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 28, 2011

Family Action wants it all, but can't follow the money

There is so much whining from Family Action that they can't dictate Puritan values in every corner of the state that it's hard to know where to begin.  They could untangle all their confusion if they just learned to follow the money.

Vanderbilt:  The latest episode in their melodrama comes in reaction to a clarification in Vanderbilt University's non-discrimination policy.  Family Action is livid that the university is actually taking steps to apply the policy consistently to all officially recognized and funded student groups including religious organizations, most of which are already in compliance. Plus, the university is generously working with the rest in the mean time.

What's the problem?  Family Action seems to think that TEP is being contradictory because we support the Vanderbilt policy on the one hand while saying that we don't wish to interfere with anyone's religion on the other in reference to case of Memphis' Bellevue Baptist Church  abusing its tax-exempt status by engaging in candidate endorsements.

Are you confused?  We suspect that's the idea.

That little word "money" can make sense of everything.  Let's follow the money.

Vanderbilt funds and recognizes student organizations.  If you want to get the funds and use space at Vanderbilt, you have to follow the rules.  Is it really so crazy to say that you can't discriminate against other members of the university community, members who pay tuition and the activity fee?  If you don't like the rules, you can exist unofficially and discriminate to your heart's content.

Bellevue Baptist:   Would you believe that money takes care of the Bellevue Baptist question, too?  Bellevue Baptist has tax exempt status as a Church.  That means contributions to it are tax deductible and that for the most part the Church avoids paying many if not all taxes.  The string that comes with that status, a status they indicate they want, is that they can't meddle in elections.  If they want to give up their tax exempt status, they can say whatever they want about candidates.  They could even register as a political action committee and contribute to them if they wanted to.  They're free to choose, but they can't have both. 

Other amazing difficulties solved:  And would you believe that Family Action could unravel other puzzles just by following the money?  Their recent complaints about Blue Cross Blue Shield of Tennessee and Nashville's Contract Accountability Non-Discrimination Ordinance could all disappear if they'd just realize that people and organizations have choices about how they use their money.  Blue Cross Blue Shield is free to determine if it wants to give some of its contracting business to gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender owned companies.  And before Family Action came along, cities and counties in Tennessee were free to determine their own contracting policies reflective of the will of local taxpayers.  You'd think all this freedom would be right up their ally.

So not only can Family Action not follow the money, they can't bear private companies and organizations and local governments setting policies that reflect their own values about what to do with their own funds.

Is the thread of conspiracy, er, um, consistency clear now?

-Chris Sanders

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Does Bellevue Love Memphis?

Recently, I've heard friends ask why Bellevue Baptist Church is allowed to serve as a polling location for elections. Bellevue and its minister, Steve Gaines, frequently inject themselves into political discourse, particularly when it comes to denying equal rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and their families. Gaines opposed employment non-discrimination ordinances in Shelby County and in Memphis. A few weeks ago, Gaines used his pulpit, church email and the church blog to tell his congregation who to vote for in Memphis City Council elections.

I've heard many LGBT people and their allies say that they cannot bring themselves onto the Bellevue Baptist Church campus because of the hostility they feel from the congregation.

What do you think?

Should the Shelby County Election Commission allow Bellevue Baptist Church to serve as a polling site for voting ?

Voice your opinion in our Grand Divisions poll on the right side of this blog. - Jonathan Cole

Monday, September 26, 2011

Because It is Who I Am

Why? What's in it for you? Why do you care? Who do you know? Are any of your relatives? Why this cause? Why now? Are you sure you want to do this? Does everyone know about you?

These questions and all their permutations have been asked of me on multiple occasions since The National Equality March, October 10, 2009, the first day of my out and open equality activism. I have stumbled over answers and left everyone feeling dissatisfied. I should have been clear and definitive in my answer because these are the questions an equality activist longs to be asked. They could have my invitation to persuade the "moveable middle" a little. But instead, I have stammered, hesitated, and betrayed my lack of direction. No more. I sat down and took at look at my motivations, wrote them out, analyzed them, and now share them with you so that the next time I am asked, I will have an answer.

What you first must know is that I have never been typical. I was not a typical little girl. I would rather play with trucks in the dirt and climb all over farm equipment than play house. I had three brothers, and I was determined to be the best brother of them all. After I broke my arm at age 5, I had to have the small cast replaced three times as I brandied it about as a weapon against those brothers. I was strong even then. While that may have been the last time I was ever the BEST at anything, I have always been good at lots of things. I have been determined, goal oriented, independent, and bright, and I was taught that I had the whole world ahead of me. I, however, was also fat. The combination of ambition, brains, and brawn made me different from all the girls in school. I was not the most popular and never had a boyfriend. I was bullied as all fat kids are, and I was left out a lot. Sound familiar to anyone? I knew then, and I know now, how being different affects a child. Fortunately, I had my mother as a safety net, but the hurt was deep and painful.

Secondly, I have a genetic predisposition for advocacy. My father was a high school educated poor dirt farmer in north Mississippi, but he was smart, well read, and a jack of all trades. As his farm grew, he got involved with agricultural politics. He served on the county Farm Bureau Board of Directors and worked on the state level. In 1978, he led a group of farmers from Mississippi in the march on Washington D.C. by the American Agricultural Movement. He sat in a tractor in an intersection in DC until attention was paid, and he lobbied for better benefits and legislation for the American family farmer. So, there you go. An activist by DNA.

Third, I am an advocate by training and trade. In law school, I honed my argument skills in other to make any case persuasively, passionately, and honestly. I can now use the law and the facts to persuade and defend, to move to action and to inhibit, to reach out to others and to separate myself, and to promote understanding and to divide when necessary. My training in advocacy enables me to take advantage of situations in which reasonable minds debate and where unreasonable minds can be shown a different way. In other words, I have been prepared for a good fight my whole life.

But these three factors do not answer the initial questions, do they? With these three, I could have taken up a number of causes like reproductive rights, access to health care, or education reform, all of which I strongly support. But I am here. With equality advocates and GLBT people in Tennessee fighting for fair treatment. Why this cause? Why now?

The answer is simple. Equality goes to my very soul. It speaks to all of me. I wanted to be treated like every other girl when I was in school and I wanted to be the best brother. This dichotomy separated me from the others, and I was treated differently. I have never nor will I ever fit someone's notions of who I am and, more importantly, who I am not. Today, I am treated differently when people learn that I am an attorney or that I was formerly morbidly obese. Neither of those facts define me, and if you did not know either, you would still have a clear picture as to who I am. However, being GLBT is not so easily dismissed. It can be hidden and denied, but it is always a part of a gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender person. If it is hidden away for convenience, for acceptance, or, unfortunately, safety, then everyone is denied the privilege of knowing that hidden person. I want to help provide a safe place for everyone to be their full, authentic selves so that we are all beneficiaries of their great gifts and so that they may live their best lives.

I want equality in the simplest of everyday life and in the grandest of inherent, human rights. I want my GLBT friends to be able to put pictures of their partners or spouses on their desks. I want those partners and spouses to be able to pick their loved ones up from work without worry. I want GLBT people to attend company functions with their whole family without fear of retaliation or physical violence. I want them to be housed, to work, to marry without difference. Though some people are attempting to impose their personal belief system and biases on us all, my government was designed to preclude that. Equality is a concept birthed by slave owners, refined by future generations, and adopted into the very soul of the United States in the 14th Amendment to the Constitution. That same amendment breathes life into everyone in this country who is not white, Anglo-Saxon, protestant, and male.

I swore to uphold the Constitution when I was admitted to the bar, when hired by the court, and when entering my current job. I take that vow seriously, and I will fight for our Constitution and its application to everyone. I will be there when bigots deny the 14th Amendment or want to change it, and I will be there when the judiciary informs "them" differently. I will be there when narrow minds and patriarchal religion seek to marginalize GLBT citizens. I will wave the constitution and yell, "Hell, no we can't" deny people their liberty. Thank you, Speaker Boehner. We cannot let prejudice win. We cannot let religious intolerance rule the day. We, allies and GLBT together, will make the future rich and full for all.

So, there you go. I am a trained attorney and a born atypical advocate who believes in the Constitution and that its protections belong to us all. That's what I will push with fundamentalists and red-state, white men and anyone else who opposes progress. More importantly and less legalistically, though, is that I want what is right to be done in this country, in this state, for our kids, and in our lifetime. So, why do I advocate for GLBT equality? It's where I belong. It's what I believe. It's what I hope for. It's how I teach my manchild. It's how I engage my husband. It's how I live my life. When we are all equal, we are all better. I work for equality because it's who I am. I work for equality for Jeremy.

Anne Gullick
co-chair Tennessee Equality Project Shelby County Committee
state board member of Tennessee Equality Project

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Austin example disproves Family Action theory

image from City of Austin's website
During the debate over SB632/HB600 that nullified Nashville's contractor non-discrimination ordinance, we heard all kinds of bizarre gloom-and-doom scenarios of what would befall our economy if Tennessee cities were allowed to add factors to their non-discrimination policies beyond what is covered by the state.  Family Action of Tennessee crafted the message.  Rep. Glen Casada and Sen. Mae Beavers delivered it.

It's a message that is pure theory and it ignores the real experience of cities in other states that have adopted more comprehensive non-discrimination ordinances that apply to the private sector.

Austin, Texas is a prime example.  According to the Tennessean, the city (along with progressive Nashville) is weathering the economic downturn better than most Southern cities, even though it's a little "weird":

But it is Austin — wired, weird and bouncing back from recession better than most — that Nashville secretly dreams of matching for economic vitality.
The two state capitals have many similarities.
Both have strong presences in growth industries — technology for Austin and health care in Nashville.
Both can boast of a better-educated workforce, thanks in large part to being home to major universities. And both seem to have emerged from the recent housing bust with relatively fewer scars.
Austin, home of the University of Texas, also has made a concerted effort to keep a bigger share of its college graduates at home, and that pays dividends for many years, an economic consultant familiar with the city says.
“When I came here 28 years ago, we retained like 5 percent (of graduates),” said Angelos Angelou, principal executive officer of Angelou Economics Inc. “Now, it’s more like 35 percent or 40 percent.”
That’s one area where Nashville could learn from Austin, Schulz said.
Another is how to better retain and attract highly skilled workers, a key goal of the Nashville chamber after a recent study predicted Music City will face a shortage of employees in fields such as information technology unless something is done to boost training for jobs of the future.

It's refreshing to hear about the labor side of the jobs equation rather than just the message we get from many legislators about "regulation."  

Austin not only has a comprehensive non-discrimination ordinance that applies to business, but it also has a contractor ordinance that requires vendors to agree to its non-discrimination policy and offer partner benefits.  According to Family Action of Tennessee, that ought to be killing jobs and confusing people with a "patch work of laws." 

Weird, huh?

-Chris Sanders

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Sen. Mae Beavers pretends to believe in local control

State Sen. Beavers is supposedly a fan of local control, local government, local communities.  How do we know?  She is the first signatory of this letter opposing a federal lawsuit brought by the ACLU against Sumner County Schools. 

Here's a sample of what's in the letter: 

The atmosphere within our classrooms is best placed in the hands of our teachers and principals in cooperation with students and parents, then with school administration and finally with our elected school board.  It is healthy for us, as a community, to debate the policies of our schools.  When we have disagreements it is up to us to work out those disagreements to the best of our ability within our own community, not in front of a federal court.

Oh, but wait.  Let's back up.  Wasn't Sen. Beavers the sponsor of SB632 that nullified Metro Nashville's contractor non-discrimination ordinance?  Yep, she was.  Not many people remember that because the editors at the Lebanon Democrat refused to take the opportunity to tell their readers that a Wilson County senator was meddling in another county.   Sen. Beavers may have gotten a freebie from the Lebanon Democrat, but we noticed. 

We thought you'd want to know, too.

-Chris Sanders

Thursday, September 22, 2011

A Real Pro-Family Vote at Bellevue Baptist Church

Bring your friends and family to Bellevue Baptist Church this Saturday at 12 Noon to vote early in City of Memphis elections for candidates who truly demonstrate pro-family and pro-equality values that Pastor Steve Gaines can only hope to represent.

Last Sunday, Pastor Gaines declared war on LGBT people and their families from his pulpit at Bellevue Baptist Church. Gaines asked his congregation this week to vote against candidates who support the right of people to earn a living, provide for their families and contribute to their communities. 

It's incredible that Gaines could claim any knowledge of what it means to be pro-family (see Gaines kept a confessed child molester on his staff for six months and endangered children and families of his parish. 

Don't let a demagogue determine the fate of Memphis City Council elections and pull the strings of Memphis government. 

Let's show Memphis what pro-family really means. Come vote in City of Memphis elections for candidates who really do support families at 12 Noon on Saturday at Bellevue Baptist Church. Bring your photo ID and voter registration card and wear purple so everyone will know who the pro-family voters are!

See for more details about pro-family and pro-equality candidates endorsed by TEP PAC.

What: Pro-Family Vote for Equality
Where: Bellevue Baptist Church, 2000 Appling Road
When: 12 Noon, Saturday, September 24, 2011

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Pastor Steve Gaines leads attack against working people in Memphis City Elections

In a special email alert sent Tuesday of this week, Bellevue Baptist Church called on members to vote against equality and fairness in the current City of Memphis elections scheduled for October 6, 2011. The church mentioned the Tennessee Equality Project's Political Action Committee specifically in the email and on its blog:

It's shocking to learn that Pastor Steve Gaines called upon his flock to vote for Memphis City Council candidates who support a "pro-family" agenda. Pastor Gaines is the same man who secretlyprotected a confessed child molester on Bellevue's clergy staff for over 6 months; the same man who allowed this child abuser to counsel others who worked with children; The same man who allowed a sexual predator to counsel victims of child sexual abuse. What qualifies Pastor Gaines to say anything meaningful about family values when he places victims of abuse and children in his own church at risk?

The link provided in the message leads to the Family Action Council of Tennessee's website listing of "pro-family" candidates to support for Memphis City Council. Pastor Gaines is using his bully pulpit to attack law abiding people who simply want the right to make a living in Memphis. He's also using his Bible and church to prop up his personal bias and bigotry against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people. Gaines lives outside Memphis city limits yet believes he should determine the fate of city elections.

How firmly does Pastor Steve Gaines pull the strings of Councilors Morrison, Boyd, and Conrad? How "pro-family" or pro-worker can these candidates be if Pastor Gaines is calling the shots from his pulpit? Surely the good people in the pews at Bellevue Baptist Church and the people of Memphis deserve guidance from better men than this.

Truly pro-family voters will be voting for candidates who support the right of all people to earn a living, provide for their families and contribute to their communities without fear of unfair workplace discrimination. Voters can be proud to cast their vote in District 1, District 2, and Superdistrict 9-1 for pro-equality and pro-family candidates endorsed by TEP PAC: Kendrick Sneed, Sylvia Cox and Paul Schaffer. They aren't likely to succumb to a false prophet like Steve Gaines.
Learn about the other equality advocates endorsed by TEP PAC here.

- Jonathan Cole

TEP PAC is a state political action committee registered in Tennessee, Joyce Peacock, treasurer. The endorsements of TEP PAC do not necessarily represent the views of the board of the Tennessee Equality Project. 

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Be an Informed Voter for Equality

Early Voting has begun in the Memphis City elections, and will continue through October 1, 2011, with the General Election on October 4th. Information on Early Voting locations can be found here.

TEP PAC recently announced endorsements for City Council, and these biographical sketches are produced by the TEP Shelby County Committee to help our Equality voters to know more about their candidates. A special thanks to our TEP intern, Hannah Guess of the University of Memphis, for the work she put into compiling this for us.

It is important that every Equality Advocate in Tennessee votes in every election. Many races are won by just a handful of votes in local elections. Every vote counts, and it is your right as a citizen to vote. Remember, votes are like muscles, exercise them or you may lose them. See you all at the polls!

TEP PAC is a state political action committee registered in Tennessee, Joyce Peacock, treasurer. The endorsements of TEP PAC do not necessarily represent the views of the board of the Tennessee Equality Project.

Kendrick Sneed
Millington native Kendrick Sneed is running for District 1. After graduating from Millington Central High School, Sneed worked as a campaign aide for former Tennessee Congressman Harold Ford, Sr., then went on to serve the county as a Deputy Sheriff for the Shelby County Sheriff's Department. Sneed is currently working towards a degree in Applied Psychology with a concentration in Criminal Justice from Christian Brothers University.
Sneed is committed to reforming the city's educational system and to serving the underprivileged in the community. He is also interested in registering and educating new voters on the issues that matter the most to them. Sneed's support of workers' rights and benefits has earned him an endorsement by the AFL-CIO Labor Council.

Sylvia Cox

District 2 candidate Sylvia Cox is originally from Illinois, but she has lived in Memphis for over 30 years. Cox has both a Bachelor's Degree in Music Education from Harding University and an Associate Degree in Business Applications Technology from Southwest Tennessee Community College. Prior to her current job as an IT Contractor with Accredo Health, Cox worked at FedEx, along with serving District 2 on the Memphis Charter Commission for three years.
Cox is very involved in the community, serving as a board member of both Network of Memphis, an organization for progressive businesswomen, and MidSouth Science Fiction Conventions. She also volunteers at the St. Jude Golf Tournament and the Orpheum Theatre. Cox is especially concerned with making positive changes at the Memphis Animal Shelter, and she shows her dedication to animals by serving as a volunteer for Real Good Dog Rescue.

Wanda Halbert
Native Memphian Wanda Halbert has served District 4 since 2007. Prior to her time on the city council, Halbert served on the Memphis City School Board for seven years and was its president in 2005. She has worked at FedEx for over 20 years. Halbert attended both State Technical Institute and the University of Memphis.
Halbert has shown a particular commitment to women and minorities in the community, having created the Minority and Women Business Enterprise Commission, as well as students, sponsoring a resolution to fund literacy programs for Memphis City Schools. In her time on the city council, Halbert has worked to clean up the blight in her district. She is dedicated to community service, volunteering her time to multiple organizations including March of Dimes and United Way. Halbert has been endorsed by the Memphis AFL-CIO Labor Council. Last session, Halbert voted in favor of the employment non-discrimination ordinance.

Jim Strickland
Jim Strickland has served District 5 since 2007. Although originally from Louisville, Kentucky, Strickland has lived in Memphis for over 30 years, attending both the University of Memphis and the University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphrey's School of Law. Strickland is a practicing attorney, having formerly served as an instructor at the Cecil C. Humphrey's School of Law and as a Tennessee Supreme Court clerk.
An active member of the community, Strickland has volunteered for multiple organizations in the city, including the St. Vincent de Paul Soup Kitchen and Alpha Omega Veterans Services. Strickland also served on the Board of Directors for both Habitat for Humanity and the Memphis Botanic Garden. Strickland has shown a commitment to the environment, resurrecting the city's Recycling Committee and devoting a great deal of time to protecting Overton Park. Strickland supported last session’s employment non-discrimination ordinance. Strickland was also endorsed by the Memphis AFL-CIO Labor Council.

Edmund Ford, Jr.
Native Memphian Edmund Ford, Jr. has served District 6 since 2007. Ford earned both a B.S. in Mathematics with a minor in Computer Science and an M.S. in Mathematical Sciences from Tennessee State University, before taking 2 years of PhD classes in Leaderhip and Policy Studies at Vanderbilt and earning an Ed.S. in Administration and Supervision from Tennessee State University. Ford is currently working on an Ed.D. in Higher Education Administration and Supervision from Tennessee State University. Ford’s father, Edmund Ford, Sr. is running for Mayor in this election.
As a math teacher at Central High School, Ford shows a dedication to education, having created the Ford Gateway Tutoring Fund to aid students struggling with math examinations. Ford is an Advisory Board Member of the Tennessee Renewable Energy and Economic Development Council and an active member of the community, involved with multiple neighborhood associations and MPACT Memphis. The Memphis AFL-CIO Labor Council has endorsed Ford. Ford voted in favor of the employment non-discrimination ordinance last session.

Lee Harris
District 7 candidate Lee Harris was born and raised in Memphis. Harris earned a B.A. in International Studies from Morehouse College before earning a law degree from Yale Law School. Harris now teaches at the University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphrey's School of Law.
Harris has been involved with a number of organizations, including the Big Brothers/Big Sisters program. He helped to form and lead the Young Democrats of Memphis and Shelby County, as well as chairing a local Head Start program. He also serves as a director of the Goodwill Homes Community Services Agency. Harris has been endorsed by West Tennesseans for Progress.

Tammy Warren
Proof not approved in time for publication

Janis Fullilove
Janis Fullilove has served District 8 since 2007. A native Memphian, Fullilove has a B.A. and a Masters in Communication from the University of Memphis. Before being elected to the city council, Fullilove was an instructor of communications at the University of Memphis and served on the Memphis Charter Commission. Fullilove also has a history in the broadcasting world, even earning an Emmy nomination for her reporting on ABC 24.
Fullilove is dedicated to serving the underprivileged and minorities in her district. She is also dedicated to transforming the city, helping to begin the South Memphis Revitalization Project. Fullilove was also endorsed by the Memphis AFL-CIO Labor Council. Fullilove is one of the most outspoken advocates in the city for LGBT rights, and she sponsored the first employment non-discrimination ordinance presented to the council.

Myron Lowery
City Council Chairman Myron Lowery has served on the city council for five terms. Although originally from Columbus, Ohio, Lowery has lived in Memphis for over 45 years. Lowery holds a B.A. in Sociology from LeMoyne-Owen College, an M.S. in Education from New York University, and an M.S. in Urban Education from University of Tennessee. Lowery served as Chairman of the Memphis Charter Commission and as Mayor Pro Tem. Lowery has been a board member of numerous city organizations, including the Headstart Policy Council, the Riverfront Development Corporation, and the Memphis Zoo. Lowery is the former Vice President of the National Association of Black Journalists. He is currently a board member of both the National Black Caucus of Local Elected Officials and the National League of Cities.
Lowery is extremely involved in the community. Lowery has led a number of fatherhood events, as well as gun buy-back programs, and he has been endorsed by the Memphis AFL-CIO Labor Council. He is also involved with the Memphis Urban League and the Goodwill Boys Club. Last session, he voted yes on the employment non-discrimination ordinance.

Paul Shaffer
Paul Shaffer is running for Position One of District Nine. Although Shaffer is not originally from Memphis, he has lived in various parts of the city for nearly forty years. Shaffer has worked as a journeyman electrician since graduating from the Memphis Electrical Apprenticeship Program. Shaffer is currently the business manager of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local Union 474, as well as president of the Memphis Building and Construction Trades Council and vice president of both the Memphis and Tennessee AFL-CIO Labor Councils.
Shaffer is involved in a number of local organizations, including Habitat for Humanity and United Way. He also volunteers his time to the Wolf River Conservancy and the National Ornamental Metal Museum. Shaffer has been endorsed by the Memphis AFL-CIO Labor Council, the Memphis and West Tennessee Building and Construction Trades Council, and the Memphis Firefighters Association IAFF 1784.

Shea Flinn
Shea Flinn has served District 9 since 2007. A native Memphian, Flinn has a B.A. from Rhodes College and a law degree from the University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphrey's School of Law. Flinn was also an interim state senator. He is currently the vice president of, and attorney for, Flinn Broadcasting Corporation.
Flinn has shown a dedication to fighting crime in the city, creating Citizens Against Crime and serving as a chair of Operation: Safe Community. Flinn supports non-discrimination employment policies for public employees, and he sponsored the latest version of the employment non-discrimination ordinance presented to the council.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Who will be Tennessee's Tammy Baldwin?

If you've been on Facebook today you've probably seen several announcements from different organizations and news outlets that Wisconsin Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin is officially running for the United State Senate.  If elected, she would be the first out member of the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community to hold this office.  A Baldwin victory would be significant, not just in terms of the historical achievement, but also because it would help significantly in the fight against DOMA, for ENDA, and for a host of other equality legislation that is now bottled up.  It's also significant that her candidacy emerges at a time when Wisconsin has seen attacks on domestic partnerships and organized labor from Governor Scott Walker and the Legislature.

Little noted in all the media coverage is how she got her start in politics.  She started at the local level:

 Tammy Baldwin served four terms as a Dane County (WI) Supervisor (1986-1994), representing the downtown Madison area, including the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus. In 1986, Tammy also served briefly on the Madison Common Council, filling an aldermanic vacancy. She served three terms as a WI State Representative for the 78th Assembly District (comprising central and south Madison) from January 1993 to January 1999.

That's right.  She started in city and county government and advanced to the Legislature and then to Congress in a methodical progression to higher office.

Lessons for Tennessee:  We seen the election of a lesbian judge in the Memphis area and a gay man  to the Metro Council in Nashville, but we've never elected an out member of our community to a legislative body in a competitive race.  Candidates continue to run in Nashville, getting closer all the time, but we need more members of our community to do what Congresswoman Baldwin did--start local.

We're behind the curve in Tennessee, but not hopelessly so.  There's no time like the present if you're interested in starting.  Tennessee boasts several campaign board members of the Victory Fund who would love to see more viable candidates from our community running for office.  The key is to start early and get the help you need.  I know that TEP PAC, our state political action committee, is also interested in helping good candidates throughout the state. 

If you're thinking about running for office and want to talk, contact us at  Let's start the conversation and find Tennessee's Tammy Baldwin.

-Chris Sanders

Monday, September 5, 2011

Labor Day Edition: Making the Connection between the Labor and Equality Movements in TN

Teacher Rights ARE Human Rights (photo from the March rally)
Happy Labor Day!  Most of the media coverage of the holiday will focus on traffic reports, cookouts, sales, and the like.  Lost is any historical connection to the Labor Movement that made the holiday possible, not to mention the two-day weekend to which the holiday is attached, and a host of other things we take for granted that were hard won victories.  We see the effects everywhere, but we lose sight of the cause.

How Labor has helped the cause of equality in TN:   Tennessee is a "right to work" (right to fire) state, so racking up achievements in the area of worker protections is a hard one.  But the two laws that we've passed--the 2009 Metro non-discrimination ordinance and the 2011 CAN DO law--both came about with the significant help of organized labor.  The International Association of Firefighters, the Service Employees International Union, the AFL-CIO, and the Central Labor Council have lent their endorsements to these laws that seek to protect employees from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.  In both cases, the support of Labor was vital to make it easier for the Council to support these measures.  I should also add that Metro Nashville Education Association negotiated the first non-discrimination policy that included sexual orientation and gender identity for teachers in Tennessee.  That policy built momentum for the 2009 Metro NDO.

There's endlessly more to do to protect workers in Tennessee from discrimination, but the support of Labor helps remind lawmakers and the public that we're talking about basic fairness on the job.  And that kind of frame helps cool heads when religious pronouncements get thrown around, as they inevitably do when an equality bill is introduced.

Is it a two-way street?:  Labor has clearly helped the Equality Movement in Tennessee, but I'd be hard pressed to find a way that we've returned the favor.  The first thing I think we can do is remember and honor the history of help we have received.  We remember the lawmakers who have made a difference.  We sometimes remember our own community's activists.  But we rarely remember and continue to thank our allies.   Let's make it a point to remember and thank our allies in Labor.   

The second approach involves looking at the overlapping patterns of relationships with friend and foe.  Maybe it's possible for the Equality Movement to go its own way without regard to other causes and other issues, but I doubt it.  Philosophically it seems wrong.  From a practical point of view it seems that the well of good will must dry up at some point if our community always comes calling with a hand out and never a hand to help. Looking at mutual opportunities and mutual threats in the political sphere seems like a good place to begin.  It's significant that the same politicians often push anti-labor and anti-equality legislation.   Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, for example, is notoriously anti-labor, but he has also opposed the state's domestic partnership law, and it ain't because he's aiming higher for marriage equality.  We could find similar examples in Wilson and Williamson Counties in Tennessee. 

Speaking of Williamson County and Wisconsin, guess who's going to be in Franklin on October 25.  Governor Scott Walker will be here to speak at a partisan political fundraiser.  There happens to be a protest marking his appearance. 

Those of us who care about equality in Tennessee should be looking at specific opportunities to collaborate with Labor, as the Memphis community did in June at the Justice for All rally. But it's also clear, when one considers the kind of attacks that workers and gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people have endured this year, that we need to build a longer term, statewide coalition of resistance to those efforts that would turn back the clock.  Labor Day provides a good opportunity to think more about how to make that happen.

-Chris Sanders

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Anti-LGBT bias allowed and encouraged at Sequoyah High School

The call for action to confront anti-LGBT bias at Sequoyah High School is growing. Last night, I received a call from a concerned mother in Monroe County, Tennessee. She expressed support for the group of students and parents hoping to charter a Gay-Straight Alliance at Sequoyah.

She knows first hand how Sequoyah students who don't fit in are targeted for bullying or harassment. Her son was assaulted in a poorly supervised class at the school in 2009. Several students captured her son's beating on camera phone and later circulated the video among their peers. Despite ample evidence of the assault, the school and district administration did not nothing to confront or correct the behavior of the students who assaulted her son. Read this mother's account of what happened in her own words:
I don’t know anything about being gay, but I’ve got friends who are gay and lesbian. I have a son that was beaten severely at the high school in 2009 and bullied repeatedly. In my opinion, it’s my opinion only, that there is a very bad history here of . . . especially in that school of . . . if they find something wrong that they can zero in on or if you rock the boat then you are zeroed in on and it’s never ending. My son was absolutely tortured down there. And when I tried to stop the bullying and harassment and intimidation, it was not only not stopped by the faculty, but, in my opinion, they took part in it. They held his diploma. They didn’t print his senior page in the yearbook even though we paid $300 for that. They held his transcripts. He ended up . . . . he wanted to go his prom, but he was afraid to go to his prom. He did not want to go to his graduation. They have ruined his life. And he is 19 years old now. And he left school early just to get away from it all because it was never ending. And it’s still going on to this day. We eventually had to get an attorney.  
My son is not the only one. I have had repeated parents come to me and come talk to me and ask my advice. And I can make you a list. Most of them end up saying that we have to live here. It’s no use. And, in my opinion again, this is one of the most corrupt towns and areas I have ever seen.  
I tried to get on the school board to do something. I was cut off by the Director of Schools. I tried three times. I could not get on the school board agenda. I tried to get public records. It took me over a year. I finally had to go to Nashville and get the open records counsel for the State involved. And even then, I was limited on what I could have. It’s amazing what goes on here. People, in my opinion, are afraid. They are afraid for themselves, they are afraid for their children, they are afraid for the families and they are afraid for their businesses in retaliation for what will happen.  
We need somebody, not just for the gay and lesbian teens but just for people in general, at this school. We need somebody from out of town to take a look and to help make a stand. People are afraid.
This brave mother gave me permission to share her story. I withhold her name to protect her privacy and her family's safety. Her son is not gay, but she believes the systemic culture of fear and intimidation perpetuated by the Monroe County School District must be confronted to provide a safe environment for the children who attend its schools. While addressing the safety of her own son, she learned from another parent that the administration of Sequoyah High School is not addressing specifically anti-gay bullying.
The Secretary of the U.S. Department of Education has said that
Gay-straight alliances (GSAs) and similar student-initiated groups addressing LGBT issues can play an important role in promoting safer schools and creating more welcoming learning environments. 
Organizations like GLSEN (Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network) offer tested resources for creating safe environments for all students in schools regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. We've shared these resources with the group of students and parents seeking to form a GSA at their school. I called and emailed the Monroe County School District Director Mike Lowry earlier this week to offer TEP's assistance in identifying ways to promote a safe environment for all students at Sequoyah High School. Director Lowry has not called back.

It's time for Sequoyah High School to confront the unsafe environment that its principal and school district director appear intent on covering up. Management through inaction is not management at all - especially at the expense of children.