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.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

TN newspapers knock Governor, Legislature over discriminatory law for 2nd week

If Tennessee Republican leaders were expecting a quiet Memorial Day weekend, they woke up to Sunday papers around the state filled with criticism of their work on SB632/HB600, the Special Access to Discriminate law. The measure nullifies the Nashville Contract Accountability Non-Discrimination Ordinance passed in April, prevents any city or county from adopting a similar law, and redefines "sex" in the Tennessee Code to the detriment of transgender people.

Under the Influence: The Commercial Appeal's Wendi Thomas bestowed her first "On the Pipe," as in crack pipe, awards for a number of bills, but the Special Access to Discriminate law was first in her list:

"The Equal Access to Intrastate Commerce law, which forbids local governments from ensuring that their contractors don't discriminate against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered employees. Yep, the legislature has decided that it should be up to businesses to decide who they discriminate against. Sounds like a lovely idea."

Nimble Lobbying: Letting businesses decide may prove tricky, as the Knoxville News Sentinel's Tom Humphrey, noted in his own awards presentation when he took a swipe at the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce for changing their position on the law:

Most Remarkable Lobbying Acrobatic Performance: To the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce and Industry for its amazing backflip on HB600, the bill that overrode a Nashville city ordinance prohibiting discrimination by city contractors based on sexual orientation. The chamber backed the bill as business friendly, then - after it had passed - reversed its position and declared its opposition "because (the bill) has turned into a debate on diversity and inclusiveness, principles which we support."

Governor Unmoved: Despite the reversal of the TN Chamber, Governor Haslam nevertheless signed the bill, as noted by The Tennessean's Chas Sisk, leaving the new act without much rationale other than putting discrimination into the law:

But since the General Assembly adjourned, Haslam and the legislature have been criticized by major businesses and gay rights groups from across the country for a law that reverses a Nashville ordinance requiring city contractors to follow the city’s anti-discrimination rules, which protect gay, lesbian and transgendered people. Haslam signed the measure nonetheless, saying the campaign against the bill came too late. “You had a chance to engage in this during the legislative process,” Haslam said of a public push to see him veto the bill. “To kind of change tracks on Monday felt a little late to me.”

Well, you're not the only one, Governor Haslam. The problem is that the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community got stuck with the effects of the law, and you're stuck going down in history as supporting it. It's no fun being left holding the bag, is it?

The Impact: Perhaps the most trenchant criticism came in Josh Flory's piece in the Knoxville News Sentinel in which he quotes a Scripps Network Interactive executive saying the law will scare away the talented workforce he needs:

"Its passage will impede our ability to recruit and retain the best possible work force," company President John Lansing said in a statement. "Most significantly, this legislation sends a signal that Tennessee is unwilling to take a stand against an intolerant employment environment."

Dang! Can it get any worse? Yes, it can.

Hometown paper pounds final nail: When the Governor's hometown paper uses the Scripps story as the basis for yet another editorial (the Knoxville News Sentinel had already editorialized about the bill last week in addition to Pam Strickland's biting column), then you know it's bad. "Codifying intolerance hurts state business" is a title that tells the whole tale. The last paragraph of today's editorial is the best:

"Haslam needs to show more leadership by condemning, rather than signing, such narrow-minded legislation. Passing laws that codify intolerance - and run counter to the policies of many Tennessee companies - could chase away jobs, talented workers and tourists. Tennessee isn't an island; the state participates in the global economy, one that offers as much diversity as it does opportunity. The state's leaders must promote tolerance of that diversity to compete for 21st century jobs and succeed in the marketplace."
What does that kind of leadership look like?: Leadership from the Governor and the Legislature could take a number of constructive paths. Examples include (a) heading off discriminatory legislation in the coming year, (b) backing Sen. Jim Kyle's appropriately numbered SB2121 (as in 21st century!) to repeal the Special Access to Discriminate law, or even (c) backing a bill to amend Tennessee human rights law to include sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes in employment. These are all good options that would concretely help people who experience discrimination and more broadly do much to repair Tennessee's severely tarnished image.

-Chris Sanders

Friday, May 27, 2011

Finally! A statewide conversation about job discrimination

We had to wait until 2011, but Tennessee is finally having a statewide conversation about job discrimination against gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people.

Rough week for the Governor: Every day this week the national and local media have hit Governor Bill Haslam hard for signing SB632/HB600, the Special Access to Discriminate law that overturns Metro's Contract Accountability Non-Discrimination Ordinance, prevents any city or county from adopting a similar law, and redefines "sex" in the Tennessee code to the detriment of transgender people. The number of national stories is staggering--Forbes, Business Week, and the Wall Street Journal included. But the real zingers have come out of Tennessee. Yesterday's Nashville Scene was blistering. This piece in today's Knoxville News Sentinel hits many of the same notes.

Conversation continues: Senator Jim Kyle's revelation that he has filed a bill to repeal SB632/HB600 guarantees that the conversation will continue over the summer. In fact, that seems to have been his idea, according to the Tennessean: “It keeps the discussion going,” he said. “It seems like the business community was late to the party. To me, it merits a second look.”

And then there's the court challenge. Abby Rubenfeld confirmed on Monday that there's going to be one. There will be coverage once it gets filed and each step of the way.

What kind of conversation?: So it's pretty clear that some kind of conversation is going to continue for at least the near future, but what kind? It's important that we don't lose the fact that discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity occurs in Tennessee, affects real people, and is unjust. The remedies of Sen. Kyle's bill and the lawsuit are designed to address real wrongs. The loss of local control in our cities and counties is one of them. But the original point was and is that people endure discrimination that hurts them and their families and serves no business purpose. Maybe now that the business community has done a 180-degree turn, we can end the pretend debate about the "burdens" to business and focus on the real burdens to people trying to make a living.

-Chris Sanders

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Partner Benefits for TN companies? Yes, you can!

I got a call today from a company that wanted to explore providing partner benefits (health insurance) for partners of its employees. They had heard that they couldn't do so from their insurance broker. Interestingly I had heard something similar from the leader of a business organization. He was under the impression that companies can't provide partner benefits in Tennessee unless they are self-insured.

I called Blue Cross Blue Shield of Tennessee to find out more. They offer insurance products with partner benefits if a company or organization has 26 or more employees. That's great news.

The wrong information may be all that is holding your employer back from providing this important benefit for your family.

Obviously partner benefits are not the same as marriage and all the obligations and benefits that come with it. Justice demands marriage equality, but until that day comes, partner benefits offer a way to protect those we love.

-Chris Sanders

Dear TNDP Executive Committee: Less is not more

Disclosure: I'm a member of the Affirmative Action Committee of the Tennessee Democratic Party.

Earlier in the week, Sean Braisted alerted us that the diversity goals of the delegate selection plan for the 2012 Democratic National Convention were in danger and that includes the goals for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender delegates.

The new draft plan is to be voted on tonight by the TNDP's Executive Committee.

There's really never a good time to lower your standards, but now happens to be a really bad time. Gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people were among the groups heavily attacked during the recently concluded legislative session. Our community and our allies are pretty angry right now. Democrats ought to be offering a life line rather than kicking us when we're down.

If the whole moral thing isn't appealing, here's some information that some Ds know and others don't. TEP PAC volunteered and/or raised money for 12 of your House candidates in 2010. From a practical point of view, you really should consider how you could grow that number.

Lowering your goals for inclusion of our community won't inspire anyone to try harder for you.

-Chris Sanders

Saturday, May 21, 2011

TEP launches GAYATHON in response to Don't Say Gay Bill

Say GAY to
Stacey Campfield
The Tennessee Equality Project is pleased to launch a GAYATHON in response to the Senate passing the Don't Say Gay Bill (SB0049). During this GAYATHON, we at TEP encourage you to tell Stacey Campfield that you plan to say GAY and keep fighting for equality no matter what happens to his Don't Say Gay Bill. 

 Here's how the GAYATHON works . . . . 

  1. Make a $10, $25, $50 or larger donation to Tennessee Equality Project by clicking HERE
  2. Copy and paste Sen. Stacey Campfield's address into an email message:
  3. Enter the word "GAY" in all capital letters in the subject line of your email. 
  4. In the body of your email write: "Because of you, I donated $___ to Tennessee Equality Project to fight for equality in Tennessee." 
Your participation in TEP's GAYATHON will help us prepare to fight the House version of this bill (HB0229) when the Tennessee House of Representatives opens session in January of 2012.

So donate, participate and share the news of this GAYATHON with your friends and fellow equality advocates by email, Facebook and Twitter.

Be respectful and civil in your message to Campfield. An eye for an eye leaves everyone blind. 

Friday, May 20, 2011

Tennessee Senate Passes SB0049

The Senate voted to approve an amended version of SB0049 by a vote of 19 to 11. Often described as the "Don't Say Gay" Bill by opponents, the bill including its amendment in purple now reads:

AN ACT to amend Tennessee Code Annotated, Title 49, Chapter 6, Part 10, relative to education. 


SECTION 1.  Tennessee Code Annotated, Section 49-6-1005, is amended by adding the following as new subsection (c) and by relettering the existing subsection (c) accordingly: 


(1) The general assembly recognizes the sensitivity of particular subjects that are best explained and discussed in the home.  Human sexuality is a complex subject with societal, scientific, psychological, and historical implications; those implications are best understood by children with sufficient maturity to grasp their complexity. 

(2)  Notwithstanding any other law to the contrary, any instruction or materials made available or provided at or to a public elementary or middle school shall be limited exclusively to natural human reproduction science.  The provisions of this subdivision shall also apply to a group or organization that provides instruction in natural human reproduction science in public elementary or middle schools   

SECTION 2.  This act shall take effect upon becoming a law, the public welfare requiring it.

Tennessee Equality Project observes that the amended version of SB0049 no longer makes direct reference to sexual orientation. However, SB0049 and its House companion (HB0229) remain a threat to safe schools in Tennessee. The State House of Representatives is expected to review HB0229 as early as January of 2012. TEP will continue to advocate against both versions of the Don't Say Gay Bill. 

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Regrets, I've had a few, but CAN DO ain't one of them

Now that the TN House and Senate have passed HB600/SB632 (with one difference in the Senate version that will soon be worked out), the Special Access to Discriminate bill will be headed to Governor Bill Haslam's desk. Barring a miracle veto, which we are nonetheless pressing for, the bill will become law.

Last week a Metro Nashville Council Member asked me whether I regretted the whole thing--the work for the Metro Contract Accountability Non-Discrimination Ordinance and having to fight the state bills introduced to stop it and stop any city or county from passing a similar ordinance. The answer is "NO!"

Do I regret that the the majority in the Legislature is anti-equality and tried to frame the issue as a business argument even though there was no study on the business impact of the Metro bill or the state bills? Of course. But I don't regret the work that went into the passage of CAN DO or that everyone put into fighting the state bills.

The Gains: Since the whole discussion began back in December, here's what's different. (a) Belmont University has begun a serious effort at welcoming diversity on its campus. They have more work to do, but they're in a different place. (b) Metro boards and commissions have been updating their non-discrimination policies to conform to the Metro non-discrimination ordinance of 2009. (c) We confirmed that we have a pro-equality consensus in Metro Nashville Government. The city has sent a clear message, even if the state guts the specifics of the ordinance. (d) At last, a statewide conversation on workplace discrimination has begun. Granted, it has been joined by questions of local authority and some fantasy of a "uniform business climate," but it has begun. In that regard, we can't forget how wonderful it was to be allied with Tennessee's four largest cities in opposing the state bills, to receive the support of a Shelby County Commission resolution, or the support of local lawmakers from the Knox County Commission, Jackson City Council, Oak Ridge City Council, and the Memphis City Council. (e) We know where our gaps are in the Legislature. The one positive about a negative vote is that you have a clear map of where you need to build support and you'd better believe we are going to work on that. (f) Our community and our allies are fully awake to the need to be engaged with our Legislature. That is a positive and it will yield strength for other fights!

It ain't over 'til it's over
: If Governor Haslam signs SB632/HB600, the matter won't be over. Various groups are talking about filing suit to overturn it. And other options are under consideration. Stay tuned, but don't count us out!

-Chris Sanders

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Messages of inclusion in Williamson and Wilson Counties: How I spent my day

As it happens, I was in Williamson and Wilson Counties today. These two counties elected the House and Senate sponsors of SB0632/HB0600 or what we call the Special Access to Discriminate bill. If Sen. Mae Beavers or Rep. Glen Casada had been around today, they would have heard words maybe they aren't used to in their backyards, or maybe they do hear them but ignore them.

The first event was Nashville CABLE's "Power of Inclusion" awards luncheon. TEP received the award in the non-profit category for our work supporting the Metro Council on the 2009 and 2011 Metro non-discrimination ordinances. The event took place at the Cool Springs Marriott. The work of advancing legal protections for the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community was completely embraced by this incredible network of professional women and I was glad that these achievements were celebrated in Williamson County.

The second event was the Mt. Juliet funeral for Bob Stovall, the late father of TEP's former president H.G. Stovall. I was honored to give the eulogy. The Stovall family completely embodies inclusion. There are few words I could add to the slice of the the obituary that the family wrote for Bob included below.

I just wonder how long Rep. Casada and Sen. Beavers can seal the borders of Tennessee from the national conversation on equality and their own counties from the voices of the women of CABLE and accepting fathers like Bob.

Stovall, Robert Kenneth, age 74, of Mt. Juliet, TN, died Sunday, May 8, 2011. Mr. Stovall was a member of Donelson Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and a veteran of the U.S. Air Force. He was a member of PFLAG (Parents, Families & Friends of Lesbians & Gays) and the Tennessee Equality Project. Mr. Stovall was the son of the late, Robert L. and Elizabeth Oliver Stovall. He is survived by:
Wife - Gayle Stovall of Mt. Juliet, TN
Sons - H.G. Stovall and his partner, Harry Longfellow of Nashville, TN and Shawn Stovall of Owensboro, KY
Daughter - Elizabeth Ann Smith of Calhoun, KY
Brothers - Teddy A. (Katie) Stovall and
Anthony (Jaynie) Stovall both of Kuttawa, KY
Sister - Mary E. (Jim) Doom of Utica, KY .

-Chris Sanders

Monday, May 9, 2011

Tennessee Equality Project elects new Board and Executive Officers

On Saturday, May 7, members and supporters from across Tennessee gathered in Nashville for Tennessee Equality Project's Annual Meeting to elect new Board  members for the term that begins on July 1, 2011. 

The following individuals will be returning to the Board for two-year terms: Wes Aull (Nashville), Jonathan Cole (Memphis), Brandon Hutchison (Nashville), H.G. Stovall (Hermitage), Ryan Ellis (Nashville), Latoya Belgrave (Clarksville), and Joe Rhymer (Bristol). 

New members elected to the board include Brad Palmertree (Jackson), Anne Gullick (Collierville) for two year terms and Herb Zeman (Memphis), Jennifer Swails-Wenger (Nashville) and John Winnett (Nashville) for one year terms.

The following Board members will continue in the second year of the their term: Robbie Bell, Michelle Bliss, Daniel Forrest, Anthony Johnson, Matia Powell, and Christy Tweddle.

We salute the service of those Board members who resigned from the Board during the last year: Darlene Fike, Natalie Reinoehl, and Lane Scoggin. Thanks also to Ryan Ellis (outgoing Vice President) and Christy Tweddle (outgoing At-Large) members of the Executive Committee for their service. Special thanks are due to H.G. Stovall whose second term as President was shortened by an early resignation to address an illness in the family.

After new Board members were elected, the Board-elect convened in executive session to select new executive officers. During the annual meeting recess, participants called State Senators to encourage votes against the Don't Say Gay Bill (SB049) and the Special Access to Discriminate Act (SB632).

The new Board returned after the election of Executive Committee officers with the following to announce:

President & Chair: Jonathan Cole
Vice President: Wes Aull
Secretary: Latoya Belgrave
Treasurer: Matia Powell
At-Large: H.G. Stovall

Please join me in thanking Board members past, present and future for their service to Tennessee Equality Project and our state. 

- Jonathan Cole