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.

Friday, July 27, 2012

TEP Board member given wrong ballot in Shelby Co.

Michelle & Scott Bliss
By now you've probably heard that the Shelby County Election Commission's incompetence has led to thousands of voters casting early votes in wrong State House, State Senate and Congressional districts. Tennessee Equality Project Board member, Michelle Bliss and her husband received one of those wrong ballots today:
When I heard that David Holt had been given the wrong ballot (he is my neighbor) I went to the voteshelby website and checked my listed districts. I was listed in 93 last week. Today I went to vote and it is showing 98. I cancelled my ballot, as did my husband, and we are NOT AMUSED that we were somehow moved into a district that we are nowhere near the border of according to the state of Tennessee's maps.
Michelle and her husband were savvy enough to catch the error, but thousands of other voters in Shelby County are not so luck. Once a ballot is submitted, it cannot be changed.

Earlier today, I launched a petition calling for the resignation of the Shelby County Election Commission officials responsible for this election debacle. I invite you to participate in the petition at this
link or by clicking the image below.  - Jonathan Cole

Don't Say Gay bill costs Rep. Joey Hensley Tennessean endorsement in primary

The Tennessean couldn't bring itself to endorse Rep. Joey Hensley in the Republican State Senate primary for District 28.  Instead, they went with Dean Dickey.  Rep. Hensley's sponsorship of the Don't Say Gay bill played a big role in the decision, according to the paper:

Hensley’s tenure in the House has been marred by his preoccupation with divisive, social legislation, notably his “Don’t Say Gay” bill, that is bad for this state and a distraction from matters that voters want legislators to deal with, such as the economy. The Tennessean endorses Dean Dickey in the Republican primary.

The endorsement may not make much difference in this right of center district, given The Tennessean's liberal reputation.  Still, it does provide more name recognition for Dickey outside his Columbia base.

Early voting in the primary continues today and tomorrow.  Election Day is August 2. 

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Rep. Jeanne Richardson and out AR Rep. Kathy Webb to headline press conference on equality and choice issues Fri

Rep. Jeanne Richardson
Rep. Kathy Webb
Drawing attention to what is at stake in this year's legislative races in terms of equality and choice issues, Tennessee Rep. Jeanne Richardson, a candidate for the District 90 House seat, and out lesbian Rep. Kathy Webb of Arkansas will hold a press conference on Friday at 5:15 p.m. at the corner of Cooper and Young Streets in Memphis prior to a reception for Richardson. For more information on the event, see the Facebook event page.

Richardson is battling State Rep. John DeBerry for the seat.  The contrast couldn't be clearer when it comes to equality issues.  Richardson was a strong opponent of HB600, which stripped Nashville of its 2011 contractor non-discrimination ordinance and she has been the sponsor of bills that would add gender identity and expression to the state hate crimes statute and allow Tennessee residents to amend the gender designation on their birth certificates.  Her comments from the House floor debate on HB600 follow, as recorded by The City Paper:

Rep. Jeanne Richardson, D-Memphis, called the bill “anti-gay” and castigated Casada and the Republicans as deceitful for pretending it is about jobs.
“Discrimination against gay people about jobs is wrong. I personally strongly feel it’s wrong. … We want to say in our state to the gay community all over this state that it’s OK to discriminate on sexual identity and gender identification. That’s what we’re saying. Let’s all be honest in this room. Everybody sitting in here knows that’s what this is about. You know, representative,” Richardson told Casada.
“I think there’s nothing homogeneous about this bill. But I think there’s a lot that’s homophobic about this bill.”

Rep. John DeBerry, on the other hand, spoke out for the Don't Say Gay bill in the House Education Subcommittee this year before casting his vote for the bill, which ultimately failed to advance beyond the full House Education Committee.   His comments on the bill can be found here:

 .  Election Day is August 2. 

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Titans quarterback Matt Hasselbeck would have no issue with gay teammate

I noticed the news of Hasselbeck's comments on a  Think Progress post linking to an Outsports story.  My first thought was, "What a welcome contrast to the fight we just faced in the Legislature and to some of the Republican county party resolutions that came out last week!"

Are you ready for some equality with that football?
It's a shame that the very thought of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people in the workplace should still be an issue, but it is for some people, even though working for a living and hiring the best person for the job should be old school conservative values. 

To be fair, Hasselbeck wasn't be directly political.  But the fact that he wasn't being political just highlights the contrast with those who are trying to demonize our presence in the workplace in the political sphere. 

Here's a sample from the Outsports piece:

“The quarterback room conversation was that, ‘Hey, has anybody played with an openly gay teammate?’ And nobody had,” Hasselbeck told Outsports. “And it’s kind of irrelevant to the discussion in terms of how we would view that person as a teammate or how we would view that person as a friend, or how we would trust that person.”
Hasselbeck, who showed a sharp wit and a great sense of humor in the interview, said the oft-cited issue of a gay teammate in the locker room did come up with the other Titans quarterbacks.
“The question did come up, well, what about in the shower? And those are tricky, delicate issues. But so are female reporters in the locker room. There’s rarely a clear, black and white answer on a lot of tricky issues. But I think, at least for the three quarterbacks in our room, it was kind of a shrug, yeah, so what?”

Compared to the kinds of bizarre conversations that have been popping up in Tennessee about minorities in the workplace, "yeah, so what?" is a welcome change.  Let's hope his comments open some eyes.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

TEP to honor Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero, Metro Nashville, Memphis Gay and Lesbian Community Center at Sept Olympus event

July 22, 2012

Contact:          Chris Sanders
                        (615) 390-5252

Tennessee Equality Project to honor Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero, Metro Nashville, and Memphis Gay & Lesbian Community Center at September Olympus event

Nashville, TN—The Tennessee Equality Project (TEP), a statewide organization advocating equal rights for Tennessee’s gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community, will honor Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero, the Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County, and the Memphis Gay & Lesbian Community Center as Champions of Equality at Olympus, a benefit for TEP to be held at the Parthenon in Nashville on September 22 from 7:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m.

Metro Nashville Vice Mayor Diane Neighbors will serve as honorary co-chair of TEP’s first gala event that celebrates the people and organizations helping to advance equality in Tennessee.  “The 107th General Assembly presented significant challenges for our community, but we are still seeing important advances for equality in West, Middle, and East Tennessee. So we are bringing together all three grand divisions of our state to celebrate these champions of equality,” notes TEP president Chris Sanders.

The Honorees

Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero, who was elected in 2011, led the effort to pass a non-discrimination ordinance in April 2012 that protects Knoxville city government employees from discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, and ethnicity.  Her efforts resulted in the first non-discrimination ordinance in Tennessee to pass unanimously.  She was also the first Mayor of Knoxville to speak at Knoxville Pridefest in June.

Celebrating its 50th anniversary, the Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County has adopted two inclusive non-discrimination ordinances—one in 2009 protecting Metro government employees from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity and another in 2011 protecting employees of Metro contractors from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.  The Metropolitan Council additionally passed resolutions honoring high school students protesting the Don’t Say Gay bill and a resolution urging the Metro Law Department to file an amicus brief in the court challenge to HB600, which overturned Metro’s 2011 contractor non-discrimination ordinance.  The administration of Mayor Karl Dean lobbied against HB600 and Mayor Dean urged the Senate State & Local Government Committee to repeal HB600 in March. 

The Memphis Gay & Lesbian Community Center was chartered in 1989 and provides vital programs and services for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people in the Mid-South.  The organization partners with local agencies to provide free HIV testing and offers several support groups for the community, particularly for youth.  Among its most visible programs is the annual Outflix Film Festival that celebrates films presenting the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community in all its diversity.  The Memphis Gay & Lesbian Community Center consistently helps “build safer spaces within ourselves and in our community,” as their mission states.

Tickets for the event are $50 and tables are $500.  Sponsorships are also available.  Sponsors so far include Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman, Out & About Newspaper, and Inside Out Nashville.  For more information about ticket sales, sponsorships, and other event details go to .


Attacks on the Governor's diverse hires could threaten economic development, says Williamson Co official

Last week's Republican county party attacks on Governor Bill Haslam for employing or retaining Muslims, gays, and Democrats are dividing Republicans in Williamson County, according to today's Tennessean.
Image from Equality Florida

What's more, a top economic development official in Williamson County, when pressed, admits he is worried these attacks on diversity could hurt the area's ability to attract companies seeking to relocate:

Matt Largen, director of Williamson County Economic Development, often works with the state office in which Ali is employed. He described it as “one of the most important relationships” his office has cultivated. That the dominant political party in his community is accusing an employee in that office of subverting the very economy she was hired to promote could become embarrassing, Largen said.
Moreover, employers looking to relocate here often have preconceived notions about the level of diversity in Tennessee, said Largen, and are anxious to see an inclusive community. Largen said he does not know whether these criticisms of the governor will hurt the county’s reputation, but acknowledged there is reason to be concerned.

Let's focus on one phrase:  "anxious to see an inclusive community."  Most of the larger companies have realized diversity and inclusion = good business.  Let's hope these extremist attacks don't get Tennessee off course.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Lt. Gov. appoints former legislator who tried to ban adoption by gays to judicial commission

Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey announced the appointment of former State Representative Chris Clem to the Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission

As a legislator, Clem was quite the culture warrior, even trying to ban adoption by gays and lesbians.  And this was back in the day when they explicitly tried to pass an adoption ban.  There was no beating around the bush with language like "no unmarried individuals" in those days. 

According to Tom Humphrey's piece linked above:

"The Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission reviews the performance of appellate judges using surveys, interviews and other information, as required by law. The Commission uses these evaluations to publish a report in which the Commission recommends appellate judges for retention or replacement. Of the nine members of the Commission, two are appointed by the Speaker of the Senate, two are appointed by the Speaker of the House and five are appointed by the Judicial Council.
Among the qualities the commission looks for in the judges are integrity, knowledge and understanding of the law, an ability to communicate, preparation and attentiveness, service to the profession, effectiveness in working with other judges and court personnel."

Let's hope the former representative's views have evolved or at least don't overly color his evaluation of judges.  Given the week we've had of county Republican parties complaining about gay state employees, this is not a good sign. 

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Birthdays can be a drag

But they don't have to be.  Come join our Tri-Cities Committee Chair Joe Rhymer on his birthday for a TEP benefit show with Ms. New Beginnings Euereka O'Hara, Mr. New Beginnings Deshawn Blaize, AnnaTomical O'Hara and others! All show tips go to the fight for Equality in Tennessee! 

July 18 at 11:00 p.m. at New Beginnings Night Club in Johnson City located at 2901 Bristol Highway.

All show tips benefit TEP!

Find out more and RSVP at the Facebook event page.

Friday, July 13, 2012

TEP to celebrate National Ice Cream Day on July 15

Many thanks to Michael Hildebrand for his fabulous design work
for this year's TEP Ice Cream Social in Memphis.
Join us in celebration of equality and National Ice Cream Day as we serve up luscious ice cream realness at Kingsway Christian Church at 7887 Poplar Avenue in Germantown, Tennessee from 2 to 4 PM on July 15.

See more info about the Third Annual TEP Ice Cream Social here.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Richard Floyd vs. Basil Marceaux: Mudhole Stomper vs. Stopper of Traffic Stops

Republican voters in Hamilton County have an embarrassment of riches, er, um, something in the House District 27 primary.

Richard Floyd vs. Basil Marceaux, (.com?) Sr.

Previously obscure and rightly so, Rep. Floyd emerged onto the national stage after a harrowing experience of reading about a transgender person at a Macy's in Texas, which led him to put forth the police the potty bill.

Despite his new found fame, Floyd is no match on the national stage for Basil Marceaux, who vowed as a gubernatorial candidate to stop traffic stops.  You see, Mr. Marceaux has been on Jimmy Kimmel:

The victor of this bash of the Titans faces Democrat Frank Eaton of Hixson in November.

Early voting in the primary starts on Friday.  Find out more about early voting here.

When you vote, don't forget the Don't Say Gay bill

We've said it so many times, we can't keep track.  But it's worth saying again in yet another way.  This year's state legislative races matter.  Here's video from the February House Education Subcommittee debate on the Don't Say Gay bill.  Rep. Joey Hensley, the bill sponsor, is running for a State Senate seat this year against former Rep. Ty Cobb.  And Rep. John DeBerry, who spoke up for the Don't Say Gay bill, is running against Rep. Jeanne Richardson, for the House seat in District 90.  It matters who wins!

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Early voting starts on Friday, July 13.  Make time on your calendar to exercise your rights!

And save the date for our Day of Action for a Better Legislature on October 27!  We ask you to give 2 volunteer hours at locations around the state to help good candidates.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Remembering what's at stake in state legislative races this year: HB600 debate

  Get Microsoft Silverlight


Video from the House Commerce Committee debate on HB600.

The discussions in this video make it clear what's at stake in this year's state legislative races.

Be sure to vote early in the primary coming up on Friday.

Fight back for equality at the ballot!
And sign up to take part in TEP PAC's Day of Action for a Better Legislature on October 27.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Leap of faith for safe schools in September

I have no idea what's going to happen in September when we launch Advancing Equality Month at the School Board

But I know we've got to do it.  I think of Phillip Parker in Smith County and Jacob Rogers in Cheatham County--young gay men who took their lives after being bullied at school.  I think of the students in Haywood County who heard their principal say that their gay peers are going to Hell.  The Monroe County student who was assaulted by his principal for wearing a pro-GSA shirt comes to mind.  And it's hard to forget the Lenoir City teacher who came under fire for allowing a student to publish a piece saying it's O.K. to be gay.  Don't get me started on the discriminatory school legislation at the state level this year.

Yes, we have a severe discrimination problem in many of our state's schools.  From students bullying each other to school leaders turning a blind eye or actually participating in the bullying, many Tennessee schools just aren't as safe as they should be. 

What's going to happen when citizens go before their school boards in September and call for safer schools?  I still don't know. 

Here's what could happen:

1.  Citizens will gain confidence in standing up for themselves like Kaelynn Malugin, Jeremy Rogers, and Mary Ann Bernicky did in Cheatham County.  That led citizens in Sumner County to try the same thing.

2.  The quantity and quality of public discourse about safe schools will rise in Tennessee.  The coverage of what happened in Cheatham County zig-zagged around the state.  Think of the potential of citizens throughout the state speaking up!

3.  You never know when it might have an impact on state legislation for the good.  One of the interesting things that happened in Cheatham County is the fact that it was noticed by state legislators.  State legislators asked about one of the proposals we made to require the school system to provide a monthly public report on bullying incidents.  While we didn't get the monthly report requirement, the state is going to require each school district to make an annual report on bullying incidents.  The numbers should be eye-opening and may lead to further solutions.

Our hope is that the conversations these citizens initiate will lead to discussions about concrete policy changes their school districts can make so that their schools will be safer. 

It's a gamble we ought to take.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

RISE UP: Push harder for equality in Tennessee

Much has changed since I was last president of TEP. New times call for a more aggressive approach to protect and advance equal rights in our state. It's in that spirit that I share these thoughts with you.
Starting with Local Governments 

We will be in touch with county and city leaders throughout Tennessee informing them of existing rights and protections held by our community and advising them to do more to extend protections to gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people in their jurisdictions.

Additionally, we are currently at work on plans to advance non-discrimination ordinances for municipal employees in all three grand divisions of Tennessee. Most notably, we have some unfinished business in Memphis and our Shelby County Committee will lead the way.

September is Advancing Equality Month at the School Board across Tennessee
Outrageous mistreatment of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and allied students has occurred countless times in Tennessee public schools in the last twelve months-principals harassing students for wearing pro-GSA shirts, a principal telling gay students they are going to Hell, students bullied to the point that it is a contributing factor in them taking their own lives, and the list goes on.

We ask citizens across the state to appear at their local school board meetings in September to speak out for GSAs and inclusive non-discrimination policies during the open forum time on the agenda. Citizens in Cheatham County and Sumner County have led the way in this effort. We have provided links to their videos here. If you are interested in appearing before your school board, let us know at and we will help you with talking points for your remarks. We have to open the conversation in school districts throughout our state and we can only do that with your help. We owe it to the students of Tennessee.

October 27 Day of Action for a Better Legislature
The 107th General Assembly of the State of Tennessee was the worst in decades. The attacks were demeaning and constant. We have to help good candidates win. October 27 is a Day of Action for a Better Legislature. We are recruiting volunteers for TEP PAC who will help good candidates in important races for 2 hours that day. We will meet in Oak Ridge, Knoxville, Cookeville, Nashville, Jackson, and Memphis to get our assignments, pair up, and get to work.  Find out more here.
Results Matter

This plan's purpose is to yield more non-discrimination ordinances to protect our employment, better policies and structures to protect our youth, and better lawmakers to help us stop attack legislation. In our view this is a viable, possibility-laden plan for Tennessee.  

It depends on you! Equality will not drop out of the sky or leak over from some other state. It's up to us to make it happen. There are volunteer opportunities for people in every part of Tennessee in this plan. 

Rise up and advance equal rights in Tennessee! 

Chris Sanders
Chairman of the Board and President