our community.
County newspapers: Not all is well in journalism land with respect to equality issues. County newspapers around the state continue to ignore equality issues for the most part while publishing the socially conservative line in the form of weekly Bible columns and the like. I've noted many times the complete failure of the Lebanon Democrat to cover the role that Sen. Beavers played in passing SB632/HB600 that nullified Metro Nashville's contractor non-discrimination ordinance. More recently the Shelbyville Times-Gazette ignored a request to cover the census data that indicates a significant increase in same-sex couples in that Middle Tennessee town. Still, there are bright spots like the Crossville Chronicle that publishes letters to the editor and stories on the GLBT community without bias. But there's a lot of work to do in getting many county newspapers up to speed. It's a critical need because a significant portion of the state's population looks to these papers for news and perspective to shape or reflect its views.
We can't advance equality in Tennessee if the rural/urban divide persists. We also can't leave rural and suburban gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people defenseless in their own communities. It's a strong challenge for our commitments as activists.