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, November 27, 2011

Australian marriage ad everyone's talking about, TN Tech students against bullying, another swipe at HB600

We hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving.  Here's your weekend roundup.

Australian marriage campaign ad moves the world:  You would have to have avoided Facebook for the last three days or not known any gay people to have missed this compelling ad for the campaign for marriage equality in Australia.  I can't tell you the number of people, straight and gay, who posted "It's Time" over the weekend:

TEP wishes the Australians the best of luck as they get closer to marriage equality!  Spreading the ad around Tennessee can't hurt our own chances for advancing some forms of relationship recognition around here, by the way, even if they don't amount to full marriage equality.

Tennessee Tech students take on bullyingThe Herald-Citizen out of Cookeville has a great piece on a conference being organized by some Tennessee Tech students coming up in January. The conference deals with bullying that targets the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community as well as other minority communities and the topic of cyber-bullying: 

Why should Putnam County be interested in bullying?

"Because it affects everyone," [conference co-organizer Justin] Sweatman said. "Even if you're not a student or parent, you are still in a community where students are being bullied, and it's your responsibility."

And the conference isn't just for locals -- it's a statewide affair.

"Problems don't stop at county lines," Sweatman said. "Bullying is everywhere. But if we can start at home, maybe awareness will spread."

It's always a major win when a local newspaper provides this kind of coverage of an equality issue in Tennessee.  It helps change the attitudes of citizens and it sends a great signal to lawmakers representing the area.

Francois takes swipe at HB600:  In today's Tennessean, former Metro Nashville Council candidate Renard Francois knocks the Legislature over HB600, the Special Access to Discriminate law that nullified Metro's Contract Accountability Non-Discrimination Ordinance, in the course of taking on another state bill that would usurp local control in the area of property taxes: 

This is not the first time the state government has attempted to interfere and undermine the collective will of Davidson County. Last year, the state government simply overturned Nashville’s anti-discrimination ordinance despite robust countywide debate.

Yep, we hope more people will continue to notice the pattern and realize we should have all been trying to stop that train sooner.  But there is still time to fight for legitimate local control.  I hope that all the lobbying interests that are supposed to protect local government--and not the four largest cities in state that did an admirable job this year--get more involved in 2012.

The issue lives.  The press has largely done its job of helping make the citizens of Tennessee realize that they are being usurped.  It's up to all of us to start defending our right to shape our own communities throughout Tennessee.

-Chris Sanders


Sunday, November 20, 2011

Debating the South, Transgender Day of Remembrance, and GSAs

Southern questions:  There's a vigorous discussion going on today at our Facebook page about whether it's appropriate to generalize that the South is "ignorant" or "hateful" and so on.  Such a characterization ignores the countless people fighting back and working for change.  It also enables the tendency of many in the country to write off our region and not bother assisting with the change we readily acknowledge we need.  What do you think?  Log in and join the discussion.

Transgender Day of Remembrance:  It's so vitally important that there is a day to bring into focus all the members of the transgender community that we have lost to violence.  Maryville held its first event yesterday, the same day  Memphis held its annual event.  Nashville's observance at Vanderbilt was earlier last week.  Bianca Phillips makes it clear why it's such an important annual reminder in Tennessee:

Duanna Johnson. Tiffany Berry. Ebony Whitaker. These three transgender women were killed in Memphis over the past six years, and they're a small number in the hundreds of transgender homicide victims nationally.

Passing laws that include gender identity and increasing awareness are life and death matters in our state and around the world.

GSA of Greater Nashville kicks off:   WSMV covered the first meeting of the Gay Straight Alliance of Greater Nashville yesterday and its unique form of organization is likely to get some notice:

Organizers say this is the first community GSA in the United States, as most GSAs are only offered in schools.
While the group is open to everyone, they cater to Nashville residents under 25.

This development is another example of imaginative leadership from our youth.

-Chris Sanders

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

"Don't tell the Chamber or TEP," says Family Action PLUS the protest of a Morristown transgender woman

Worst kept secretThe Tennessean delves into the Family Action Council's correspondence with state lawmakers uncovered in the court challenge to HB600, which overturned Metro Nashville Contract Accountability Non-Discrimination Ordinance.  They thought no one knew what they were up to:

Fowler wrote the group again on Jan. 29 after meeting with chamber officials.
“I felt it was pretty clear that they did not like the ordinance but didn’t want to come across as homophobes or send the country a signal that Nashville was not a great city for all people — was inclusive,” Fowler wrote. “In my opinion the Chamber is clearly trying to document ‘good reasons’ to oppose the bill that anyone with any common sense, regardless of where they stand on the ethic of homosexual conduct, could see are valid concerns.”
Again, Fowler concluded the email by asking recipients not to share it.
“We sure don’t need any loose lips getting word to the Chamber about what I think and for sure not (the Tennessee Equality Project)!” he wrote.

Let's bracket their interpretation of the Chamber's views for now.  The issue is that Family Action officials thought they were fooling people, even TEP, which is odd since everyone knew they were lobbying against the Metro ordinance when it was working its way through the Council.  The intent was clear from the beginning--to keep local governments from protecting gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender employees in their jurisdictions throughout Tennessee.  Although it was no secret, it's clear that Family Action thought discrimination should remain a secret.  SAD!

Transgender woman protests double standard:   WATE is reporting that Andrea Jones, a transgender woman from Morristown, protested the refusal of the DMV to change the sex designation on her licesnse, by taking off her blouse for which she was arrested.

Of course, this puts officials in an odd position.  It's not considered indecent exposure for a male to go shirtless, but in arresting Andrea, they are treating her as a woman...until she tried to get the gender marker changed on her license when she was considered male.  I don't see how they can have it both ways, which is exactly the point of Andrea's protest. 

Secrets and doubles standards are the tools of discrimination in Tennessee!

-Chris Sanders

Monday, November 14, 2011

We are the 60%: Marriage inequality in TN and our options

ThinkProgress takes a look at a New York Times editorial lauding the recent Senate Judiciary Committee vote to pass the Respect for Marriage Act, which would overturn the Defense of Marriage Act.  The title of their post says it all:  "60 Percent of Americans Live in Places That Don't Offer Protections For Gay Couples."  29 states, including Tennessee, bar same-sex marriage via
Image from the Repeal Tennessee's Marriage

Amendment Facebook page

constitutional amendment.  They also include a map ominously called "The Geography of Discrimination."  Again, that's about as clear as it gets.

What can we do in Tennessee?  That's where things ain't so clear.   Here are our options for advancing marriage equality.  Nothing is easy or likely about any of them.

1.  Move our current Congressional delegation on DOMA.  We have a couple of Congressmen who might be persuaded to back repeal of DOMA--Cohen and Cooper.  I wouldn't take such a move for granted.  Our two U.S. Senators aren't fire-breathing Right wingers, but it would be an extremely heavy lift to move either one of them on DOMA.  Senator Alexander is starting to show more of his trademark moderation and independence.  And it's always good for more constituents to let him and Senator Corker, for that matter, know that they oppose DOMA, but don't hold your breath.

2.  Elect new anti-DOMA members to our Congressional delegation.  Defeating any of the decidedly pro-DOMA Senators or Congressmen with an anti-DOMA opponent also seems unlikely.  If Congressman DesJarlais goes down in defeat, it will likely be in the primary to another Right winger.  Tea Partiers talk about challenging Senator Corker, but we still don't know whether a viable Democrat will get in the race.  And even if one does, the odds are low that such a candidate would oppose DOMA--a lesson we learned in 2006.  Could the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community raise the $25,000+ in a House race or the $50,000+ needed to get the attention of a candidate in one of these races?  Yes, it could be done.  It seems unlikely to happen, though.  And even if it did, the anti-DOMA candidate has to win and stick to his or her position. 

3. Repeal Tennessee's amendment.  I'll offer the warning again:  Don't hold your breath.  To repeal a constitutional amendment is to amend the TN Constitution again.  That takes passing a resolution in two consecutive sessions and the second time you have to have two thirds of each House.  So we've got to elect, reelect, or persuade 33 Senators and 66 Representatives.  Are we willing to raise (and this is a conservative estimate) $10,000 for each of the 66 House races and $25,000 for each of the 33 Senate races?  First, I want to say that it could be done.  But I don't think it would happen because our community has shown more willingness to invest our political dollars out of state.  Additionally, all our candidates would have to win and then vote with us in two consecutive sessions.  If a miracle happened and the resolution passed, we would still have to win at the ballot.  Oh, and one last thing, we'd still have to repeal a state statute defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman.  They spent over $3 Million in New York on ads designed to move Republicans in their legislative efforts.  Daunting!

4.  See you in court.  If DOMA is struck down in a court challenge, that would help ease another court challenge to Tennessee's state constitutional amendment and statute.  I'm not an attorney, but my hunch is that it is through the courts that Tennessee will achieve marriage equality.  But I'll let the legal experts weigh in on that one.

The deck is definitely stacked against us, but it's always up to us to decide what to do. There's no doubt in my mind that we could raise the money and volunteer army needed to make a move in 1 to 4 federal races.  That would increase the odds for desperately needed votes out of Tennessee's congressional delegation to pass the Respect for Marriage Act.  As I said, my doubts hinge on our ability to get that kind of agreement and focus statewide. 

I may very well have missed an option.  If so, let's get it out there on the table and discuss it.  Maybe that would help contribute to a statewide consensus so we could develop a plan of action to make our contribution to the movement for marriage equality in Tennessee. 

I'm in.  Are you?

-Chris Sanders

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Weekend Roundup: Rutherford Rep urges purge; civic pride

Mercifully, as far as I know, no Tennessee public official did or said anything incredibly embarrassing when it comes to the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community this weekend.  Sadly, though, that energy was used to attack another group.

Don't Ask, Don't Pray Five Times a Day?:  I believe ThinkProgress broke the story over the weekend of State Rep. Rick Womick of Rutherford County calling for a purge of Muslims from the military.  Here's the video: 

Every citizen should be concerned about this kind of rhetoric.  It inflames existing stereotypes and suspicions and it also inspires legislative proposals.  Do I think any kind of bill banning Muslims from the military would pass or, if it did, pass constitutional muster in the courts?  No, of course not.  But I wouldn't be surprised to learn that a resolution had been filed in the General Assembly urging Congress to administer loyalty tests and the like.

I also look at this issue through the prism of the recent Don't Ask, Don't Tell repeal, which social conservatives fought for years (some still are fighting it).  If you can ban a whole class of people from the military, you can reinforce the argument that they aren't patriotic citizens and that some of their other rights can be taken away.  Circular logic, to be sure.

And that brings us to...

Civic Pride:  The constant stream of embarrassments emanating almost weekly from our red state officials is a strong inducement for many of us to retreat into the refuge of our cities.  Our cities aren't perfect by a long shot.  They have petty squabbles, minor scandals, budget woes, etc.  But they tend not to cause nearly the same level of angst in the area of human rights and human relations as our state officials.  At this point, it's far easier to get Tennessee's gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community involved in city politics than it is in state politics because we can see positive results flowing directly from our actions like the election of Lee Harris to the Memphis City Council.  We're not giving up on the state by any means, but it's nice to have a refuge from the storm.  Beyond politics what we are beginning to see in Tennessee's larger cities is that our open participation in the ordinary life of the city is not some revolutionary act.  It's just business as usual.  

Team TEP
Our Nashville committee participated in the Mayor's Challenge 5K Walk/Run this weekend.  The organizers didn't hesitate to invite us to form a team a few months ago and there were no gasps when we donned our TEP stickers at the event.  The word "equality" doesn't bring to mind the blood bath of the French Revolution to most city dwellers.  That's perhaps a fantasy of the suburbs.  It was just another day and we were just one of dozens of other groups showing our civic pride.  And that, my friends, is what the so called "gay agenda" is all about.  Equal rights, equal participation until it becomes no big deal.

-Chris Sanders

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Memphis Council runoff today, Rogero talks inclusion, Vanderbilt's non-discrimination policy up for consideration?

Memphis:  The long campaign season comes to an end in Memphis today with the runoff for City Council district 7 between Lee Harris, endorsed by TEP PAC, and Kemba Ford.  Both campaigns are predicting a "nail-biter," according to the Commercial Appeal. If you live in this district, please, get out and vote.  The Commercial Appeal link provides you links with information on polling locations and hours.

Knoxville:  On the other end of I-40, the Metro Pulse says Mayor-elect Madeline Rogero was talking inclusion shortly after her victory: 

In her victory speech to hundreds of cheering supporters at the Foundry Tuesday night, Rogero emphasized again the reach of her campaign. “Tonight we come together, as we did throughout this campaign, representing a broad and deep cross-section of Knoxville residents,” she said. “We ran a campaign of inclusiveness, from white collar to blue collar, from labor to management, from every neighborhood north, south, east, west, and downtown. We welcome people of all races and colors, gay and straight, people of all abilities, people from the youngest to the oldest.
“From the youngest to the oldest,” she continued, “from the richest to the poorest, because all of us are Knoxville. And Knoxville will only become greater if all of us are involved.”

These are words that I wish everyone in Tennessee would hear from his or her mayor and, frankly, from Governor Haslam.  Unfortunately, you can count on one hand the number of executives in the state who are comfortable saying something like Rogero did on election night.  But what a great message to come out of East Tennessee! And in the end, it's really an easy message to share once a candidate or elected official decides to cross the mark.

Vanderbilt:  It's been no secret that Right wing groups like the Congressional Prayer Caucus and the Family Action Council have been putting pressure on Vanderbilt over its decision to apply its non-discrimination policy to all officially recognized and funded campus organizations.  What I'm hearing from some employees is that they believe that the Board of Trust, which is meeting this week, may consider scaling back the application of the policy.  If they do, it will be a step back and then the bad publicity will really begin. 

We have taken the step of urging people to contact Vanderbilt and offer support for the policy.  You can do so at this link

Another busy week for our work for equality in all three grand divisions of Tennessee!

-Chris Sanders

Monday, November 7, 2011

Morning brief: Perez, UK on West TN make up flap; Gay marriage play tonight; anti-gay bomb in Kelsey bill

Welcome to the first weekday morning under the new time change.  We've got the links and analysis you need to start your week.

Kasey Landrum story goes big:  The story of Kasey Landrum, the Lexington high school student suspended for wearing make up at school is going national, even international.  Perez Hilton has picked it up with lots of boos for the principal.  "Awful," says Hilton.   And, yes, the story has now crossed the pond.  The Daily Mail reported it over the weekend.  The Pink News (UK) has run a story this morning, discussing the sudden reversal of the principal's repressive make up policy after it was brought to the public's attention.  They quote the district superintendent:

Superintendent Wilkinson, of Henderson County, said: ‘I guess that the easiest thing to do would be to go to a standard policy but we have in the past given a little freedom to our children and their parents about what they choose the wear.’

Good move, Mr. Wilkinson.
image from The Nashville Scene

"Gay marriage" play comes to Nashville Church:   "Standing on Ceremony:  The Gay Marriage Plays" comes to First Church Unity in Nashville tonight only, according to the Nashville Scene.  7:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m.

Anti-gay bomb in Kelsey bill:  As we mentioned over the weekend, State Sen. Brian Kelsey has filed SB2149, which would prevent any city or county in Tennessee from passing an ordinance making family leave, wage, or health insurance requirements for the private sector.  While there are some such ordinances in Tennessee (not many), there is no flood of proposals in local governments around the state.  But I believe there may be some anti-gay bias in the bill.  I wonder whether it is really filed to prevent any city or county from requiring its contractors to provide health insurance for domestic partners, as Austin does.  The discussion came up in a public forum with a leader of Family Action on the eve of the third reading of the Metro Nashville Contract Accountability Non-Discrimination Ordinance.  The leader in question feared partner benefits was next.  Furthermore, the House companion bill to SB2149 will be carried by Rep. Glen Casada whose work against equality is notorious.  It's worth mentioning that Sen. Kelsey's voting record isn't exactly pro-equality.  We'll be watching this bill.

Have a great week!


Saturday, November 5, 2011

Lawsuits, Occupy Nashville, boys in make up, coalitions, Sheryl Crow--Fighting back in a red state

The majority of voters and the majority of elected state officials are decidedly right of center in Tennessee.  Whether a true majority of the state goes red is another question.  Every month Tennessee finds a new way to become famous in the national media for embodying this bent in our public policy. 

How do you fight back in a situation like this? 

Lawsuits:  If the Legislature and the Governor are trampling your rights, you can take ‘em to court.  That’s what a group of plaintiffs including TEP have done in our challenge to HB600.  The worst case scenario is that we put our opponents on the defensive as they have to reexplain and redefend their discriminatory actions.  In the best case scenario, we win and the law is struck down.  The Occupy Nashville movement is already seeing results from their court challenge to the administration’s efforts to shut down their protests.  

We will likely have a red majority for at least ten years, so I would assume court challenges to bad legislation and bad policy will become business as usual for the foreseeable future.

Occupy Nashville:  Three members of TEP’s Nashville Committee have been involved in the protests.  So it’s a topic we watch very closely.  By sustaining their protest over several weeks, the participants have forced the hand of the state thereby showing the public in a very concrete way how much our state government has been overreaching since January.  By ordering the arrest of peaceful protesters on public property, the state has generated more disgust with state government than all the negative legislation that has appeared this year.  Maybe it’s time more issue specific strands of the progressive community take a page from this example.

Kasey Landrum photo from WKRN
Make up:  If you really want to make some principals angry in Tennessee, all you have to do is wear a shirt supportive of a Gay/Straight Alliance, as a student in East TN did, or wear make up, as Kasey Landrum a student in West TN did.  Youth really are fighting on the front lines of equality.  It’s sad that some adults get angrier about self-expression than low tests scores and other real problems in our schools.  Self-expression is becoming a form of everyday fighting back in Tennessee.  Its value, besides just letting a person be comfortable in his or her own skin, is to make right wingers overreach in their response, which has the effect of clarifying everyone’s rights.  And that takes the issue beyond a mere expression of the self and into the realm of commonly held values relating to the First Amendment. 

Coalitions:  Sometimes organizations have to focus strictly on their own issues and sometimes it is beneficial to work in coalition and cast issues more broadly.  I believe it is time for equality advocates, labor advocates, and local government advocates to work together to advance SB2121 and fight SB2149 in the Legislature.  SB2121 would restore the right of cities and counties to add to their non-discrimination ordinances, a right taken away from them by HB600 that passed this year.  SB2149 prevents cities and counties from passing ordinances related to health insurance, family leave, and wages.  Labor, equality, and local government defenders ought to make a pact to work together on both bills for the common good.  Creative alliances make sense during these tough times.

Sheryl Crow:  But I’ve saved the real creativity for last.  Maybe we need to get more creative in candidate recruiting.  I think Sheryl Crow ought to run for the TN House of Representatives from Williamson County.  She’s getting more involved in philanthropic efforts in Franklin and she’s had a high profile as an activist on many issues. 

I know what you’re saying.  The Legislature isn’t big time enough for Sheryl Crow.  But I would say our state government is garnering a lot of media attention and it’s a good platform for someone to address the real hot button issues—attacks on teachers, voter disenfranchisement, nullifying local equality ordinances, guns everywhere, defunding family planning, and cutting unemployment benefits.  If Sheryl Crow entered the race, she could shine even more light on what’s going on in Tennessee.  And if she won, I suspect it would be a little bit harder to find a lead sponsor for some of the nut bar bills we’ve seen over the last year.  We might even get a song out of it.  So if you’re reading, Ms. Crow, give it a shot, give us a chance!

There’s no doubt we need to fight back.  I believe we will.  The only question is how we’ll do it. 

-Chris Sanders