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, December 30, 2012

Fighting for our lives, our jobs, and safe schools: 2012 in review

2012 was a year without rest for Tennessee's gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community.  The fight was nonstop.

TEP celebrated some of 2012's highlights in September at Olympus

Fighting for our lives:  The year began with the news that Phillip Parker, a gay teenager from Middle TN, had taken his life after relentless bullying in school.  The news followed closely upon the story of Jacob Rogers who met a similar fate in December 2011.  These two deaths made discussion of the Don't Say Gay and the License to Bully bills in the Legislature even more poignant.  Other legislation came with threats.  Rep. Richard Floyd introduced the Police the Potty bill this year targeting transgender people.  His method of gaining support for the bill was to threaten to "stomp a mudhole" in transgender people who might happen to use a fitting room or restroom near one of his family members.  Fortunately cooler heads prevailed in the Senate and the bill went nowhere.  Another safety issue that caused concern in 2012 was the rise in hate crimes based on sexual orientation in Tennessee, as reported by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.  Too few of our neighbors in Tennessee failed to understand that the Chick-fil-A controversy was also a life and death matter for us.  Aided by the media, they lulled themselves into thinking it was a free speech/consumer choice issue.  For us, it was about the millions of dollars funneled by the company and its leaders to anti-equality organizations.  That's what the rallies in Clarksville and Memphis were about.

Fighting for our jobs:  2012 saw significant action on the employment non-discrimination front with Knoxville and Memphis both passing ordinances protecting their city government employees from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.  State Senator Jim Kyle and Rep. Brenda Gilmore sponsored a bill to reverse HB600 of 2011 to return to cities and counties the ability to apply their non-discrimination ordinances to contractors.  The bill failed in the Senate State and Local Government Committee, but Nashville Mayor Karl Dean endorsed the bill with a letter to the committee and Metro Nashville Councilman Anthony Davis spoke eloquently on behalf of the bill during the committee meeting.  With no progress at the state level, TEP with a host of cosponsors held rallies in Memphis, Cookeville, and Nashville in December to urge President Obama to sign an executive order barring federal contractors from discriminating in employment based on sexual orientation and gender identity.  One of the oddest moments in the discussion of job discrimination in Tennessee involved a few county Republican parties criticizing Governor Bill Haslam for retaining or hiring gay and Muslim employees.  Despite the criticism, Governor Haslam stood by his employees. Our freedom to work is very much a contested issue in Tennessee.

Fighting for safe schools:  As I mentioned, we faced horrible legislation this year--the License to Bully bill and the Don't Say Gay bill. We were pleased that neither passed, but that result didn't come without significant work.  We lobbied, emailed, phoned, packed committee meetings, commented in the media, brought in Dennis Shepard, father of the late Matthew Shepard, to speak at a press conference at the Capitol.  One bright spot in the legislative matters related to education was Governor Haslam's veto of a bill that would have punished Vanderbilt University for its all comers non-discrimination policy for campus organizations.  The struggle for safe schools also took place in individual public school districts around the state.  A West TN principal told gay students they were going to Hell and then suddenly she wasn't the principal any longer.  Citizens of Cheatham County fought for safe schools reforms before their board of education.  Though the board didn't adopt their proposals or even give them a proper hearing, Sen. Bill Ketron did incorporate their suggestion for reporting the number of bullying incidents into his anti-bullying bill that passed this year.  Students around the state worked for Gay-Straight Alliances...without much success in many cases, I'm afraid. There remains much to do to protect students from bullying...and from our Legislature.

Cheers for the victories of 2012! They were monumental, but they didn't come without struggle, loss, and a lot of pain along the way.  A toast to all those who fought.  You made progress in a state where it practically counts as a miracle.

Here's to new opportunities to advance equality in 2013!

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