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.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Part 2 of Where are they now?-- Pure Life Revolution

Since we're coming up on the anniversary of those famous blindfolded protests at Hustler Hollywood in Nashville, I thought I'd check up on the Pure Life Revolution. Here's how they describe themselves:

Pure Life Revolution is a prayer and repentance movement combined with holy activism and gut level honesty. These revolutionaries are tenacious for true revival and to capture the heart of their King; they are willing and able to lay down their lives in being a catalyst to see this fulfilled. Our marching orders are to fuel and advance this movement of justice and righteousness in our nation and to be a spearhead in the “greatest awakening” of our time. Through this passion and desire has come forth Pure Life Revolution.

In June of 2007 for a few days a group of young people stood blindfolded near the Hustler Hollywood Store on Church Street apparently in a "see no evil" demonstration. Nashville bloggers were critical of their action at the time. If you want "speak no evil," you can go here and see that this ministry uses red tape to cover the mouths of its followers instead of blue blindfolds over the eyes; yes, they really are called Bound 4 Life. I'm not sure if there is a ministry somewhere in Alaska that uses yellow ear muffs for "hear no evil."

Apparently the members of Pure Life Revolution were working with the Family Action Council of Tennessee and other groups in November of 2007 for the First Annual Tennessee Porn-NO Prayer Summit. Most of the events on their own site seem to have taken place in 2007. But they do link to The Call, whose site is updated regularly. Inspired by the Promise Keepers, they are another purity movement and are busy planning a march on the Mall in DC in August.

The Pure Life Revolution site links to an article by Scott MacLeod, one of their "overseers," titled Living in an 'Amoral' Society. While there is much on their site for privacy and liberty advocates to be concerned about, these lines in MacLeod's article made the point clear for me:

We can certainly see the results of this modern way of thinking in Massachusetts, where gay marriage and homosexuality are presently flourishing. Gays and lesbians are flocking there from all over America to get married. This is nothing less than an abomination in the region that was once the cradle of puritan values, revival, and great awakening in our nation.

The way in which they employ the word "pure" is no accident. They truly see themselves as inheritors of the Puritan vision of America that at once combines American exceptionalism and a religious zeal to reform culture. It didn't take Puritanism long to run out of steam in England and Americans eventually grew weary of it as well, despite some strong revivals in movements like Prohibition. Perhaps the fact that we haven't heard anything out of them in a few months means that Nashvillians aren't that interested in their message. But if these modern Roundheads become active again, the Cavaliers among us will be watching.

Tuke in the scrum

Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate Bob Tuke was spotted at a yard sale held by the Nashville Grizzlies Rugby Football Club today. One of TEP's board members, who also happens to be a Grizzly, reports that he even bought something.

The Grizzlies are raising funds for their June trip to Dublin, Ireland where they will participate in their first Bingham Cup, a tournament that takes place every two years for rugby teams made up primarily of gay men. It is named for Mark Bingham, who died defending the crew of United Airlines flight 93 on September 11, 2001. Bingham was a member of the San Francisco Fog Rugby Football Club, another predominantly gay team.

TEP's lobbyist, Jenny Ford, who has become quite a rugby groupie, says she may be blogging from Dublin next month. Stay tuned.

Freshman hazing

The Chattanooga Times Free Press chronicles the learning curve of first-time members of the Tennessee General Assembly.

Weeks after his arrival in Nashville, Sen. [Andy] Berke [D-Chattanooga] found himself on “NBC Nightly News,” Fox News and quoted in several national publications because of Georgia lawmakers’ efforts to move Georgia’s state line a mile north into Tennessee. The intent was to gain access to the water in Nickajack Lake, which is in Sen. Berke’s district.

“I was in the (media) ‘feeding frenzy’ and that was certainly an unusual situation to find yourself in your first weeks of your first session,” said Sen. Berke, who shepherded through the Senate a resolution rejecting Georgia’s call for a boundary commission to revisit the long-disputed border.

Reader takes issue with Fowler

Sara Tarpley questions Family Action Council of Tennessee's David Fowler for predicating marriage rights on fertility.

David Fowler believes that the primary importance of marriage is "its natural procreative potential and the unique roles each sex adds to the nurturing of the children they may raise."

If that is the case, we should automatically deny a marriage license when either the bride or groom is known to be infertile. Perhaps we should go further and dissolve those marriages that have not produced children after a reasonable period.

Thomas Nelson VP makes case for universal health coverage

Nashville-based Thomas Nelson Vice President of Human Resources Jim Thomason says that universal health coverage is the issue moving him in this year's presidential election.

In this election year, for the first time in my adult life, I'm listening seriously to any candidate proposing universal healthcare. It is both a basic human right, and the one societal development with the potential to radically democratize corporate workplaces. It would free corporations of a huge and growing benefits predicament in the form of spiraling benefits costs, and the only losers would be insurance carriers. Having worked with these companies for several years as corporate health plan sponsors, I can tell you that alongside Big Oil and Big Tobacco, if there is an industry that deserves regulation its Big Insurance. Since the most expensive 2% of real estate worldwide is owned by the same companies that cap your kids braces at $1,500 per set or force your wife out of the hospital 24 hours after labor and delivery, if "The People in the Pyramid" become "The People in the Nice Office Park on the Outskirts of Town" so that everyone has access to healthcare, that'll do in my book.

Constitutional amendment to bar same-sex marriage introduced

Southern Voice is reporting that members of the U.S. House of Representatives have reintroduced the Federal Marriage Amendment or the "Marriage Protection Amendment." There are almost 30 cosponsors, but no one from Tennessee yet. The text reads:

    `Section 1. This article may be cited as the `Marriage Protection Amendment'.

    `Section 2. Marriage in the United States shall consist only of the union of a man and a woman. Neither this Constitution, nor the constitution of any State, shall be construed to require that marriage or the legal incidents thereof be conferred upon any union other than the union of a man and a woman.'.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Same-sex marriage in the South?

The Associated Press is reporting that 10 states are asking California to hold off on implementing marriage rights for same-sex couples. One of them is South Carolina and one is Florida. The others are Alaska, Colorado, Idaho, Michigan, Nebraska, New Hampshire, South Dakota and Utah.

The attorneys general say in court documents filed Thursday that they have an interest in the case because they would have to determine if their states would recognize the marriage of gay residents who wed in California.

A number of questions come up. Wouldn't same-sex marriages in Massachusetts already have triggered this if a couple married in Mass. moved to one of these other states? Maybe no one who has pushed it in the courts.

And the bigger question is what will it would mean for the other Southern states if South Carolina and/or Florida recognizes same-sex marriages. I occasionally hear people argue about whether Florida is part of the South or not. Certainly the culture of Northern Florida could still lay claim to Southern heritage. But no one questions whether aspects of the old South live on in South Carolina. If these two states granted marriage rights to same-sex couples, then even in those Southern states with constitutional amendments we would see more movement on partnership recognition and even the beginnings of civil union legislation.

Almost everyone agrees that the long-term goal is full marriage equality, but other forms of relationship protection would make a huge difference to couples living in the old Confederacy today.

No place, eh?

The Tennessean's opinion section focuses on hate crimes today with their view , the view of TBI director Mark Gwyn, and Tennessee Disabilities Coalition executive director Carol Westlake.

While we're grateful over at TEP for the Tennessean's position on this issue, I find this sentence striking: "Such crimes have no place in Tennessee or anywhere else around this nation." And specific hate crimes apparently have no place in your news section. You have been contacted about the attack on Neal Anthony's house in Warren County and you have decided not to cover it so far. Channel 5, Fox 17, and Channel 2 in Nashville thought it was newsworthy, but not your editorial staff.

But I guess that puts you in the company of The Southern Standard, the Warren County paper whose web site has been updated yet again without even mentioning the incident.

Trying my patience

Since the 2006 passage of the Marriage Amendment to the Tennessee State Constitution, I've generally avoided much discussion of marriage equality. In my mind, the question is pretty much moot in Tennessee for at least a generation. While I welcome the California Supreme Court decision on equal access to marriage, it may be years before that impact is felt in Tennessee and other states that have passed oppressive marriage amendments in the last decade.

However, I was taken aback by an uniformed opinion in The Chattanoogan about one marriage equality opponent's concern about the full faith and credit clause of the U.S. Constitution leading to Tennessee recognition of marriages from California:
It is time that all the states left in this great country who hold to morality and the fact that marriage has always been defined as between one man and one woman stand up and amend their state constitutions banning this abuse of the Constitution. If you are for gay marriage we have two states for you now, California and New York. If you are still in love with Tennessee then call your representative or state senator. It needs to be defined before it is redefined for you. A state law is not sufficient; it must be in the state constitution. . . .

This guy is apparently a late-comer to anti-marriage activism since he doesn't seem to realize that the Tennessee constitution already forbids recognition of marriage between two people of the same sex. Isn't it frustrating when your bigoted opponents can't even be bothered to educate themselves about an issue?

After reading that thoughtless piece, I did enjoy a column on the Root about why African Americans should support equal access to marriage in this country.

Is there hope for reform of Memphis City Schools and consolidation?

Yesterday, the Commercial Appeal speculated that Mayor Herenton would advise the Memphis City Council to keep funding the Memphis City School system. Instead, he told the council that it might be a good idea to withold funding:

This could present a great opportunity to reform the governance of the city schools and operation of the city schools. I am moving to the opinion there needs to be a dramatic reform.

Recent legal opinions suggest that if the city stopped contributing to the school system budget, Shelby County Government would be forced to absorb all funding responsibillity. This is one way to begin the process of consolidating Memphis and Shelby County government and try to reform an ailing school system. If anything, it has the merit of trying something new.

UPDATE: The Daily News also has a report on this story. TDN often offers greater depth in their reporting.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Just one?

Mr. Kleinheider asks, "Is There A Heterosexual Culture?" in response to a posting about this weekend's 20th Nashville Pride celebration.

Since we're always saying THE gay community or THE GLBT community, I think this is actually a pretty fair question, tongue-in-cheek or not. So A heterosexual culture? No, not just one. In fact, there may not even be much of a gay culture. Its end has already been proclaimed again and again, even by the likes of Andrew Sullivan. The fact that we use 4 or more letters to describe ourselves indicates we're at least in a period of reevaluation.

Part of that reevaluation has resulted in a further marginalization of academic movements like queer theory. Some activists and academics and truly free spirits continue to draw on it and extend its creative powers, but I think it's fair to say that the vast majority of politically active and inactive members of the GLBT community don't know a great deal about it.

The energy in the movement is focused on marriage, family, partner benefits, stopping hate crimes, adoption rights, faith communities, business (consider all the emphasis on corporate sponsorships), and electing candidates who are out. The movement, in other words, has a largely external focus on achievable political and cultural goals of access. The introspective moment is always in the background, though. The idea of coming out remains the kernel that defines our lives...even for those who remain closeted.

But the question was about straight culture(s), after all. So where might one go to find it/them? Second Avenue on a Saturday night? The annual Bellevue community picnic in Red Caboose Park? Tailgating before a Titans game? A Church potluck after Wednesday night Bible study at the local Church of Christ? A bachelor party at Ken's Gold Club? The water cooler on Monday morning in Regions Bank? Saturdays in an old-school beauty parlor? Yes, it seems that you can't throw a rock (not that we advocate that) in this town without hitting straight culture, but the thing is that you'll also find us GLBTs there. Perhaps the end of heterosexual culture is at hand, too.

Subtle gesture to the MCS Board of Education?

The Memphis City Council is considering a proposal to stop funding the Memphis City Schools with city tax dollars.

In 2004 and 2005, Mayor Herenton also proposed witholding city funds from the Memphis City School sytem, but today, he is telling the City Council to keep funding the Memphis City Schools.

What does Mayor Herenton have to gain in making such a proposal with the Superintendent postion currrently vacant and talk of him as a candidate?


They were against the fees before they were for them

The Analysis Report/Agenda for the June 3 Metro Council meeting is out. Two bills on second reading propose taking advantage of State law and closing some of the revenue gap in sources to cover expenses.

ORDINANCE NO. BL2008-214 (JAMESON) – This ordinance authorizes the imposition of a $45.00 litigation tax on all criminal cases in Davidson County and designates CASA, Inc. as the agency to receive the funds. State law allows local governments to impose a $45.00 “victims assistance assessment” to create a program or fund an existing program that assists victims of crime and their families.

ORDINANCE NO. BL2008-218 (COLE & GARRETT) – This ordinance, as amended, repeals Ordinance No. BL2001-777 pertaining to the waiver of credit card processing fees. Credit card companies charge merchants a fee for accepting the cards at their places of business. Since Metro accepts certain credit cards for the payment of a variety of fees and services, Metro is charged the processing fee in the same manner as other merchants. State law requires that local governments set and collect a debit and credit processing fee equivalent to the amount the government is charged when these methods are used for payments, provided the processing fee charged these persons cannot exceed five percent of the payment collected. However, oddly enough, the state law was amended to allow governments to waive this processing fee if they wish to do so. In 2001, the Council enacted Ordinance No. BL2001-777 to waive the credit/debit card processing fee. It was the thought at the time of enactment that waiving the fee would encourage persons owing money to the Metropolitan Government to pay in a more timely manner, which would result in quicker payments to Metro. However, the fee waiver has been costing the Metropolitan Government millions of dollars a year.

I think given the state of the economy and the Metro budget, we're going to see more of this creative fundraising. I can't bring myself to agree with the $45 assessment on "any person who enters a guilty plea or is found guilty of committing a criminal offense for which a maximum possible punishment exceeds $500 and for which jail time is possible." As the ordinance analysis points out, it "is in addition to all other taxes, court costs, and fines." This is basically a tax on losing your case--a guilt tax. I don't think you ever want the citizens to associate the prosecution of criminals with program funding. These revenue games do not help the image of government as the enforcer of justice.

The credit and debit card fees bill, though it takes a bit out of everyone's pocket, makes a lot more sense. It recovers the actual cost of doing business and it is applied equally to all who access the service.

Herenton as Superintedent Story Lives on . . . .

CEOs of large businesses are going on record in backing the idea of asking Mayor Herenton to consider the Superintent of Memphis City Schools.

Speaking personally, I would like to see him be superintendent, but it really is a school board decision - Gary Shorb, president and CEO of Methodist-Le Bonheur Healthcare and chairman of Memphis Tomorrow, a business group made up of the city's top CEOs.

I think the schools need powerful change and the funding system needs to be rethought and (Herenton) has an understanding of the community, the clout and the courage to make bold moves. I don't see how anybody from the outside could do the powerful things that are needed to get our kids as educated as they need to be. - Real Estate Developer Henry Turley.

Meanwhile, Herenton has been exploring legal means for the Mayor's office to exert more control over the the school system should he remain mayor.

Following the money in Knoxville

The Metro Pulse continues its series on campaign donations coming out of Knoxville.

Tennessee ranks 19th in campaign contributions overall—between North Carolina at 18th and Minnesota at 20th—with $18,084,741 so far.

Out of that, $2,877,028 has come from the Knoxville metropolitan area, the third-ranked metro area in both population and contributions in the state after Nashville ($8,129,919) and Memphis ($2,963,000).

Contributions from within Knox County itself made up $2,117,656 of the region’s total. Of that, 83 percent, or about $1.5 million, has gone to Republican candidates, making it the most staunchly Republican of Tennessee’s three large urban counties.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Music City Star stop for Bible Park?

...Lebanon is confounded and withers away... (Isaiah 33:9)

It looks as if the developers of Bible Park USA are looking at locating in Lebanon after their failed bid for land in Rutherford County.

Knox County Mayor under attack

Citizens are starting a petition to remove Knox County Mayor Mike Ragsdale. Since the charter doesn't allow them to recall him, they're going to have to file an ouster lawsuit.

[Petition drive leader Charles] Bowers cited three reasons for ousting the mayor from office: Ragsdale's support of a wheel tax, the huge bond issue to pay for the Sheriff's Office pension plan and the audit of purchasing cards in the mayor's office, which shows more than $39,000 in questionable charges by the mayor and top staffers.

One County Commissioner, Victoria DeFreese, says that she's inclined to join the effort.

"Hot mess," says Braisted

Sean Braisted wonders why a certain presidential candidate's shirts aren't fierce given her constituencies. The following are his words:

You'd Think...

...that with so many women and gay men supporting her campaign, Hillary could find at least one supporter to create a halfway decent T-shirt.

Ahem. That sounds like a challenge to me, but I didn't get the designer gene. Sorry. Maybe our readers could send us photos of your favorite campaign tees or mock ups of your own designs. Then we could move on to interior designs for a fahhhhhhhbulous revamping of the Oval Office.


Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Warren County hate crime update: WKRN

Nashville's Channel 2 now joins Channel 5, Fox 17, and Out & About Newspaper in covering the hate crimes against Neal Anthony of Warren County. As of this posting, there is no text story on the News 2 web site, but you can find video located at . Anthony indicated that although many think gay people are scared, he would "shoot" anyone who set foot on his property. The Warren County Sheriff was interviewed, which is a new and welcome angle in the coverage. He says that many hours have been spent on the case.

Meanwhile, the web site of the Southern Standard, Warren County's local paper, was updated extensively today, but there is still no mention of the incident.

Gay Pride in the South

Birmingham Mayor Larry Langford won't sign a proclamation for the city's annual gay pride celebration or allow banners on city property. This act alone would not prevent a celebration of gay pride in Birmingham, but Langford took the extra step of rejecting Central Alabama Pride's permit application for a pride parade.

The salient quote from Langford:

I don't think I'm intolerant, I just don't condone the lifestyle. Your personal lifestyle should be nobody's issue but yours. It's not a civil rights issue, it's a personal choice issue.
If pride parade permits have been issued by the Mayor's administration since 1989, I find it unbelievebly disingenuous to claim this is not a civil rights issue. There is some animus at work here.

But don't fret. According to Central Alabama Pride's website, it looks like a state legislator was able to persuade Mayor Langford to issue the parade permit after all.

I'm curious to know what sort of opposition gay pride organizations encounter from their local goverments elsewhere in the South.

Uncivil Union: David Fowler and I face off on marriage

The Family Action Council of Tennessee's president David Fowler and I discuss the California Supreme Court's marriage ruling in today's Tennessean. Fowler argues that "marriage is different from any other relationship." In other words, benefits are given to the relationship because of its uniqueness. Although I certainly don't agree with the implication of his position, namely, shutting out same-sex couples, I will credit him for not making the argument in a hateful manner. He stuck to the issue and gave the logic of the "definitional" position.

I am arguing that the rapid growth in the number of same-sex couples in Tennessee and the reality of the constitutional amendment create a collision course, resulting in a need for policy that recognizes and protects same-sex couples in our state.

Musical Dems: Where are they now?

What ever happened to the Music Row Democrats? The link to their blog now goes to a site with entries in French. This article from the November 21, 2007 Telegraph says that there will be (or was to be) a tour during the 2008 campaign. There are a few news stories about the group from 2008, but the references are mostly in passing like this one about Republican Trace Adkins's manager Ken Levitan who is a member of MRD. It looks as if their plans have changed. They were sent a Federal Election Commission letter of "Termination Approval" dated Feb. 29 of this year that leaves the door open to future fundraising and campaign activity.

Speaking of musical Democrats, when will we start to hear more talk of Tim McGraw for Governor? Back in 2006, McGraw said, "Maybe in 10 or 15 years when the music has died down." But at the beginning of 2008, the talk was that he would consider running in 2010.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Warren County hate crime update--Fox 17 coverage

Nashville's Fox 17 ran this story on the anti-gay vandalism of Neal Anthony's Warren County house in tonight's broadcast. There is still nothing on the website of the Southern Standard, Warren County's local paper. In fairness to them, I should add that they probably have a small staff who were trying to enjoy the holiday. The Fox video obscured the word "fag." But it showed the ironic juxtaposition of hateful epithets and "John 3:16" spray painted on Anthony's property.

Previous updates at Grand Divisions are here and here.

Cousteau fils says Tennesseans are polluting the Gulf of Mexico

Jean-Michel Cousteau was speaking at the Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga and took a moment to talk to the Tennessean about our state's impact on the ocean's ecology.

“There is runoff of heavy metals and chemicals and we’re overfishing the ocean,” he added. A U.S. Geological Survey report recently linked Tennessee and eight other states to a “dead zone” — up to a 7,000-square-mile area in the northern Gulf of Mexico around the U.S., where most marine life can’t live because of the lack of what’s called dissolved oxygen in the water.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

More on the Warren County hate crime

Early this weekend, we noted Out & About Newspaper's report on a hate crime committed against Neal Anthony of Warren County. Tonight Nashville's Channel 5 went to Warren County to talk with Anthony about the incident.

I have heard that the TBI may not consider the incident a hate crime since no one was injured. We'll provide an update when we can verify whether that is true or not. Regardless, the TBI's 2007 hate crime report does list categories of hate crimes that include vandalism and property damage on p. 23. Furthermore, the Tennessee hate crimes statute also includes property damage.

(17) The defendant intentionally selected the person against whom the crime was committed or selected the property that was damaged or otherwise affected by the crime, in whole or in part, because of the defendant's belief or perception regarding the race, religion, color, disability, sexual orientation, national origin, ancestry, or gender of that person or the owner or occupant of that property; however, this subdivision (17) should not be construed to permit the enhancement of a sexual offense on the basis of gender selection alone;

So far, Channel 5 and Out & About Newspaper have covered the story. Warren County's Southern Standard has been updated since the incident on Friday, but as of Sunday night the paper hasn't posted anything.

What's ahead in Tennessean state gov't coverage?

Tennessean editor Mark Silverman recaps the Tennessean's coverage of the legislature and looks ahead to the paper's approach to State government coverage now that the session is over.

Of course, we won't stop covering state government during the months when the legislature is away. In fact, [Theo] Emery has spoken with his editors about looking about several key issues. Among them are the relationships between lawmakers and special-interest groups and the alliances among lawmakers themselves. What considerations drive decisions in government? How do those considerations affect your life? Over time, Emery also plans to examine the way state agencies and departments work, too.

Hewitt named to state Human Rights Commission

Attorney Karla C. Hewitt has been appointed by Gov. Bredesen to the State's Human Rights Commission. Hewitt is also the president of Tennessee Citizen Action.

Unfortunately, the Human Rights Commission in Tennessee doesn't cover issues related to sexual orientation and gender identity. Here's a Commission answer to one of the questions listed at their site about housing:

  1. Am I covered if I believe that I was discriminated against because I am gay?

    No. The THRA does not offer protection based on sexual orientation. In the area of housing, the THRA protects against discrimination based on a person’s race, color, creed, religion, national origin, sex, disability, and familial status.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Old enough to know better?

The Tennessean provided this look at the last days of former Lt. Governor John Wilder in the 105th General Assembly. The comments on the story go on for pages. Here's one comment that is a little too typical of the responses:

I for one, am glad the is gone. The bad part is ...............HE WAITED TOO LONG....................He should have retired 20 years ago. A person that old can not "think straight". Guess he liked the POWER and the money it brought.

It makes me wonder whether these people's grandfathers used to beat them or something. The fact is that the people of Senator Wilder's district continued to reelect him to office, and his colleagues until last year continued to elect him as Speaker. That doesn't make him impervious to question or attack. Far from it. I recall that he said something to the effect of "Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve" when the marriage amendment was working its way through the Legislature.

But all this talk about age is claptrap. Youth in itself does not make good legislation. I can certainly think of some younger members of the House whose bills and debate comments must originate in one of the black holes of the cosmos that Senator Wilder often alludes to. It's all right up there with "I'm not sure the country is ready for a black president" or the constant comment on their appearance that women officeholders and candidates endure from talking heads.

Policy please, and hold the prejudice.

Does anyone else see a gap in this story?

The Tennessean ran this story today about illegal immigrants/undocumented immigrants having the right to marry. I guess any time there is a story about marriage, the GLBT community could complain about being left out of it. But there were lines just too obvious in this piece to ignore. I checked my reaction with a few folks and, sure enough, they had the same response. Here's a sample:

1. "This is a very big deal," Nashville immigration lawyer Linda Rose said. "This is very good news for the immigrant community because now it restores a fundamental right. … It gives due respect and credit to the institution of marriage."

2. The suit claims Saenz was denied her "fundamental right to marry the man of her choice under color of state law." It claims citizens trying to marry people who can't possibly obtain Social Security numbers
are being denied equal protection under the law.

3. Multiple state and federal courts have upheld that the government can't bar a person from marrying simply because they or their partner are a member of some specific group, said James Blumstein, a Constitutional law professor at Vanderbilt University. "There was a case rather appropriately called Loving v. Virginia that settled that matter," Blumstein said about the 1967 U.S. Supreme Court case that struck down laws barring interracial couples from marrying. He said the government has to prove a marriage it opposes would have a negative impact on the country.

4. Arriola, elected clerk in 2006, said he never wanted to turn couples away over immigration-related paperwork. "That was the state law, and I was obligated to uphold it," he said. "Personally, I think anyone should be able to marry."

5. "Truly, everybody should have the right to get married, and the state should not have any rules or regulations against that," [The Rev. Joseph] Breen said. "What we've been doing here is a real shame. So we wanted to help these couples."

6. "Marriage is a human right, and I believe in families," she [Theresa Harmon of Tennesseans for Responsible Immigration Policy] said. "But I've had to do some hard soul-searching on these kinds of issues.

So to recap, we've got "fundamental right," "equal protection under the law," the idea that you can't bar partners from marrying because one of them is from "a specific group," the fact that the "government has to prove a marriage it opposes would have a negative impact on the country," a clerk who thinks "anyone should be able to marry," a priest who agrees, and the idea that "marriage is a human right" UNLESS YOU AND YOUR PARTNER ARE OF THE SAME SEX!

Hate is not taking a holiday

Out & About Newspaper is reporting that Neal Anthony's house in Warren County has been subjected to another massive hate attack. The incident comes just after the TBI released its annual hate crimes report that showed that hate crimes involving sexual bias remained at a high level again in 2007.

If you want to see what hate looks like, Out & About has posted this gallery of photos taken by Anthony of the latest attack. The reference to "Dorothy" in the photo is Neal's mother who passed away late last year. These attacks have been occurring off and on for months. It's not clear why the Warren County Sheriff's Office and the TBI can't find those responsible.

Senator Alexander to play with Memphis Symphony again

Every year on the last weekend of May, the month-long celebration of the Memphis in May Internationl Festival ends with the Sunset Symphony. Sen. Lamar Alexander will reprise his 1982 performance tonight with the Memphis Symphony Orchestra tonight. It's refreshing to see our senior senator exhibit a side outside the political realm.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Golden Rule Politics this Sunday Night

I had never even heard of the relatively new DVD Golden Rule Politics: Reclaiming the Rightful Role of Faith in Politics until the local chapter of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State asked me yesterday if I would be on a panel about the issues addressed in it this coming Sunday. I'm not sure about the logic of having the event on a holiday weekend and a Sunday night (when most Church people who go to churchy things are at...Church), but the organizers must figure that most Church people won't be going to OutLoud! or, um, any event sponsored by Americans United for the Separation of Church and State. Not sure. But that's a shame because we actually ought to be going to discussions where the deck isn't stacked in our favor.

Back to the film. You can see clips of it here. And there's a nifty study guide here. Tennessee's own Senator Roy Herron (D-Dresden), who has an M.Div. from Vanderbilt Divinity School, is interviewed. The DVD is produced by the Baptist Center for Ethics, which is the moderate foil to the more conservative Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Event Details: Sunday, May 25 at 7:00 p.m. Central at OutLoud! located at 1703 Church Street in Nashville. Film followed by discussion.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Why is Young apologizing?

Titans QB Vince Young is apologizing for those famous photos of him having a good time posted at TMZ. Is it the fact that he wasn't wearing a shirt or that he was drinking alcohol because those are the two things that keep getting mentioned every time the photos come up? There doesn't seem to be any problem with either in these Super Bowl commercials posted at the NFL's site.

Children are impressionable, after all. If they see a hazy, amateur camera phone photo of a player actually enjoying himself, then they will surely forget all the slick, expensive ads full of flesh and alcohol produced by marketing professionals directly targeting football fans of all ages.

Vince Young's night of blowing off a little steam has been crashed by the strange politics of alcohol and "What about the children?" in this country.

Perception is reality in Knox County?

The Knox County Ethics Committee is going to add more members of "the public" to the body, an increase from 4 to 6, giving "the public" a majority.

"The problem has been the perception of nepotism and cronyism," Chairman Ron Stewart said. "This will help show that we're trying to do something about (the public) concerns. If you don't trust government, you have a great deal of problems. Trust has been eroded. We're looking at getting more people involved. This will help rebuild that trust in Knox County Government."

But what does this have to do with the actual ethics problems in County government that include the following: "troubles with County Commission violating the state Open Meetings Act and the county Mayor Mike Ragsdale's office misusing of purchasing cards, awarding auto allowances, keeping an off-the-books hospitality fund and giving community grants to groups affiliated with a top staffer?"

The problem is not the perception of those who are on ethics committee, even if that is A problem. The problem is non-compliance. How about following the rules? That might build real trust.

Holding the line another year

The 105th Tennessee General Assembly has adjourned for the year. The state's GLBT community is perhaps not the most relieved of all constituencies, but we're certainly not the least. For us, the session began, not in January, but in October 2007 when Attorney General Bob Cooper gave the opinion that there is no legal barrier to same-sex couples adopting. Some legislators immediately gave notice that they would attempt to ban same-sex adoption in 2008.

Instead, what we got was SB3910/HB3713 , which sought to ban all unmarried cohabiting couples (straight and gay) from adopting. Thankfully, this fiscal note of more than $4.5 Million in impact to the state appeared. In a tight budget year, a revelation like that began the bill's death march. But we think opposition to the substance of the bill also mattered. Our webmaster just told me today that members of the Tennessee Equality Project sent almost 13,000 emails through our system to legislators this session. We know that one of our allies generated at least 2000 emails on the adoption bill alone. So the level of citizen contact with lawmakers on GLBT issues spiked this year.

Of course, there was also SB3733/HB2997. No doubt many consituencies have a piece of legislation that they call the "Campfield bill." This one was ours. It attempted to prohibit discussion of any sexuality other than heterosexuality in grades K-8 of our public schools. After unconvincing attempts to prove that homosexuality is part of the state mandated curriculum in these grades (proving that it is sometimes part of curriculum used to train teachers is not the same thing as proving it is part of the curriculum from which children are instructed!) and an unfortunate incident in which the House K-12 subcommittee chair failed to take a roll call vote, the bill meandered into the oblivion of study by the Department of Education from which it hasn't reemerged. Some seemed outraged about the lack of roll call vote. For us, the most significant issue was not whether he had received his roll call vote, but rather the sad state of discourse about GLBT people in Tennessee. But it's up to us to improve that. So on it goes.

No anti-GLBT bill has been adopted by the General Assembly since 2005 when the marriage amendment passed both houses for a second time to head to the ballot where the voters approved it in 2006. There have been various attempts to pass bans on adoption, foster care, civil unions, and so on. Nothing has gone very far. At the same time, the few pieces of positive legislation that we have worked on have fizzled as well. It's a bit of stalemate.

We're already getting started on next year. TEP-PAC held a small fundraising reception last night. We hope to play a larger role in legislative races this summer and fall than we have before. That will be a critical piece in shifting from fighting negative legislation to advancing positive legislation.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Kelsey on the table; the path to sine die

10:00 p.m. Rep. Brian Kelsey's (R-Germantown) attempt to divert bunker funding to the general fund was tabled by a vote of 57 to 37--probably one of the closer votes in the House tonight.

10:07--Sen. Wilder is in the Speaker's chair in the Senate. The House is in recess for the moment.

10:20--Sen. Wilder has yielded the chair to Lt. Governor Ramsey in the Senate.

10:25--The Senate is in recess as is the House.

10:35--The House is back in session.

11:00--Minority Leader Mumpower reminded the House that it is "now tomorrow in East Tennessee" to which the Speaker replied "thank you for helping get us there." Mumpower has moved the sine die adjournment. The Senate is back in session.

11:20--Senate moved to concur with House sine die resolution. The Senate is appointing its committee to tell the House that the Senate has completed its business.

11:30--The House adjourns sine die.

11:33--Senate acknowledges Sen. John Wilder and adjourns sine die.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Good news for Dean

The responses to Mayor Karl Dean's state of Metro address in the media left readers with one conclusion--the honeymoon is over. The offense? Understatement, apparently.

Well, the Mayor got some "good" news today, if it's all right to use that word. First, the number of prospective layoffs of Metro employees has been slashed from 200 to about 80 and is still declining. Of course, those employees won't be in their usual slots and as a result services will suffer. But it's encouraging that the impact on those employees has been softened considerably. Second, Martin Luther King and Hume Fogg magnet schools were rated in the top 25 public schools in the country by Newsweek. For the school system in general, substantial problems remain. But the news helps vindicate Dean's focus on schools.

Not a bad rebound, Karl!

House in recess until 9:00 a.m. tomorrow--semi-formal dress required!

One member, concerned about his hotel room situation, asked the Speaker if tomorrow is the last day of the session. The Speaker replied that he hopes so, but it's not definite. Another member only half jokingly asked Speaker Pro Tempore Lois DeBerry whether the members could dress casually. After looking around icily and wondering aloud who asked that, she bluntly stated, "No."

Senate in recess until 8:30 tomorrow; Wilder fails in bid to revive TN Plan

See previous post here.

One of the most poignant or treacherous moves,depending on your point of view, on the floor during the discussion of the tabling motion that defeated Sen. Wilder's bill was Sen. McNally's comment that a gentleman from Fayette County once told him not to bypass the committee system when he had a bill of interest. Sen. McNally used Sen. Wilder's own logic that worked so well to build consensus in the Senate in less partisan days against him.

When are they going home?--Part 2

The House is in recess until 7:00 p.m. The video stream hasn't begun for the Senate yet (6:06). Maybe I'm clicking on the wrong link, maybe they're having technical difficulties, or maybe they meant they were reconvening at 6:00 Mountain time?

Cara Kumari just said live on WSMV that legislators still hope to go home tonight but some are acknowledging they could be in Nashville tomorrow.

OK, the Senate video is back up (6:23). Lots of milling around and a few members in their seats at the moment (6:36).

6:44--The Senate has quorum and is back in order. The sound is back on.
6:55--Senate is largely voting unanimously to concur with House amendments to bills.
7:00--The House is back in session on time. The Speaker has ordered the Sergeant at Arms to get the members inside and close the doors.
7:06--It would be a good night to have three eyes. CNN's election coverage is in the background. Yes, we watch it. We just don't say much about it. In the House, the Speaker is trying to keep the members on the calendar.
7:11--Most of the Senate members have left their desks, but I didn't hear why. Video is still running.
7:23--The Senate is back, but they're going to recess to allow the State and Local Government committee to meet for 5 minutes. They had discussed an 8:15 a.m. meeting tomorrow, but there was objection.
7:32--Sen. Wilder is speaking about the Tennessee plan for judicial appointments. He indicates TOMORROW IS THE LAST DAY and that it could be on the calendar tomorrow if the Senate will provide 17 votes to bring it out of committee.
7:40--Sen. Randy McNally moved to table Sen. Wilder's motion to which Sen. Wilder replied, "What do I do now--cry?" The Senate voted 18 to 15 to table. Afterwards, Sen. Wilder said, "I failed." Very sad.
7:43--The Senate has adjourned until 8:30 a.m. tomorrow. The end continues.

When are they going home?

Update at 5:40: The Senate is in recess until 6:00 p.m.

Here's what the sources are saying about when the honorables in the Legislature are getting out of town. Jennifer Peebles says that the House is moving fast through their bills after a plea from the Speaker. The "rocket docket" is in effect with the House up to item 43 of 59 on the agenda as of this posting.

Mr. Kleinheider notes Ken Whitehouse's post that it's unlikely to be today in part because of a scrap over mixed martial arts.

"Not even close" is how WSMV's Cara Kumari describes how far along the Legislature is in getting their work done today in a 5:00 posting. But this piece at rival WTVF's site posted at 4:20 says legislators might be working until midnight. (I know, I'm supposed to call them NewsChannel5, but I can't be expected to do marketing for t.v. stations.) No firm hints about whether it's today or tomorrow from WPLN.

A Sunday story by the Chattanooga Times Free Press's Andy Sher gives lengthy background on the cause of the delays.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Uncivil war in Rutherford County

Executive Editor Jimmy Hart of the Daily News Journal (Murfreesboro) comments about the exciting level of civic involvement in the failed campaign to bring Bible Park USA to Rutherford County, but he also describes the uncivil nature of the debate.

But it seemed a "win at all cost" mentality developed among small, yet vocal factions of both groups, and what resulted was an atmosphere unbecoming a great Southern community in the buckle of the Bible Belt.

It's hard to do what Hart commends. I was rereading Robert's Rules this weekend to prepare for TEP's annual meeting, and I was struck by the number of safeguards there are in the rules to maintain not only order but civility. The rules, in other words, assume that the members of deliberative bodies would eat one another alive, left to their own devices.

Hart (and Robert, for that matter) would like us to debate the issues rather than the motives and character of those presenting the issues. But it seems difficult to do so in light of 19th and 20th century developments in high and low culture. Whether we are Marxists or not (are there any left?), we live in the wake of Marx's "false consciousness" thesis and Freud's discussion of repression and the role of the unconscious (sometimes capitalized). Feminist theory argues that "the personal is the political." Americans have also seen the rise of personal religious confessionalism in politics that makes public debate tricky. On the low side, we have the constant tabloid focus on the personal lives of politicians and endless stories about anything other than the issues themselves. Taken together, all of these developments shape citizens with a mixture of healthy skepticism and unhealthy suspicion.

We're unlikely to undo the intellectual and cultural forces of the last two centuries. They emerged with modern democracy. But calling people to a different kind of debate that brackets personalities is a good check on the worst tendencies of contemporary political discussion. There is increasing discussion of the "moderation" of comments in online forums. I doubt that the medium will allow those checks to be successful, but it's an experiment that's worth trying and so is the attempt to hold a civil public meeting on a contentious issue.

Lion in Winter--Daughtrey reflects on John Wilder

I sometimes wonder whether the online version of the Tennessean deliberately tries to hide some of its better pieces. A reasonable person might think that he or she would find Larry Daughtrey's column under the "Government & Politics" heading. Maybe it is there, but it's not easy to find. Instead, one has to look under the alliterative "Voices & Views," which sounds kind of like the name of a bad college poetry class. Moving on...

In this week's column, Daughtrey, reflects on the sorry spectacle of Senator and former Lt. Governor John Wilder's efforts to save his 15-year old plan to select judges "on merit, rather than by the raw politics of partisan election." He begged and he failed.

Daughtrey points out, as anyone who has been on the Hill the last in the last few years would know, the Senate Republicans that Wilder is used to working with, are just about gone. It's a sad way to end a career that has been characterized by consensus building and setting a civil tone in the Senate, the odd comments about the cosmos notwithstanding.

The most chilling line in the piece is the last: "Sometimes when you backtrack an old lion, all you find is the hyenas." The results of this fall's elections may "let the Senate be the Senate" again, but I suspect the partisan tone will linger.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

New board for TEP

The Tennessee Equality Project elected new board members and officers at their annual meeting Saturday held at St. Ann's Episcopal Church in Nashville. New board members include former At-large Metro Council candidate Peter Westerholm and Daniel Forrest of the Nike TN GLBT & Friends Network in Memphis. Others reelected to the board include Lisa Beavers, Tom Ekman, Stephen Henry, Todd Hughes, Chris Nelson, Joyce Peacock, Chris Sanders, and Rhonda White who join continuing board members Susan Ford Wiltshire, H.G. Stovall, and Jeremy Davis.

The new board elected the following officers: Chris Sanders, president; Stephen Henry, vice president; Lisa Beavers, secretary; Joyce Peacock, treasurer; and Todd Hughes, at-large executive committee member. The new board and executive committee members take office July 1.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Limited impact of CA marriage ruling in Tennessee

Most of the direct effects of the California Supreme Court's ruling overturning the state's same-sex marriage ban have taken the form of raising awareness of the issue. That's probably about as far as things can go. By statute and by constitutional amendment, marriage in Tennessee is going to be between a man and a woman for the foreseeable future, as it will be in many states.

The Tennessee Transgender Political Coalition released this statement. Media generated discussion includes this piece in the Tennessean and this story in Out & About Newspaper. The Commercial Appeal ran the AP story without any local angle. The Knoxville News Sentinel and the Chattanooga Times Free Press didn't seem to bother at all. Maybe those stories will appear later on Friday. The Nashville Post quoted one straight Knoxville blogger, but no one had commented on the Post's entry by the end of the day on Thursday. So the coverage is pretty much a Middle Tennessee phenomenon at this point and a limited one at that.

The discussion is always valuable, though. No matter how many times we say it interviews, those of us who talk to the media about the legal recognition of GLBT relationships find that we are constantly having to remind our audience that we basically have few protections if our employers choose not to offer them. Consider the comments of Jerry Jones in the Tennessean story:

Every payday, Jones says he is reminded of the benefits of marriage. His employer, Vanderbilt University, offers domestic partner benefits to gay couples. So Jones' partner is covered under the university's insurance plan. But, unlike his married co-workers, the cost of that coverage is not deducted as a pre-tax benefit. "Marriage brings with it a lot of rights and privileges that the domestic partnerships do not," said Jones. "That's just one real, everyday example."

Bringing home the costs of discrimination is a crucial piece in the long-term fight for marriage rights across the country. And even without full marriage rights recognized by the federal government, gay and lesbian couples believe that domestic partnerships are a worthy policy goal in the state, local, and private spheres.

Other than generating more discussion, it's hard to see what other effects the California ruling will have on Tennessee politics. If we had a close U.S. Senate race, then perhaps the Federal Marriage Amendment would come into play as a campaign issue. If we didn't already have a state constitutional amendment defining marriage, then the ruling would probably add fuel to a push to add one. But at this point, I don't know who can make political hay with the issue in Tennessee.

The three presidential candidates don't support using the word marriage for same-sex couples, though they have nuanced positions on the right of states to define marriage. How might any of them draw on the issue to contrast themselves with their opponents in a way that the average voter would care about? The nuances would matter, of course, to the hard Religious Right and to the state's GLBT community. But most Tennessee conservatives, moderates, and progressives will not cast their votes based upon Obama, Clinton, or McCain's views of marriage. If McCain's position or his language shifts, it could come up. Time will tell.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Another look at the State of Metro

Being a day late on a blog is like being late a few weeks in the rest of the world, but I wanted to take some time to review Mayor Karl Dean's State of Metro address. There has been some strong criticism in the commentary.

It's important to look at what the Mayor did and didn't say about the budget issues that Metro faces. He summarizes a whole news cycle in saying, "It's no secret that we have some financial challenges as we move ahead." Dean knows that his audience reads the paper and he's not going to rehash all the details of the problem. The task is to put together a budget that "reflects our city's priorities," and he believes he has done so.

The substantive question is not whether Dean has fairly given notice about the budget issue. The question is whether his solution is merely "smart fiscal management." I found in Dean's speech a three-fold approach--fiscal management, a change in the "business cycle," and economic development.

The Mayor didn't unpack the first two. But fiscal management would include the cuts we've heard about and tough expense control. It includes a variety of practices such as making the community enhancement grant process competitive and accountable. As for the change in the business cycle, it is too early to know how long the recession or pre-recession will last and when things will turn around. There is no doubt that the average American is hurting. Growth is likely to be weak through the end of year, but Wachovia analysts are saying the odds of recession are now about 45% as opposed to the 90% they predicted in April. So while he has no control over the business cycle, Dean's comments aren't out of place since the economy will turn around, hopefully sooner than we expect.

Economic development in Dean's view involves several pieces. The investment in schools and attention to the dropout rate are part of the solution: "It's simple math--more kids graduating would have a huge economic impact on our city." Dean mentions partnering with the Chamber to "recruit new companies to our city" and working with "small business owners and entrepreneurs." He also devotes a couple of paragraphs to what some call the creative class, describing them as "full of intellectual capital." I think if he were to be faulted, it would not be on the approach, but on the lack of specifics. Specifics are clear with respect to the dropout rate, but they are not as clear in terms of attracting new business and nurturing a climate conducive to creative types, at least not in the text of the speech.

The Mayor gives a nod to the critics of big government by noting that his budget includes "no new property taxes," a position which draws fire as a mistake in the Nashville Scene piece cited above. But how could any official--even the gutsiest--propose an increase in property taxes when foreclosures are rising around the area? The likelihood of avoiding recession may be higher now and that will eventually work in the city's favor, but it is not yet an experienced reality for Metro residents. Until it is, Dean has no good options for increased revenue.

"Good"--there's that word. "Ladies and gentlemen, as we approach the mid-point of 2008, the state of Metro is good." The budget situation is not good and the dropout rate is not good. What does he mean? Unlike some spectators, I took "good" as a fairly mild description. It certainly contrasts with the President's description of the state of the union as "strong" or "has never been stronger." I think it was an attempt to avoid exaggeration. He lists a number of features of the city that are good. He may also ironically be borrowing a page from Bob Clement via Jim Collins when he closes by saying, "The destination our city arrives at will be great." He acknowledges that the "path we take will not be easy." Good becomes a great deal more understandable in that context.

Odds & Ends

The Commercial Appeal and Daily News offer lots of local political coverage this morning. There's a lot going on in state and MidSouth politics:

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

MS-01 Results

Childers (D) - 54% (56,982)

Davis (R) - 46% (49,285)

461/462 (99.9%) precincts reporting.

The MSM focused on the WV primary for most of the evening where the results were well known in advance. This is where the real political election drama is happening tonight. At about 9:15 PM, the MSM woke up and finally started talking about MS-01

AP was the first to call the race for Childers.

This . . . . . . is . . . . . . momentous!

VUMC and Williamson Medical participate in Healthcare Equality Index

The Human Rights Campaign Foundation and the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association have put together their first Healthcare Equality Index (HEI). According to this story from the AP,

"The absence of federal protections, inadequate state laws and inconsistent hospital policies often results in discrimination and inadequate health care for GLBT patients and their families...The HEI is calling attention to discriminatory practices and, over time, establishing a 'gold standard' of policies to ensure equality of treatment."

The two participating Tennessee health care organizations are Vanderbilt University Medical Center and Williamson Medical Center. Both scored well in the HEI's five groups of criteria that cover the Patients' Bill of Rights, visitation policies, advance healthcare directives, diversity training, and employment nondiscrimination policies.

This announcement comes just days after Vanderbilt's Faculty Senate voted to include gender identity in the university's nondiscrimination policy.

These developments can only help the case for an inclusive nondiscrimination policy for all Metro employees in Nasvhille and City employees in Memphis.

Everyone will be watching for the results of MS-01 tonight

Booneville, Prentiss County Chancery Clerk Travis Childers (D) or Southaven Mayor Greg Davis (R) will win the First Congressional District of Mississippi this evening. This traditionally safe seat for Republicans may turn Democratic tonight- the third to do so in a special Congressional election this year. See the Memphis Commercial Appeal for more.

Projections for Cohen looking good for 9th District Race

Jackson Baker reports favorable numbers from a poll conducted on behalf of Steve Cohen's re-election campaign:

The congressman is the choice of 63 percent of those polled, with Tinker selected by 11 percent and state Representative Joe Towns laying claim to 5 percent. Undecided voters add up to another 20 percent.

The Democratic Primary vote will be held on August 7, 2008.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

One of our few exceptions--'Boro discussion of Rev. Jeremiah Wright

We've made a deliberate choice not to say much about the presidential race at this blog. Coverage and then some is rampant all over the web. It's important to have spaces dedicated to state and local politics. However, this story at the Daily News Journal seems to fit the bill of a Tennessee angle on a national story.

Doug Davis took some time with Murfreesboro area African American pastors to discuss the controversy surrounding the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. The article focuses on the pastors' reactions to characterizations of the Black Church by Wright and the media. The pastors are also grappling with the distinction between prophetic religious speech and politics. Reading the piece, you can't help but be left with the conclusion of the Rev. Graham Matthews of Key United Methodist Church that "there is no monolithic black church in the United States..."

TVA turns 75, still controversial

A rare color photograph from the Library of Congress in today's Knoxville News Sentinel shows a carpenter working on TVA's Douglas Dam. The accompanying story discusses the current efforts to reexamine TVA's place as a quasi-government agency as well as the efforts of TN Senators Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker to protect it.

Legislature protecting "our way of life" while state crumbles

That's what Larry Daughtrey says in a way only he can in today's Tennessean. We're about to get the constitutional right to hunt and fish, while education and the budget are sinking. He also mentions the marriage discrimination amendment and wonders whether we might expect protections for "making moonshine and having rooster fights without the sheriff butting in."

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Identity Politics: Reactions to an Evangelical Manifesto--Part 2

Though only 20 pages long, An Evangelical Manifesto summarizes a wealth of cultural, political, and religious conflicts in its effort to offer a way forward. The sub-topics are endless. One of particular interest to the GLBT community will be the discussion of identity politics, which is named explicitly as a concern.

There are grave dangers in identity politics, but we insist that we ourselves, and not scholars, the press, or public opinion, have the right to say who we understand ourselves to be. We are who we say we are, and we resist all attempts to explain us in terms of our “true” motives and our “real” agenda. (p. 4)

My first thought when I read those sentences was that it could have been written by a GLBT activist responding to anyone in the mainstream culture and especially to those opposed to the equality movement, particularly with respect to the word “agenda.” How many times have we heard others scream about the “homosexual agenda?”

I think the parallels are instructive. Just as the public is no doubt baffled any time a group renames itself—in our case with at least the four letters G, L, B, and T in some order, the wider public is confused about the meaning of Evangelical. And I think Evangelicals are on the right track in taking a moment to define themselves. The media in Tennessee, for example, have been quick to adopt "GLBT" coupled with the more familiar and general word “gay.” If Evangelicals continue to press their point, they may achieve some public clarity about who they are.

Evangelicals see the way through the problematic aspects of identity politics by affirming a particular allegiance with a transcendent quality.

In a society divided by identity and gender politics, Christians must witness by their lives to the way their identity in Jesus transcends all such differences. (p. 13)

So the question that the GLBT community will be asking is, Does that mean you’re going to declare a truce in your legislative initiatives against our community? The authors give a clue to a maybe.

We have no desire to coerce anyone or to impose on anyone beliefs and behavior that we have not persuaded them to adopt freely, and that we do not demonstrate in our own lives, above all by love. (p. 16)

I take that to mean at bare minimum that there would be no attempt by these kinds of Evangelicals to reinstitute sodomy laws. But what about active opposition to the existing and emerging rights of GLBT people? Will Churches and individual Evangelicals begin to urge the Family Action Council of Tennessee to stop trying to restrict our adoption rights in the Legislature? Will they stop serving as the organizers of efforts to put same-sex marriage bans on the ballot of states across the country? And will they stop opposing hate crimes laws that cover sexual orientation and gender identity?

Friday, May 9, 2008

Reactions to An Evangelical Manifesto--Part 1

A group of leading Evangelicals released a document this week called An Evangelical Manifesto. It is addressed not only to other Evangelicals, but to all American citizens for their consideration. Although I didn't notice anyone from Tennessee among the leaders, the document is worthy of discussion in our state since over 50% of the people identify themselves as Evangelical Protestants.

"The two-fold purpose of this declaration is first to address the confusions and corruptions that attend the term Evangelical in the United States and much of the Western world today, and second to clarify where we stand on issues that have caused consternation over Evangelicals in public life."

An important signal of a shift comes in their list of what Evangelicalism means. Biblical authority is listed fourth and not first as is often the case in historic Evangelical statements of faith. The leaders are drawing a clearer line between themselves and Fundamentalists.

The document underscores this shift by calling for Evangelicalism to be "defined theologically and not politically." The authors concede that they "cannot back away from our biblically rooted commitment to the sanctity of every human life, including those unborn, nor can we deny the holiness of marriage as instituted by God between one man and one woman..." But they express the desire to move "beyond single-issue politics..." They call for "engaging the global giants of conflict, racism, corruption, poverty, pandemic diseases, illiteracy, ignorance, and spiritual emptiness..."

Those who are more political than theological in their interests should still consider reading the theological rationale in the document. I think it presents an honest effort at struggling with a long, distinguished tradition of Christianity that has influenced our public life. Driving every sentence are theological reflection and the negative reaction from outsiders. It shows that this group of Evangelicals have taken seriously their own roots and the broader conversation in which they find themselves today.

While there is little movement on the marriage issue that is so important to America's GLBT community, An Evangelical Manifesto moves the marriage issue away from the center of concern. Or perhaps I should say a host of other basic issues have joined marriage and abortion at the center with the effect of putting those concerns in a broader mix. The laser-focus on so-called family values is gone.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Citizen Pain?

My apologies to everyone associated with Citizen Kane for the bad pun, but Rosebud Lodge, the proposed GLBT nudist resort in Roane County, is causing quite a stir. With all the complaints, the developers are rewording their description of the business as "open to all."

That hasn't persuaded some citizens. A number of area congregations have decided to cancel Wednesday services so their members can attend a Roane County Planning Commission meeting.

The comments alone on the story are worth the read--everything from family values to property values. And there is the obligatory fear of "the GLBT people [who] are determined to shove their lifestyles down everybody else's throats..."

Conceptually, I have to say, I don't think the project makes much sense. Perhaps I've just been too involved in the political side of the community, but do the G, L, B, and Ts really all want to be nude at the same place? Maybe some do. And maybe there's a market for it, but I bet we don't find out in Roane County.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Bad time to be a government employee in Nashville

Whether you work for Metro or for the State, chances are that someone has been evaluating how essential your job is. 2000 buyouts are being discussed for State government and 200 layoffs for Metro are in the works.

Let's say that most of these employees are downtown, just for the sake of argument. And let's say that all of them eat lunch for about $5 per person every day (or spend $5 downtown on something just about every day), that's an almost $3 Million impact on downtown in one year.

Of course, not all of the employees whose jobs are being cut work downtown. And not all of them spend $5 on lunch, but some spend more and some buy other things. And many of the Metro employees who are being laid off will land in other Metro jobs...or at least that's the hope.

I'm not saying the State or Metro had good alternatives, but there will be an impact beyond those employees and their families. I should note that SEIU's Mark Naccarato thinks Metro could approach the matter differently. He accuses Mayor Dean of "robbing Peter to pay Paul." Not surprising considering that SEIU endorsed Bob Clement in the runoff. By way of disclaimer, I should add that TEP-PAC endorsed Dean in the runoff.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Bible Park's latest roller coaster, WWJD?--the jokes are just too obvious

It's really hard to know where to begin with this story in today's Tennessean about Bible Park USA. I'm trying to contain the sarcasm, but I think I've already failed. An Israeli former Penthouse photographer is a major force in the company that is trying to launch the theme park with scenes from the Bible.

It's just the latest public disaster for the project, which has already failed a close zoning vote. The developers have had to walk carefully through the Church-state minefield on the bond issue as well. And now this?

Here's what the county mayor had to say, "I am not going to judge what any person did 35 years ago that might not be appropriate," Burgess said. "It isn't illegal, but it was not anything I would have participated in."

The Mayor's in a tough spot, no doubt. He might have acknowledged the appearance of hypocrisy, but then that would have become the headline, of course.

So far, lots of sin. I can't wait to see where the redemption comes from on this one.

Outing story continues in Memphis

Many concerned citizens spoke against the actions of Daphne Beasley, the principal of Hollis F. Price Middle College High School, at last night's Memphis City School Board meeting last night.

See stories on Eyewitness News and WMC 5.

You can also read voluminous community reactions to the story here.


The Memphis Daily News has a well-written account of the story in its Monday edition. They are one of the few media outlets to point out that Nicholas & Andrew were "unfairly singled out when they didn't take part in any inappropriate public displays of affection."

Monday, May 5, 2008

Term limits, leadership, and unpopular decisions

For some reason, I find myself puzzling over the Jackson Sun's editorial pages more than any other in the state, perhaps because they deal with issues and take sides. Today they are touting a proposal for term limits that would apply to the Mayor and City Council of Jackson. In essence, they are arguing that the voters should have the chance to decide whether they want term limits.

Strictly speaking, their stance to let the voters decide doesn't contradict the idea that the absence of term limits helps create statesmen and women who can develop a bank of credibility and good will. Having been reelected in some cases many times, they are occasionally free to make unpopular decisions without fear of voter retribution. The Sun praised the non-term-limited House Speaker Jimmy Naifeh (D-Covington) here for his willingness to do so in the case of a gun bill.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Friday Hollis F. Price article in the Commerical Appeal

I didn't see the article until this afternoon. Not much new. It mentions a letter from City Councilwoman Janis Fullilove which I have a full copy of:
May 1, 2008

Mr. Dan Ward, Superintendent
Memphis City Schools
2597 Avery Avenue
Memphis, TN 38112

Dear Superintendent Ward:

The news reports regarding the principal at Hollis F. Price School who identified the names of couples, including those whose sexual orientation was previously hidden, are very distressing. I am appalled by the behavior of this adult whose thoughtless actions should not be condoned. A school policy should be immediately crafted to prevent this type of insensitive activity from recurring.

As we are all aware, many adults must endure the harsh realities of society’s prejudice and bigotry. It pains me greatly to know that our young people, particularly those who are in the midst of self discovery, or grappling with sexual orientation issues, have had to endure public humiliation and the prospect of learning far too early how intolerant we can be of others. I trust that those couples who feel as though their privacy was violated can find some professional support in dealing with this tragic incident. Further, I hope that the principal fully understands the reprehensible nature of her actions and practices more compassion and sensitivity in the future.


Janis Fullilove
Memphis City Council

Yeah Janis!

Teen GLBT activism in Knoxville

The Metro Pulse filed this profile of Conrad Honicker, a 16-year old activist in Knoxville. He helped create the school's Gay-Straight Alliance. There is also a discussion of the new nondiscrimination policy for the school district.

And your point is?

The Tennessean has a piece on Sen. Bill Ketron's (R-Murfreesboro) failure to "mention" that his wife works for AT&T Mobility. The inflammatory title reads "Senator discloses AT&T link after vote," referring to the recent cable compromise bill that the Legislature passed. That title comes as a surprise given that the paper admits "he had noted [the relationship] on his ethics disclosures this year." Um, I guess he disclosed it before and after the vote.

I think the point they're trying to make is that Sen. Ketron should have brought it up during debate on the bill.

Facts are missing in the story. What is his wife's role at AT&T Mobility? And to what degree does the mobile division coordinate with the cable division? That might have helped build the case that there is a conflict of interest.

Young candidate drops out

23-year old Kevin Burke has dropped out of the Hamilton County school board race, leaving two candidates for the District 7 spot.

“I’d be great at it, and I have a good chance to win, but the timing isn’t right,” he said.

He cited school and work responsibilities as the deciding factor.

Friday, May 2, 2008

The "Back Story" on the adoption bill

The Human Rights Campaign's blog asked us to contribute a piece on the adoption battle in Tennessee.

Memphis City Schools Responds to ACLU Complaint

Memphis City School attorneys issued a statement late yesterday:

Memphis City Schools is committed to providing its students with the best possible learning environment. Hollis F. Price Middle College is an accelerated high school, which is located on the historically black LeMoyne-Owen College campus. Eligible students may enroll in college classes in pursuit of completing the first two years of college while attending this high school.

Because we have high school students on a college campus, we have to carefully monitor the activities of our students. We are at all timesproactive in assuring that our students are provided a safe, nurturing and disciplined learning climate. Unfortunately, in fall 2007, we received numerous complaints from LeMoyne-Owen College faculty and staff that some of our student couples were involved in explicit sexual behavior in public view on the college campus.

In light of this information from LeMoyne-Owen faculty and staff, the principal of Hollis F. Price made several general announcements to the student body that this behavior would not be tolerated. Regrettably, the improper behavior continued. Therefore, the principal felt it appropriate to notify the parents of those children she knew to be involved romantically. This was done in an effort to gain the support of the parents in reinforcing the message that such behavior is in violation of Memphis City Schools’ Student Code of Conduct. The principal did not list any information other than students’ names on her personal call list, and she certainly did not specify the sexual orientation of any student. Additionally, the list was never posted publicly anywhere at the school.

It is the position of Memphis City Schools that the principal did act in an appropriate manner in order to correct a serious issue at the school and that Memphis City Schools has not subjected either of these students todiscriminatory treatment.

In the coming days, we will submit a formal response to the ACLU. We look forward to working with them to amicably resolve this matter.

The above statement is full of slippery subtleties. Note that MCS mentions that "some of our student couples" were engaged in "sexually explicit behavior". They imply that Nick and Andrew are guilty of such behavior. They go on to say that "the principal felt it appropriate to notify the parents of those children she knew to be involved romantically." How is it appropriate to invade the privacy of couples known to be "romatically involved" who are not engaging in "sexually explicit behavior"? Romantic involvement does not make one guilty of sexually explicit behavior.

With this new statement, MCS is now engaging in character assasination of Nick and Andrew. They are also trying to take advantage of the public's homophobia by equating romantic attachment between two young men with illegal activity. Shameful.

Eyewitness News in Memphis has more details.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

A must-read from PFLAG Tri-Cities

Take a minute to read this blog post by the Rev. John Shuck of PFLAG Tri-Cities. John represented the NYC Comptroller's office at the Eastman Chemical shareholders meeting where he presented a resolution for the company to add sexual orientation and gender identity to their nondiscrimination policy. Thanks for stepping up, John!

Tennessee Hate Crimes Report

A hat tip to Jerry Jones for letting me know that the TBI's Hate Crimes in Tennessee 2007 report has come out.

The report tracks bias-motivated crimes on a variety of levels, one of which is sexual bias. It does not explicitly cover gender identity. Here are some of the findings.

*In 2007, we saw a slight decrease in hate crimes based on sexual orientation. The number went from 60 in 2006 to 56 in 2007. That number is not much comfort considering the 2006 number (60) is almost triple the 2005 number (21).

*Even the number is down overall, the number of hate crimes against lesbians went up from 11 in 2006 to 13 in 2007.

*The number of hate crimes against bisexuals also increased from 2 in 2006 to 4 in 2007.

*An extraordinarily high number of victims of sexual bias crimes are African American. 23 out of the 56 victims in 2007 were Black.

*Hate crime victims in Tennessee are young. 32 of the 56 victims were 34 or younger. 23 of them were 24 or younger. 9 of them were under the age of 18.

*25 of the cases were reported in Memphis.

More analysis of the numbers to come...