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, June 29, 2011

Tennessee Equality Project and MGLCC meet with Memphis Police Department

Memphis, TN. June 29, 2011. Representatives of Tennessee Equality Project and the Memphis Gay and Lesbian Community Center and other members of the LGBT community met privately with Memphis Police Department Director Toney Armstrong and his command staff yesterday. TEP requested the meeting with the Memphis Police Department to discuss LGBT diversity training and other policy matters following news of a police stop of transgender woman Kiare Newsom in May.

Kiare Newsom alleges that officers harassed her during a traffic stop, called her homophobic and transphobic slurs, and told her to lift her shirt along a busy highway. Newsom filed a complaint against the officers involved in the incident with internal affairs. The outcome of that investigation is still pending.

The Tennessee Equality Project Foundation provided LGBT diversity training to the Memphis Police Department Training Academy staff and other officers in 2008 following the beating of transgender woman Duanna Johnson by Bridges McRae, a former Memphis Police Officer. The MPD terminated McRae following the incident, and he is currently serving a jail sentence for violating Duanna Johnson's civil rights. The purpose of Tuesday's meeting included a review of current MPD diversity training curriculum and exploring ways in which the MPD and the LGBT community can work together to ensure that all citizens in the community are protected and treated fairly - with a particular emphasis on transgender individuals.

Director Armstrong expressed a commitment to fairness and treating people equally and is willing to address  concerns about interactions between LGBT members of the community and the MPD. Mayor A C Wharton also visited with the assembled group and offered constructive ideas for addressing presented concerns. The spirit of cooperation among community leaders, Memphis Police Command staff and Mayor Wharton during the meeting encouraged Tuesday's participants to move forward in partnership. We promised to meet again, continue our discussion, and explore more opportunities for community engagement.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Marriage equality and Tennessee: A fiscal note

Occasionally when you read the news, you get a real window into what some of the everyday opponents of equality are thinking. Reading this Volunteer TV report was one of those moments:

"I don't think it's an institution I want to support," said one man who wished to remain anonymous. He said he hopes gay marriage isn't in Tennessee's future. "I don't want to sit there and pay for a lifestyle," he said.

We'll leave aside the vexing question of where it is this man thinks he's supposed to sit while he's paying for someone else's marriage--some sort of gay waiting room?--but it occurs to me that some people probably think that, since marriage equality would require government action, it must necessarily cost money.

But anyone who gets over the fog of the idea of a same-sex marriage will remember that marriage is a source of revenue for the state. A marriage license is between $60 and $100, at least in Nashville, depending on whether you complete a premarital preparation course. Yes, marriage equality would be a direct source of revenue to the State of Tennessee. And studies indicate that it provides indirect economic benefits as well.

Oh, yeah, it's also the right thing to do.

-Chris Sanders

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Requests for Proposals for Lobbying 101 Train the Trainer Workshops

The Tennessee Equality Project Foundation requests proposals for lobbying education services that empower the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people of Tennessee and their allies to become effective trainers for advocates and citizen lobbyists on behalf of pro-LGBT policy issues.

Lobbying education content must include: definitions for lobbying and advocacy; limits of citizen lobbying, orientation to the Tennessee General Assembly; past LGBT issues considered by the Tennessee General Assembly; researching and tracking bills; sources of information about the Tennessee General Assembly; how to effectively meet with elected officials; how to appropriately contact elected officials; and how to build relationships with public and elected officials.

Educational experiences that include return demonstration or mock experiences in lobbying officials is preferred. Skills taught must be transferable to local government lobbying and advocacy on LGBT legislation. Travel to locations within Tennessee shall be required with reimbursement for approved travel and/or lodging expenses according to standard CONUS rates. Preference shall given to proposals from contractors with LGBT policy and lobbying experience within Tennessee. Proposals must include prior experience.

Train the Trainer Workshops shall be provided in each Grand Division of Tennessee (West, Middle and East).  TEP Foundation expects to host 3 workshops across the state prior to December 1, 2011.  Contract rates must be based on a established budget.  Please include a copy of your resume, your proposed workshop agenda and course materials, and other pertinent information you feel may help in the selection process.

To request full RFP guidelines, contact Jonathan Cole by email at Proposals must be submitted by email by 5pm CST, July 15, 2011.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Major questions with the Vanderbilt Poll on HB600

The results of the Vanderbilt Poll came out today. The poll conducted by the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions included people from all over the state and focused on the public's approval of the Legislature.

Unfortunately, based on what little information is available about the poll, the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions says in a news release:

"The poll did indicate majority support for legislation that prohibited cities and counties from passing anti-discrimination laws that are stricter than state law."

But did it? And what was the actual question? Let's break it down.

Question matters: How you ask a question has an important bearing on the results of a poll. We all know that. We don't know exactly how Vanderbilt asked the question. Did they ask (a) whether people support a state law prohibiting "cities and counties from passing anti-discrimination laws that are stricter than state law," as the quotation above reads or did they ask (b) whether people "oppose local governments' passing laws that ban discrimination by such contractors against gays and lesbians," to use a phrase found later in the release?

Maybe I'm just too close to the issue, but here's why I think the difference between a and b matters. Question a in the form of HB600 actually was before the Legislature. It is a law in which the state explicitly prevents cities and counties from applying discrimination standards beyond what the state and federal governments do. Question b, which is a premise of the larger debate, has never been before the state. It has only been before individual local governments like Shelby Co, Memphis, and Metro Nashville. If they want to ask question b, they should ask it city by city or county by county. Question a much more closely matches the state law that has actually been passed.

Which question did the Vanderbilt Poll ask? We don't know. By the way, there are people who both oppose local governments expanding non-discrimination policies to their contractors AND oppose the state preempting cities from doing so. I can think of a few Metro Council Members who hold these views. So clarity on the question would be helpful.

Was it a majority? I'm confused about this point as well. The release says that "nearly 40 percent" support legislation that prevents cities and counties from passing stricter non-discrimination standards tougher than the state or oppose cities from passing such protections (again, we don't know what they asked) while "slightly less than a third of those responding say they favor such anti-discrimination protection," according to the previously cited release. The Tennessean says that the number is "almost 44 percent" on one side and "about 28 percent" on the other.

Huh? Did someone spill coffee on the final report? Why don't we have a real number here? And what about everyone else who didn't fall into the nearly 40 to almost 44 percent or the slightly less than a third to about 28 percent categories? Do they not know where they stand or do they not care about the issue? In any event, neither "nearly 40" nor "almost 44" percent is a majority. We used to call that a plurality. It must be that "new math" I keep hearing about.

Going forward: I really think it would be helpful if Vanderbilt released clearer numbers and the actual questions in the future. I also think it might help to consult people on both sides of an issue as an aid to framing the questions.

Finally: Regardless of which question the poll asked, the results are troubling. We have more work to do to persuade our fellow citizens that explicit protections are needed to prevent discrimination against gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people in Tennessee.

-Chris Sanders

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Nashville Pride Political Report

Despite the rain and wind, 2011 will go down as another great year for Nashville Pride. Congratulations to the organizers for putting together a great festival.

It was a good day for politics, too. We used the TEP booth to get word out about our TEP PAC endorsed candidates for Metro races. Among our endorsed candidates who attended were Council Members At-Large Ronnie Steine and Megan Barry, Mayor Karl Dean and District 19 Council Member Erica Gilmore who both spoke from the main stage, and District 6 candidate Peter Westerholm and District 18 candidate David Glasgow. There may have been others and I'm sorry if I missed anyone. By the way, it was also great to see the Davidson County Democratic Women and the Davidson County Young Democrats out at Pride.

There was concern about HB600 and Don't Say Gay among some of those attending, but we did our best to make the case that we can continue to fight back in the face of a Legislature bent of putting discrimination into law. There's never been a more important time to do so.

-Chris Sanders

Monday, June 13, 2011

TEP joins lawsuit seeking to overturn the SAD Act (HB600/SB632)

Nashville, TN, June 13, 2011. Tennessee Equality Project (TEP) is proud to join other plaintiffs in a court challenge of HB600/SB632 - also known as the “Special Access to Discriminate” Act. Nashville Attorney Abby Rubenfeld, the National Center for Lesbian Rights and the law firm of Morrison and Foerster, LLP, will represent TEP.

When Governor Bill Haslam signed the SAD Act into law on May 23, he repealed Metro Nashville's Contract Accountability Non-Discrimination Ordinance which protected contract employees from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The new law prohibits every local government in Tennessee (cities, counties and school boards) from enacting laws that protect contract employees and other employees of private companies from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

The SAD Act directly targets lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender employees for discrimination in the State of Tennessee. But the new law also removes other local protections that are not included in State law. The collateral damage of the SAD Act is only now becoming evident:  
  • Children in Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools are no longer protected from discrimination in education based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
  • Children who attend Memphis City Schools are no longer protected from discrimination in education based on sexual orientation.
  • Individuals living in the City of Memphis who depend on Section 8 vouchers or SSI disability income are no longer protected from housing discrimination based on source of income. Memphians are also no longer protected from housing discrimination based on age.
  • Other protections from discrimination enacted by the local governments of cities, counties and school boards of Tennessee that are not already covered by state law may have also been overturned.

The SAD Act was initiated by a radical faith-based organization whose anti-LGBT bias is out of step with the views of 89% of Americans. Their hate-based legislation hurts LGBT people, poor people, the disabled, the elderly and other groups who may need local government intervention to prohibit unfair and unequal treatment in employment, housing and education.

People want to live and work in communities that value diversity, equality and inclusion.  The SAD act leaves a stain of bigotry and intolerance on our state that must be removed if Tennessee hopes to retain and attract the best workers, professionals, entrepreneurs and businesses to our state. TEP is committed to reclaiming Tennessee as a place where all people have a right to earn a living, provide for their families, and contribute to their communities without fear of unfair discrimination.

Tennessee Equality Project fought hard to defeat the SAD Act in the legislature before it became law in Tennessee, and we will do our part to ensure a successful challenge of the law in court.

For more information, contact TEP Board Chair Jonathan Cole at or 901.301.3306.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Great turnout for Walk with Mayor Dean and TEP today

The Walk 100 Miles with the Mayor initiative is going strong and today's hike along the Mossy Ridge Trail was no exception. About 40 friends of TEP as well as 30 other dedicated walking enthusiasts turned out for a 4-mile walk with Mayor Karl Dean through some of the most beautiful parts of the city. We were pleased to be joined by Metro Councilmen Carter Todd and Jason Holleman. District 22 Council candidate Seanna Brandmeier also braved the heat and it was great to see her.

One of the best parts of the event was the opportunity to meet the students who have been protesting HB600, the Special Access to Discriminate law that nullified Metro's Contract Accountability Non-Discrimination Ordinance. It was fascinating to get their perspective on what needs to be done to move Tennessee forward.

The event was a perfect blend of fitness, nature, and the value of equality--just what you'd want in "a city on the rise."

-Chris Sanders

Justice for All Rally in Memphis

Local Progressive Groups Join Together to Speak Out for Equal Rights

Sunday, June 12 at 3 PM
Memphis, TN, June 10, 2011: During the 2011 legislative session, the Tennessee General Assembly passed a number of laws that infringe on the rights of women; lesbian, Gay, bisexual and transgender citizens; immigrants; students; the poor; religious and racial minorities; and organized labor.

Socially conservative lawmakers think they can chip away at individual liberties by targeting groups that represent minority interests in Tennessee. Individually, our various groups are small. But united, we represent the silent majority of Memphis.

This Sunday we will come together to send Nashville the message that we are united in our opposition to legislation that attacks the liberty and well-being of any minority. “An attack on one of us is an attack on all of us!” said Will Batts, Director of Memphis Gay and Lesbian Community Center.

A coalition of progressive groups including Tennessee Equality Project, Planned Parenthood Greater Memphis Region, Memphis Gay and Lesbian Community Center, and Mid-South Peace and Justice Center and many others will hold a rally this Sunday, June 12th at 3pm on the steps of First Congregational Church (First Congo), 1000 South Cooper Street.

WHAT: Justice for All Rally
DATE: Sunday, June 12, 2011
TIME: 3:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m.
PLACE: First Congregational Church, 1000 So. Cooper Street
PROGRAM: The rally is being put together by a coalition of progressive political activists and minority rights groups.

Line up of Speakers includes:
  • Rev. Cheryl Cornish, First Congregational Church 
  • Michelle Bliss, Tennessee Equality Project 
  • Will Batts, Memphis Gay and Lesbian Community Center 
  • Katie Smith, Planned Parenthood Greater Memphis Region
  • Brad Watkins, Mid-South Peace & Justice Center
  • Marion Bacon – Memphis Center for Independent Living Shelly Seeburg AFSCME
  • Tennessee Immigrant & Refugee Rights Coalition- Gaby Benitiz

PURPOSE: The purpose of the rally is to build a permanent coalition of progressive organizations that united will oppose legislation that infringes on individual liberties and harms the interests of the poor, the working class and minority groups of all stripes.

For more information, visit the Facebook event.
- Jonathan Cole

Friday, June 10, 2011

Can the Herald-Citizen handle the truth?

Last night we brought you the story of Shayne Bilbrey's attempt to get his letter to the editor about GLBT youth published in The Herald-Citizen. Since that time Evan Hurst of Truth Wins Out has picked up the post and today R.G. Cravens, chair of the TEP Upper Cumberland Committee, is pressing for answers in his own letter to the editor:

To whom it may concern,

I'm writing today about an issue that has recently been brought to the attention of our organization.

We were recently contacted by Shayne Bilbrey who authored a letter to your paper with a message of encouragement to LGBT students and youth in our area. The letter is a message of hope and acceptance which is desperately needed, especially in areas like ours. Shayne reported that he was told by a member of your staff that his letter would not be published because it did not meet the "family values" standards of your publication.

Let me share with you some staggering facts about young people in the LGBT community from the Trevor Project:
  • Lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth are up to four times more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual peers (Massachusetts Youth Risk Survey 2007).
  • More than 1/3 of LGB youth report having made a suicide attempt (D’Augelli AR - Clinical Child Psychiatry and Psychology 2002)
  • Nearly half of young transgender people have seriously thought about taking their lives and one quarter report having made a suicide attempt (Grossman AH, D’Augelli AR - Suicide and Life Threatening Behavior 2007)
  • Questioning youth who are less certain of their sexual orientation report even higher levels of substance abuse and depressed thoughts than their heterosexual or openly LGBT-identified peers (Poteat VP, Aragon SR, et al – Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology 2009)
  • LGB youth who come from highly rejecting families are more than 8 times as likely to have attempted suicide than LGB peers who reported no or low levels of family rejection (Ryan C, Huebner D, et al - Peds 2009;123(1):346-352)
  • More information is available here:
So you see, regardless of your values, I think we can agree that the life of a young person is more valuable than anything.

The Herald-Citizen has recently appeared in a number of blog posts regarding this issue:

I would hope that the Herald-Citizen does not have a policy of rejecting letters relating to GLBT issues simply because they disagree with the content. It is my hope that your paper can show our community locally and nationally that you are accepting of differing opinions and appreciate the diversity of the Upper Cumberland region.

Please consider publishing Shanye's letter or contact me so we can discuss your actual policy as we intend to write letters to your paper in the future.

Thank you for your time,

R.G. Cravens
Chair, Tennessee Equality Project Upper Cumberland Committee

-Posted by Chris Sanders

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Don't Say Gay also the policy of some TN newspapers?

Have you ever wondered why you don't see stories and opinion about the struggle for equality of Tennessee's gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community in some Tennessee newspapers?

Question 1: Is it because we only inhabit urban enclaves? Nope. We're all over the state, according to the Williams Institute's analysis of census data.

Question 2: Has it been a slow news year for discriminatory legislation? Um, no. The Don't Say Gay bill and the Special Access to Discrimination law (SB632/HB600) were frequently covered in the newspapers of the state's four largest cities.

Question 3: Is it because we weren't pitching stories (not that we should have to)? Strike 3. The Lebanon Democrat would not cover the Special Access to Discriminate law, even though it was sponsored by Sen. Mae Beavers from Wilson County and they were definitely given the opportunity.

Question 4: Is it because we weren't writing letters? We were and I have to point out a notable exception to the pattern. The Crossville Chronicle did publish a letter by R. G. Cravens, our TEP Upper Cumberland Committee Chair, on the Special Access to Discriminate law. But we've run into an instance of erasure by another Upper Cumberland paper, The Herald-Citizen out of Cookeville. Shayne Bilbrey tells us that he wrote a letter to the paper about the difficulties that gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender youth face, but when he talked to a representative of the paper on the phone, he was told "that they were a family values newspaper, and they weren't comfortable with publishing it."

Take action: We suspect this sort of thing happens quite a bit. So we're going to publish Shayne's letter below. But if you'd like to send a letter to the Herald-Citizen, you can do so at . Or you can post a comment on the wall of their Facebook page asking them whether they are trying to disappear their gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender readers. Do it for Shayne and the other readers who are looking for coverage of the whole spectrum of people living in the Upper Cumberland.

Shayne's Letter: And now here it is:

It’s okay to be Gay

High school graduation is just around the corner, and well over a thousand Putnam County students will be graduating this year. Most of them had the normal teenage years, goingto prom with the person they love, getting that first kiss, or getting their driver’s license at sixteen. Yet for some kids that dream was a long shot, because some of this year’s graduates are Gay, Lesbian, or Bisexual. Most of these students couldn’t have that dream life, because they were usually the primary targets for bullying. The bullying would vary from daily taunting such as being called a “fag” or a “queer.” The students usually behind the bullying would often cite the bible, or what their preacher told them. This is very troubling for that, in a society that values individualism, we can’t honor these kids fundamental right to let them be whoever they want to be and to be with. I know that when I came out, during my senior year in high school, I was faced with some backlash, but even before that I was called many names, and felt at times that I was worthless, which is similar to how some of these students feel. It hurts to be bullied at school, but to be bullied in your own home is incomprehensible. Thankfully, I have a family who loves me for who I am, and for which I am blessed for. Yet, it saddens me when I hear of some of my friends, which have come out to their parents, have had to face ridicule from their own parents. Some parents go as far as to disowning their own child, calling them a failure, and sending them to a gay to straight camp. I don’t understand why a parent would do such a thing, but sadly it happens a lot. Well I‘m here to say that, things will and do get better, granted they’re still some that disagree, but it does get better. We should all be able to value ourselves, love others, and be able to accept all for whom they are. We are all God’s children, and he loves us all in the same way. So if you are Gay, Lesbian, Transsexual, and bisexual, it’s okay to be you, and be proud of who you are, and will become. Love, cherish, and embrace thy own self.

-Chris Sanders

Can you help overturn the Special Access to Discriminate Act?

The Tennessee General Assembly, Governor Bill Haslam and member companies of the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce and Industry have taken a lot heat in local and national media in the weeks following passage of the hateful “Special Access to Discriminate” Act.

Can you help repair
the damage caused by
the SAD Act?
Proponents of the SAD Act boast that HB600/SB632 is a “first-in-the-nation” law - not realizing their responsibility in making Tennessee the last place that educated professionals, skilled workers, and entrepreneurs want to live and work. With national attention focused on the intolerance and bigotry codified in the law, it’s hard to see anything worth bragging about.

Tennessee Equality Project fought hard to defeat the Special Access to Discriminate Act (HB600/SB632) in the legislature before it became law in Tennessee, and we will do our part to ensure a successful challenge of the law in the courts.

While TEP will continue to be at front line of the fight for equality in the workplace, you might be just the right person to help overturn the SAD Act and keep similar laws from spreading to other states.

A number of people in Tennessee may be directly affected by the SAD Act, including:
  1. Employees of companies who contract with Metro Nashville Government. These contract employees are no longer protected from employment discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, veteran status, or disability.
  2. Children in Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools are no longer protected from discrimination in education based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
  3. Children who attend Memphis City Schools are no longer protected from discrimination in education based on sexual orientation.
  4. Individuals living in the City of Memphis who depend on Section 8 vouchers or SSI disability income are no longer protected from housing discrimination based on source of income. Memphians are also no longer protected from housing discrimination based on age.
  5. Has the local government of your city, county, or school board enacted additional protections from discrimination that are not already covered by state law? If so, people who were protected by those local provisions may no longer benefit from those protections.
Do you, your friends, or members of your family fall into any of the above categories?

If you do, you may have standing as a plaintiff in a lawsuit challenging the Special Access to Discrimination Act in Tennessee. Tennessee Equality Project encourages you to contact Nashville-area attorney Abby Rubenfeld for more information (parents should call on behalf of their children):

Rubenfeld Law Office
2409 Hillsboro Road, Suite 200
Nashville, Tennessee 37212
615-386-9077 / 615-386-3897 (facsimile)

The Tennessee General Assembly may have adjourned for 2011, but Tennessee Equality Project continues to fight for the equal rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and their families in our state.

- Jonathan Cole 

Sunday, June 5, 2011

HB600's rationale in shambles, pressure builds for repeal

It was another bad week for SB632/HB600, the Special Access to discriminate law as Nashville students presented a petition for its repeal to Governor Bill Haslam while the Family Action Council of Tennessee (the real pusher of the law) reacted hysterically and defensively to the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce & Industry abandoning them at the unholy altar of hate.

Students petition for redress of grievances: A group of Nashville students who have been active in opposing the Don't Say Gay bill have turned their attention to HB600. They marched from the Metro Courthouse to the Capitol and presented a petition to the Governor's staff, earning the praise of Congressman Jim Cooper, according to The Tennessean:

“It reminds me of the Freedom Riders in the ’60s,” he [Cooper] said.

Another Jim turns the business argument on its head: Meanwhile in Memphis, Sen. Jim Kyle, the sponsor of SB2121 that would repeal HB600, met the business argument that had been used to support discrimination and Jiu-Jitsued it into an argument about Tennessee's place in a global economy during a WSMV interview:

"This measure needs a second look," said Kyle. "This goes directly to our ability to be competitive in a world market and on a world stage."

Proponents on the defensive: The video isn't up yet, but Pat Nolan asked Speaker of the House Beth Harwell, who abruptly announced her support of HB600 in April, about the repeal in the most recent episode of Inside Politics. My guess is that those who supported the measure will continue to face embarrassing questions. But we do have video of the Family Action Council of Tennessee's president, David Fowler. In one of the most audacious redefinitions of "bullying" ever to be broadcast, Mr. Fowler bemoans the business community retreating from the legislation and accuses the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community of bullying business:

First, let's be clear. Businesses colluded in discriminating against Tennessee workers. It was only natural that our community and our allies would raise an outcry. Second, Mr. Fowler's organization bullied lawmakers with a deceptive video implying that non-discrimination ordinances lead to gender confusion, which would then magically give carte blanche to predators who want to follow children into bathrooms. Third, the irony of Mr. Fowler standing on a playground talking about bullying when organizations like his actively work against adding explicit protections against bullying based on sexual orientation and gender identity to school policies is THICK!

But the real point is that Family Action is feeling a little bit lonely as the realization hits that everyone has now seen through their pro-business facade. If I were a business leader, I would be fuming that I had let them lead me into so much bad publicity and potential loss of market share.

More to come: Students petitioning, businesses doing a 180-degree turn, the filing of SB2121...has the story finally run out of twists and turns? No way. Once the court challenge is filed, the story will continue to make the news. And we will continue to see just how much of a mess HB600 has made for our state.

-Chris Sanders