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.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Crafton in the Lead--Part 2

Part 1 is located here, if you care.

The City Paper has an extremely revealing look into the two camps on either side of the English-only debate. The title of the article sums it up perfectly: 'English Only' issue presses forward while opponents play waiting game.

Once again, Eric Crafton has dominated the coverage. He has already gathered half the signatures he needs to put the measure on the ballot and more post cards are going out this week. He comes across as optimistic and organized.

“I’m very happy at the tremendous level of support,” Crafton said. “I’ve gotten a lot of donations and a lot of very nice letters. I’m very, very appreciative of all the support we’re getting. This is a citizen-wide effort.”

I'm not sure whether Crafton's opponents come across as naive, disorganized, or what. Here's what Mark Walwyn, chair of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce had to say:

“We don’t feel it’s necessary for us to try to prevent people from signing it or for us to mobilize our individual members at this point,” Walwyn said. “I think the issue is pretty clear to those who have been following this. I really believe it will fail as it has in the past.“At the right time, we’ll make the right steps and do the right things.”

Translation: There is no plan.

Stephen Fotopulos, the executive director of the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition, wasn't much more encouraging:

Stephen Fotopulos, the newly named executive director of the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition, anticipates a “broad and outspoken coalition” against the initiative, should the issue find its way onto the ballot. Fotopulos pointed to the groups who spoke out against the measure when it was before Metro Council a year ago — the Nashville Chamber of Commerce, the Convention and Visitors Bureau, not to mention then-Mayor Bill Purcell who eventually vetoed legislation.“There are sort of informal conversations of what we’ll do if it is on the ballot,” Fotopulos said. “I think you’ll see leaders all over the city that understand what a negative reflection this will be for the city. Pretty much everyone but Eric Crafton thinks this is a bad idea.

Translation: No one is responsible for leading the fight against the amendment, but a lot of people are talking about how awful it is.

Do Crafton's opponents honestly believe he's the only one who thinks the amendment is a good idea? At this rate, the amendment will not only make it to the ballot, but it will pass. When it does, progressives will be left with their embarrassment over the amendment. But the embarrassment will be all their own for not fighting it when they could have. If they're relying on lawsuits to dismantle the amendment after it passes, then they're in for a fight. Crafton says he already has a D.C. law firm "that will be more than happy to defend any lawsuit for free."

Let's check the score. Crafton has the only mechanism to persuade citizens to sign or not to get the measure on the ballot. Crafton has the only organized effort to engage voters once it gets on the ballot. Crafton has lined up attorneys to defend the amendment once he wins at the ballot. Crafton 3, opponents 0.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Sher delivers on state legislative races

Just when I had about given up hope that anyone in the press realized we have state legislative races coming up, Andy Sher of the Chattanooga Times Free Press delivers a goldmine of comprehensive coverage. I shouldn't be surprised.

Quoting leaders in both major parties and noting the independents who are running, Sher touches on the possible effects of the presidential election on state races. He also notes some unusual energy in the primaries as well.

Even before the fall contests between Democrats and Republicans, however, there are a number of contested party primaries where Democrats and Republicans are going after their own. For example, in the House District 31 race, which includes Hamilton County, Rep. Jim Cobb, R-Spring City, faces a challenge from former Rep. Jim Vincent, R-Soddy-Daisy, who is attempting a political comeback. “That does seem to be a trend this year, more so than I can remember in the past,” Mr. Cromer said. [Ed Cromer of the Tennessee Journal]

The piece also includes a good discussion of the races that both parties are targeting. The conclusion is that this is a critical year for legislative races. With the two major parties so evenly balanced, the outcome is unpredictable at this point. That is even more reason for Tennessee media to give these races the attention they deserve.

Hey, let's run a press release!

If you want news about state legislative races, you have to dig hard. So if anything appears, I usually have to blink my eyes a couple of times to make sure it's real. Once I get over my shock and gratitude, I am quickly brought back down to earth when I realize that what usually gets written doesn't amount to coverage. Such is the case of the Daily News Journal's profile of Tim Tipps. This is no slight to Mr. Tipps. Good for him for getting word out about his campaign. That's his job. And let me tell you, he and his campaign got it done with this release. It ran in the Sunday edition complete with an active link to his site and an email address.

By the way, has anyone else noticed that very few candidates for Legislature have websites or websites that are easy to find or websites that have good contact information on them? Oh, and if you sign up for email updates from the candidates, don't hold your breath waiting for them. I think I've received one campaign email in the month of June out of the dozen sites where I signed up for "news."

But back to Tim Tipps. In reading the profile at the Daily News Journal, you'd never know his political party. He's a Democrat, by the way. You also wouldn't know that he faces Rick Parks in the primary. And whoever wins in the primary will face Joe Carr, Jon Jaques, or Lou Ann Zelenik. The 48th District might be one of the hottest to watch in the state.

Let me repeat. This is not the problem of Tim Tipps. If anything, he should be praised for getting information out and making his site so accessible. Let's hope we see some coverage as the race heats up.

The deafening silence of African American civil rights organizations and churches

In this morning's Commercial Appeal, Wendi C. Thomas asks important questions about race, religion, sexual orientation and gender identity or expression with regard to the police beating of Duanna Johnson. Thomas hit the nail on the head:

For Johnson, neither Rev. Jesse Jackson nor Rev. Al Sharpton have brought the national spotlight to town, and I think I know why.

Those who can be counted on to look out for the civil rights of black people are highly unreliable if that black person is gay, lesbian, bisexual and/or transgender.

It's time to recognize that "injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere" (Martin Luther King Jr., Letter from Birmingham Jail, April 16, 1963).

Poor Marsha

Since the Senate recently confirmed a full complement of Commissioners on the Federal Election Commission, the complaint against Marsh Blackburn by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Government and Germantown resident Barbara Kaye Ginsburg could now move forward.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

With friends like these...

Ron Hart, a former member of the Tennessee Board of Regents, is a "Southern humorist." I'm not sure whether that means he's Southern and a humorist or he believes he's writing Southern humor. In this piece, he hits as many stereotypes and stock images as possible--Liza Minnelli's marriage, leather chaps, Indigo Girls CD collections, activist judges, liberal elitists, gay priests, Richard Simmons, "hot lesbians," and references to the "mechanics of gay male relationships."

Sorry I had to stop typing for a moment because I was slapping my knees so hard.

Despite the carnival that our community apparently presents, Mr. Hart still manages to say that he agrees with the California Supreme Court's recent ruling on marriage. The libertarian stuff at the end supposedly supplies the justification for his view.

Thanks for the help, Ron. I can hear our fellow Southerners laughing all the way to the voting booth. I can't wait for your piece on race relations.

TN Congressmen defend traditonal marriage in June

Speaking of Marsha Blackburn...she and three other members of Tennessee's congressional delegation signed on as cosponsors of H.J.RES. 89, another version of the federal marriage amendment. Joining Congressman Blackburn are David Davis of the 1st District, John Duncan of the 2nd District, and Zach Wamp of the 3rd District. They had all added their names to the effort by June 10, although Congressman Wamp gets the prize for being first on June 5.

It's important, after all, to protect the month of June for man-woman weddings. Tradition! Granted, it might be a pagan tradition. But why ask historical questions?

More Marsha, Marsha, Marsha

The Memphis Daily News has a short story about Marsha Blackburn warning her supporters about Tom Leatherwood's challenge to her in the Republican Primary for Tennessee's 7th Congressional District:

Marsha Blackburn is telling her supporters that she is facing her most serious challenger this year since her first run at elected office in 2002.

The U.S. representative for Tennessee’s 7th Congressional District is facing Shelby County Register of Deeds Tom Leatherwood in the Republican primary for her congressional seat. The primary election is Aug. 7.

In a note to supporters, Blackburn calls Leatherwood a “very serious opponent” who nonetheless “knows he can’t out-conservative someone with my voting record, so he kicked off his campaign with a negative attack on me and has never let up.”

She goes on to say of Leatherwood that “he is being encouraged by some of his pals in the courthouse in Memphis who resent the fact that I don’t spend more time catering to their wishes” and that she believes Democrats are urging other Democrats to vote in the Republican primary for Leatherwood.

UPDATE: Turns out that Leatherwood has also been accused of FEC abuses.

Sidney Chism Community Picnic

Today is the 8th Annual Sidney Chism Community Picnic. For many years, candidates for local elected office descended on St. Peter's Picnic in Midtown each year to gladhand, kiss babies, and campaign. The St. Peter's Picnic is no more and Sidney Chism's annual picnic has essentially taken its place. While the host is a Democrat on the Shelby County Commission, the event attracts Republicans and Democrats alike. The picnic includes voter registration, free food and plenty of activities for kids. It's a rare opportunity to speak with many elected officials at one place and time.

Friday, June 27, 2008

The Debra and Bob Show

State Rep. Debra Maggart (R-Hendersonville) is having a little fundraiser in Gallatin on July 11 and the "special guest" star is Sen. Bob Corker.

Congress hears from transgenders about job discrimination

Don't know if you can find the cspan footage on youtube but one of my favorite news sources these days since the news is broken... From McClatchy news...the latest from a hearing Thursday before Congress and the house subcommittee on Health, Education, Labor Pensions.

Kurita's green thumb

Senate Speaker Pro Tempore Rosalind Kurita (D-Clarksville) received high marks on this year's Tennessee Conservation Voters scorecard. My first question was, "What about her opponent in the primary, Tim Barnes?" But it's a scorecard that assesses the records of legislators; it's not a complete voter guide.

This year’s top-ranked members of the Senate are Senators Raymond Finney R-8 (Blount and Sevier counties), Bill Ketron R-13 (Lincoln, Marshall, Maury and part of Rutherford counties), Rosalind Kurita D-22 (Cheatham, Houston and Montgomery counties), Doug Jackson D-25 (Dickson, Giles, Hickman, Humphreys, Lawrence and Lewis counties) and Steve Roller D-14 (Franklin, Bledsoe, Coffee, Grundy, Sequatchie, Van Buren and Warren counties). The top-ranked Representatives are Mike McDonald D-44 (Sumner county) and Mike Kernell D-93 (part of Shelby county), Gary Moore D-50 (part of Davidson county) and John Mark Windle D-41 (Fentress, Morgan and Overton counties).

There's a mixture of Republicans and Democrats in the Senate, but all we have are Democrats at the top in the House. Maybe the Senate is the Senate, after all, as former Lt. Gov. John Wilder would have it.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Ain't lookin' for trouble

Tim McGraw helped remove a fan who apparently was looking for trouble at a recent concert. Given Bill Purcell's new gig at Harvard and the problems of the other Democratic candidates for governor in 2010, it just makes you wonder whether the Democrats might need a celebrity like McGraw to take on some of the Republican powerhouses considering a run.

As I noted in another post, there hasn't been much talk of Tim McGraw as a gubernatorial candidate in a few months, but we'll see if the speculation grows this year.

Crafton in the lead

Just over 20 days after the Crafton amendment went public, we're in about the same position we were at day one. While editorials and blogs have called him names and speculated about his motives, Councilman Eric Crafton has outcampaigned his opponents and continues to dominate the coverage of the amendment. The other side is too busy mocking him to admit that, of course. But it's true. Remember the website, the robo-calls, and the postcards? Think of any story about the issue. All Eric all the time!

Three lines of counterattack have been opened, but they haven't been developed. Here they are waiting for flesh to be joined to bone.

1. Getting the opposition organized. June 9 was the last time we heard anything about who might be leading the opposition to the amendment. Can you hear the crickets in the background? It's kind of quiet right now.
2. The money trail. Further exploration of this issue might really knock the credibility of the campaign.
3. A stark discussion of the harms that the amendment might bring about. While it's true that Gail Kerr hurts her argument by being so insulting personally to Crafton in the piece, she paints the most vivid picture of the potential harms that the amendment would bring about.

The editorials and the letters and the blog discussions have been helpful and entertaining. But Crafton's amendment will not die the death of a thousand (paper) cuts. Someone is going to have to step up and lead the opposition's campaign.

MGLCC supports Duanna Johnson and Community

A chorus of many speaks with one voice. The Memphis Gay and Lesbian Community Center issued this statement today:

The MGLCC board of directors has been following the events surrounding the brutal beating of a transgender woman by two Memphis police officers. We find these events unacceptable and we hope the police department will continue taking appropriate corrective action beyond the firing of the police officers involved. This kind of behavior can never be tolerated and must be addressed in a comprehensive way.

We have been in contact with and support the lead of local organizations such as Tennessee Equality Project, Women's Action Coalition, and the Midsouth Peace and Justice Center, who've made and continue working on several requests for change and accountability.

On Monday, June 23 these groups along with many people from the community met at First Congregational Church to discuss a plan for action. Many of our board members were in attendance.

MGLCC plans to be actively involved in helping formulate the next steps by having representatives attend and be supportive at the next meeting.

The 2nd Community Assembly will be held next Monday, June 30th at 6PM at the First Congregational Church. We strongly encourage our community to come show their support for this GLBT and civil rights injustice.
The Old Testament Prophet Amos said it best: "But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream." - Amos 5:24 NRSV

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

MPD fires Officer Bridges McRae, but what about past complaints?

The Memphis Police Department fired Officer Bridges McRae for his misconduct immediately after an administrative hearing this afternoon. McRae is the officer who used handcuffs in his fist like brass knuckles to beat Duanna Johnson in the face on Feb. 12 at 201 Poplar. James Swain, another officer who held Johnson in her chair while McRae beat her, was immediately fired after the incident since he was still on probation.

WMC-TV uncovered five past complaints against McRae in his personnel file that were investigated by Internal Affairs and included racial slurs and a reference to the Aryan Nation.

The City of Memphis has a Civilian Law Enforcement Review Board that reviews civilian complaints after Internal Affairs completes investigations. The mission of the Board is to investigate citizen complaints of police misconduct in order to enhance and promote a better working relationship between the City of Memphis Police Department and the citizens of Memphis. The Board has the power to receive, investigate, hear cases, make findings and recommend action on complaints concerning the City of Memphis Police Officers. The Board is appointed by the Mayor and approved by the City Council.

What is really surprising is that Internal Affairs determined that all five complaints against McRae were "Not Sustained." Guess who Internal Affairs works for? The Director of Police.

If the Civilian Law Enforcement Review Board has to rely on the evidence and results of investigations completed by Internal Affairs, is there any wonder why all five complaints against McRae were "Not Sustained?" How can the Board truly conduct an unbiased hearing of a complaint against officers when they are basing decisions on evidence and internal investigations provided to them by the Memphis Police Department?

When you watch the video of McRae beating Duanna Johnson and you look at the types of complaints filed against McRae in the past, it begs the question: was McRae a ticking time bomb?

How many other investigations of police misconduct have been found to be "Not Sustained?"

It may be time to suggest reforms that call for the function of Internal Affairs to be removed from the Memphis Police Department to ensure that investigations remain independent. A new Office of Alleged Misconduct Review - answerable to the Mayor instead of the Director of Police - might have a better chance of catching the bad apples in the bunch before more serious incidents occur.

UPDATE on today's local media coverage of McRae's firing:
  • Commercial Appeal - includes a poll question: Has justice been served with the firing of the officer caught on video beating a transgendered suspect in the booking area?
  • WREG News Channel 3
  • WMCTV 5 News - Memphis Police Association president J.D. Sewell disrespectfully refers to Duanna Johnson as "Mr. Johnson" in this coverage.
  • Fox 13
  • The Memphis Flyer has a story on last Monday's community meeting at First Congregational Church and an updated story on McRae's firing.

Arizona Senate rejects marriage amendment...for now

A hat tip to Jim Grinstead at Progressive Nashville for alerting me to this development hours before many GLBT news outlets were carrying the story. The 14-11 vote means that the marriage amendment will not appear on the November ballot in John McCain's home state. The Senate will reconsider the move at a later date.

So how does this play out for the presidential election? On the one hand, it won't be there to fire up social conservatives in Arizona. Since McCain has said he backs the move at the state level, he loses an opportunity to shore up his credibility with the Evangelicals across the country for whom the issue matters a great deal. On the other hand, he is free to address the issue or not as he sees fit. He really wouldn't have much choice but to address it if it were on the Arizona ballot. I wonder whether that will allow him the ambiguity he needs to pick up more moderates and even members of the GLBT community.

Some estimates say that George W. Bush got 23% of the gay vote in 2000 and 2004 with 4% of the electorate identifying as gay. If the election turns out to be close, that might matter. McCain is viewed as more moderate on GLBT issues than Bush, which is why the Human Rights Campaign released this report attempting to show that McCain is no maverick or moderate on issues or sexual orientation and gender identity.

UPDATE: Mr. Kleinheider notes a report the Log Cabin Republicans have recently met with McCain. Future meetings are anticipated. The McCain campaign must be aware of how startlingly well Bush did with the gay vote. He has a real chance to improve on those numbers. It will be interesting to see how much that matters to him.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Can anyone justify a vote based on marriage this November?

That's what John Fite Rebrovick is asking the readers of the Tennessean to do.

You can bet that now with the California decision, advocates of homosexual marriage will push harder for acceptance in other states that have rejected the notion through referenda like Tennessee. It's not time for proponents of traditional marriage to sit idly by. If we do not feel that our government should be telling children that homosexuality and polygamy are acceptable practices, then we can sit on our logic and let overreaching courts and California set the trend on this issue for the rest of the nation. Or, in the next elections, we can make sure we know where our candidates at every level of government stand on this issue and vote accordingly.

If he means the presidential election, then I think there are some problems with his proposal. John McCain has not been a supporter of the federal marriage amendment, but he was in favor of his home state of Arizona adopting one. That's not exactly what most social conservatives want to hear. Barack Obama has supported giving most of the same rights of marriage to same-sex couples, but he continues to resist using the word marriage. He recently reiterated his view that marriage is between a man and a woman. That's not exactly what the GLBT community wants to hear.

As for the "every level of government" part, I'm not aware of one candidate of a major party running for office in Tennessee who has come out publicly in favor of full marriage equality. Candidates for the legislature wouldn't have any reason to do so. No matter what side of the issue they come down on, they won't be voting on it in the next two or even four years. Perhaps he means the Senate race or the House races, but I haven't seen much talk about it there either. Maybe there will be a vote on a federal marriage amendment, but House and Senate aren't likely to allow much movement on that issue soon.

To be sure, all kinds of GLBT/equality/family issues will come up in the next two to four years, but I don't think it makes sense for Tennesseans of any political stripe to be single-issue voters on marriage in November.

The Gay Goodfellas

The Advocate has a must-read article on the Gill Action Fund. Their quiet work behind the scenes appears to be changing local and state politics in favor of LGBT equality.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Memphis GLBT community calls for changes in Police Deparment

Fox 13 ran this story about the growing response of the Memphis GLBT and allied community to the February beating of Duanna Johnson. Johnson appeared grateful for the community support. Jonathan Cole, co-chair of the TEP Shelby County Committee, discussed some of the changes the community is calling for as outlined in the letter he sent to the City Council.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Triangle Journal Movers and Shakers

The Memphis Gay and Lesbian Community Center held a kickoff for its HOME membership campaign at the Center for Southernn Folklore last night. During the reception the community center recognized the 2008 Triangle Journal Movers and Shakers which included a few of Tennessee's legislators and the two Co-Chairs of the Shelby County Committee:

Dr. Marty Acree
Sean Alexander
Terryl Buckner
Jeff Childress & Rick Johns
Congressman Steve Cohen
Jonathan Cole & Tommy Simmons
Allen Cook
Susan Mackenzie
State Senator Bevery Marrero
The Rev. Tim Meadows
Carmen Mills
Bianca Phillips
Darian Porter
State Representative Jeanne Richardson
Wendi C. Thomas
Shane Trice
Dr. Herb Zeman
Felipe Zuvichaux

Learn more about the 2008 Movers and Shakers in the April 2008 issue of Triangle Journal.

Letter to Memphis City Council

The Shelby County Committee of TEP sent the following letter to Memphis City Council Chairman Scott McCormick regarding the police beating of Duanna Johnson.

June 21, 2008

Councilman Scott McCormick
Memphis City Council
125 North Main Street, Room 514
Memphis, TN 38103

Dear Council Chairman McCormick,

I write to you on behalf of the Shelby County Committee of the Tennessee Equality Project (TEP), a statewide organization dedicated to promoting and sustaining the equality of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender citizens (GLBT).

The members of TEP share the concern of many in the community over the brutal Feb. 12 attack on Duanna Johnson, a transgender African American female who was beaten by officers while in the custody of Memphis Police Department.

TEP is pleased to learn that the Memphis Police Department has begun an investigation of the incident and pursued action against the two officers involved.

We understand that the behavior of these two officers is not representative of the Memphis Police Department and recognize the important and difficult work that Memphis police officers perform every day in our city. We want to make sure, however, that the MPD has done all it can to prevent future violence toward GLBT citizens of Memphis, including the following:

  • The Shelby County Committee TEP calls upon the MPD to strengthen its requirements for diversity training. Many people of diverse cultures, traditions, ethnicities, and backgrounds call Memphis home and visit Memphis events and attractions. Memphis Police Department officers and staff must treat all people with respect and dignity regardless of race, gender, culture, religion, age, nationality, disability, sexual orientation or gender identity and expression. TEP believes that MPD employees must receive immediate, mandatory sensitivity training in working with the diverse citizens of Memphis.

  • The Shelby County Committee of TEP also calls for the MPD to reappoint a GLBT liaison to improve communication and relations with the community. Several years ago, the MPD appointed a community liaison to work with GLBT citizens and organizations. Since that time, the liaison has left the department.

Finally, the Shelby County Committee of TEP requests that the Memphis City Council hold a special committee hearing to follow-up on the results of the MPD investigation of this incident. The MPD’s actions in this matter cannot be limited to investigation and termination of the officers involved in this terrible incident. Efforts must be made to ensure systemic changes in MPD policy.


Jonathan Cole
Co-Chair of the Shelby County Committee of TEP

Cc: Memphis City Council, Mayor Willie W. Herenton, Press, Christopher Sanders, President of TEP

San Francisco on the Cumberland

In 2003 when the Nashville Metro Council was considering a nondiscrimination ordinance, Southern Baptist Convention vice president Bill Merrell predicted passage of the bill could turn Nashville into "the San Francisco of the Southeast."

Apparently it can happen without passage of a nondiscrimination ordinance. Out & About Newspaper is reporting that Nashville has been named by the PlanetOut to the "Most Surprising Gay-Friendly Destinations." As well as the city's inherent features, the article names the Nashville Convention and Visitors Bureau as a source of the award. It seems they've been working with the GLBT press quite a bit.

Pelosi and Cohen in town

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi was in Nashville this afternoon to host a fund raising event for Congressman Steve Cohen. The brunch at Tin Angel welcomed around 30 supporters. Later in the afternoon, Cohen stopped at Red Restaurant for another event with Nashville's GLBT community where he was warmly welcomed for his support of the Matthew Shepard Act and other legislation.

Knoxville Pride and Knox Accountability

I made the trip to Knoxville yesterday for Pridefest. The pictures are here. They had higher crowds than ever before. It would have been a good opportunity for candidates to engage over 1000 voters, but the only campaign with a presence was Obama's. I could make the case for any of the U.S. Senate candidates to be there, but I was struck by the fact that Mike Padgett's campaign wasn't represented.

The festival took place on Market Square. One thing
I noticed right away was a banner hanging
over a door in one of the offices being revamped for Knox Accountability, a group pushing a petition drive to clean up the corruption in County government. The Knoxville News Sentinel covered the kickoff of the campaign.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Update on Memphis police beating

Coverage of the police beating of Duanna Johnson is picking up in the Commercial Appeal. On Friday, the paper ran this story Police Director Larry Godwin's disgust at what is captured on the now famous video tape. It looks as if he is taking some of the appropriate steps in dealing with the disaster:

"There are going to be issues," Godwin said. "I'll deal with those issues. We don't have some code of silence here. If an officer does wrong, there are consequences because it taints the other 99.5 percent of the men and women in the department who work hard for the city."

On Saturday, the paper's editorial, while sloppily using the word "lifestyles," condemned the action of the officers involved and questioned the sheriff's focus on finding how the tape had been released.

The Shelby County Sheriff's Office, meanwhile, is intent on finding out how the videotape was leaked to an attorney. That's all well and good, but we trust they have been just as diligent investigating why their jail personnel didn't intervene.

Godwin got it right when he said McRae's job the night of the arrest was to treat his prisoner with respect and dignity while processing her into the system.

In a city where the perception is that African-Americans are unjustly hassled by officers, McRae's and Swain's actions are particularly injurious to efforts to diminish that perception and to build better relations with the African-American community. Beyond race, the officers' actions compromise the trust the community has in police officers. Losing that trust negatively affects the quality of officers' efforts to keep us safe.

Memphis newlyweds

Robert and Derek, the Memphis couple who were married in California recently, are profiled in Saturday's Commercial Appeal.

"We weren't doing it for any other reason other than we wanted to be married," Blaudow said. "We quickly realized as we sat there that something was going on around us that was bigger than what we were looking for ourselves."

That may change, though. I had the opportunity to speak by phone with Robert today and the couple are looking to find ways to get more involved in working for equality in Tennessee.

TEP Shelby County Committee co-chair Jonathan Cole explains some of the issues TEP is working on that could benefit same-sex couples:

Because of the state constitutional amendment two years ago, area gay rights organizations such as the Tennessee Equality Project are focusing on issues other than marriage.

"We're intent on following some battles we can win," said Jonathan Cole, co-chairman of the Shelby County committee of the Tennessee Equality Project.

The state group is working to enact anti-discrimination legislation that would help same-sex couples seeking benefits, Cole said, a problem Norman and Blaudow are already familiar with.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

More links on Memphis beating

WREG in Memphis ran this story with the reaction of the local GLBT community. Our own Jonathan Cole, who blogs here, is quoted.

"This is really what a hate crime looks like," says Jonathan Cole with the Tennessee Equality Project. "It clearly looks like from the video that people were looking the other way. That I think a symptom of the homophobia that exists within our community."

Cole says gay -- and especially transgender people -- face a dangerous indifference and that the video strongly indicates a hate crime.

Nashville's WSMV ran the video of the beating and an interview with the victim and her attorney.

The Commercial Appeal has this story that focuses on the firing of one of the officers involved. But they also note a new campaign that Amnesty International is launching to draw attention to the violence suffered by transgender people.

Amnesty International, which has been tracking police violence against lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgendered individuals is holding a news conference today in Chicago to discuss a campaign it is launching in that city to protest such violence.

The group reports widespread abuse by law enforcement ranging from derogatory language and excessive handling to rape and assault, said Ariel Herrera of Amnesty International.

"The most vulnerable are transgendered individuals of color," Herrera said. "They are the most stigmatized in the community and often targeted by police."

Update on Derek and Robert

Amidst the bad news of the police beating, there was some good news. Channel 3 has a story and video of Memphis newlyweds Derek Norman and Robert Blaudow getting married in California.

At last, some good questions about the Crafton amendment

P.J. Tobia has started asking questions about who is paying for Metro Councilman Eric Crafton's effort to amend the charter to secure the embattled English language. Now we're talking. He mostly gets evasions and evolving answers. Is it being done under the auspices of a 501c3? If so, my understanding is that this is allowed since we're not talking about support of a candidate. But I believe, at least at the State level, that those funding ballot measures have to keep a separate bank account and go through some extra filings.

According to the Tennessee Registry of Election Finance, here's who has to file:

1. Who must file Campaign Financial Disclosure Statements?

Single-Measure Committees. Reports of appointment of treasurers and disclosure of contributions and expenditures are required of: (1) a group of two or more individuals making expenditures to support or oppose any state or local measure in a referendum, (2) a corporation or any other organization making expenditures to support or oppose any state or local measure in a referendum, (3) any committee, club, association or group of persons receiving contributions or making expenditures totaling more than two hundred fifty dollars ($250) in a calendar year to support or oppose any state or local measure in a referendum.

Since the group's website is raising money and spending it on robocalls, post cards, and the like, it looks as if they would qualify. Presumably, if the law is followed, we will know who is contributing to Crafton's effort.

National and local reactions to police officer's attack on transgender woman pour in

The Human Rights Campaign was among the first to condemn the vicious assault by a Memphis police officer upon a transgender woman in custody.

"This type of profound violence is the exact thing that police officers are supposed to protect people from," said HRC President Joe Solmonese. "HRC is calling for a full criminal investigation and prosecution to the fullest extent of the law."

The news was picked up quickly by national GLBT blog Bilerico, with Alex Blaze providing the coverage.

Locally, the Tennessee Transgender Political Coalition was the first group to release a statement. President Marisa Richmond calls out Shelby County DA and potential gubernatorial candidate William Gibbons:

"This reprehensible attack upon a person who was not resisting simply because of her gender expression has no place in a civilized society," said Dr. Marisa Richmond, President of TTPC. "The brutality of this attack must be dealt with by the judicial system. If Shelby County District Attorney, William Gibbons, who is reportedly considering a run for Governor in 2010, will not prosecute the officers involved for this obvious hate crime, then he should be removed from office for dereliction of duty," continues Richmond.

Out & About Newspaper has run its own story. In that piece, the Tennessee Equality Project said that our Shelby County Committee has reached out to local law enforcement to find ways of preventing this kind of incident from happening again, even as we condemn the attack. In the interview, we also called on Senators Alexander and Corker to support the Matthew Shepard Act, which would add gender identity and sexual orientation to federal hate crimes protections.

Memphis Police Beating of Transgender Suspect

I just learned of a WMCTV5 report on a transgender suspect beaten at 201 Poplar in an apparent case of police brutality. The incident actually happened back in February. Click here for the full story.

Will parents soon be able to screen the unborn for sexual orientation?

William Saletan has a must-read article in Slate examining the moral, religious and political implications of the latest scientific studies of the potential causes of homsexuality. Many studies have ruled out genetic differences between homosexual and heterosexual people. Scientists are now focusing more on hormonal influences on fetal development. Parents could soon be faced with a decision to prevent a homosexual orientation of their unborn children:

Would hormonal intervention work in humans? Should we try it? Some thinkers are intrigued. Last year, Rev. Albert Mohler Jr., president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, wrote: "If a biological basis is found, and if a prenatal test is then developed, and if a successful treatment to reverse the sexual orientation to heterosexual is ever developed, we would support its use." Mohler told the Associated Press that morally, this would be no different from curing fetal blindness or any other "medical problem." Rev. Joseph Fessio, editor of the press that publishes the Pope's work, agreed: "Same-sex activity is considered disordered. If there are ways of detecting diseases or disorders of children in the womb … that respected the dignity of the child and mother, it would be a wonderful advancement of science."

If the idea of chemically suppressing homosexuality in the womb horrifies you, I have bad news: You won't be in the room when it happens. Parents control medical decisions, and surveys indicate that the vast majority of them would be upset to learn that their child was gay. Already, millions are screening embryos and fetuses to eliminate those of the "wrong" sex. Do you think they won't screen for the "wrong" sexual orientation, too?

Very scary.

Update on Memphis City School Funding

The City Council and Memphis City School Board continued talks yesterday about funding options for the school system:

"We implore everyone to be patient," Councilman Harold Collins said. "We will work this thing out and have a positive resolution in the near future."

But school officials say they may file a lawsuit against the city this week if the council does not reinstate $66.2 million in property tax revenue cut from the school budget two weeks ago. . .

They want the money by Oct. 1. That's the deadline presented by the Tennessee Department of Education, which is warning that it will withhold $423 million from the city schools if the city doesn't pay up. . . .

City schools general counsel Dorsey Hopson said he and City Council attorney Allan Wade met briefly Tuesday to discuss options, but nothing specific came from that meeting.

"We agreed we would come up with a scenario that is a win-win," he said. "Everyone wants us to get that state money."

Wade, who has told council members he doesn't believe the city is required to fund schools, took aim at the state's plan to withhold funding.

"If the state decided they wanted to withhold funding completely from the children of this district, they will be creating an atmosphere where 'Suzy Student' wouldn't be able to go to school in the fall," he said. "That is totally unconstitutional and I think they have not thought through where they are going."

There's more from the Commerical Appeal after the jump.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Gays and their elite backers redefine marriage downward, says Gallagher

Maggie Gallagher has been actively involved in the marriage debate for about four years, as she notes. So her reactions to the first legal California marriages at the National Review's site are worth a read.

She raises some stock objections like the prospect of polygamy. "Elite legal minds get to figure out what they think and break it to the rest of us once they’ve decided." I've already said my piece about using the word elite in these debates.

But she leads with a discussion of the New York times article that looks at same-sex marriages in Massachusetts four years after they became legal, which I discussed recently. She focuses on those couples mentioned in the piece who have open relationships.

Still, Mr. Erbelding said, in what to the old-fashioned ear is the most astonishing single sentence in the whole piece: most married gay couples he knows are “for the most part monogamous, but for maybe a casual three-way.”

For the most part . . . except for the casual three-way?

But hey, if the word “marriage” can be redefined as a civil-rights imperative, why balk at lesser ideas like “monogamy” or “fidelity”?

What Gallagher fails to point out is that marriage already has been defined as a civil rights imperative if you and your partner are of the opposite sex. In fact, it's often called a fundamental right and a human right. How we jump from a high moral and legal language of marriage to open relationships is beyond me. What is the causal link? If we looked at studies of opposite-sex marriages, wouldn't we find a mixture of fidelity, divorce, cheating, swinging, and so forth? How any of those realities that befall particular marriages bear upon marriage being a fundamental right is unclear in her argument.

The issue is that marriage is entangled in a number of languages simultaneously--religious, legal, cultural, psychological, economic, etc. Monogamy in marriage suffers from personal fulfillment gone awry, the mobility of our society, and the commodification (elitist word) of people, but that does not justify closing it to some couples because of sex. Gallagher's piece suffers because she fails to untangle these countervailing languages.

Perhaps she ignores the comparison to heterosexual relationships because she is so focused on gay sex, citing the anecdote of another opponent of same-sex marriage:

“I have never been at a soiree with multiple straight “committed” couples in which someone suggests we take off our clothes and see what happens, but I’m sad to say it’s happened with gay friends in long-term relationships. Of course, I know, many men cheat on their wives. But they almost never define their marriage as something that accommodates adultery.”

What is glaringly absent, though, is any discussion of lesbian relationships. If Gallagher viewed studies (maybe she has) that showed relationships between two women are the most stable and involve the least infidelity, would she argue for a marriage hierarchy? Extra marriage rights for lesbians, basic marriage rights for opposite-sex couples, and nothing for gay men?

Arguing from the ways in which people manage their relationships to their right to marry won't get Gallagher where she wants to go. And it has nothing to do with equal protection under the law.

"Elite" opinion: A paradoxical usage that obscures more than it reveals

Accompanying the American obsession with polling to check the pulse of public opinion is a growing tendency in the blogosphere to label views that are at odds with the majority’s opinion (or the undefined average American) as elite, or even more strongly, elitist. The second word is stronger because it means one is a partisan of that which is elite, not simply that one happens to be elite in some descriptive sort of way.

But the words elite and elitist are thrown around without explanation. They are conversation stoppers, not because they have to be, since one could with just a little effort explore them, but because they are ad hominem attacks. (The use of Latin probably makes me an elitist.) In that regard, they function a lot like the word “gay” in middle school hallways. “That’s so gay.” Is the use of the dismissive phrase “But that’s elite opinion” so different, after all?

Absent from most discussions in which these epithets are thrown around are considerations of power and of time. To use an example in our own back yard, how is it meaningful to describe opponents of the effort to make English the official language of Nashville “elite?” What precisely joins the opinion of progressive knowledge workers and immigrants other than its minority status? Minority status with power perhaps equals elitism. Consider global warming. Most Americans think it is a reality and 49% in one poll last year believed it is having a serious impact. But a smaller group is using its power to block significant changes in policy that could reduce global warming. Yet they are seldom described as suffering from elite opinion. They are, however, hit with a host of other epithets that it would be useful to explore in a future post. And those epithets obscure more than they reveal, too.

I’ll bring the point even closer to home. Does the fact that many of my friends and I advocate marriage equality make us elitists in a state that overwhelmingly opposes such a policy change? If so, the word elitist erases the fact that we can’t exercise the rights of marriage. Gone is the discussion of the higher taxes levied against us, our lack of certainty about being able to visit our partners in the hospital, the wrangling we endure over child custody, etc.

And that seems to me to be the paradox of the use of the word elite. It allows the speaker magically to change the subject of the conversation and make those with the disadvantage (or those defending them) appear to be the villains out to pull one over on the majority in some zero-sum game of rights. So much for power.

Perhaps the word time will strike more of a chord. Polls are a slice of opinion at a particular time. Unless several are taken together over time, they’re just lag indicators of where the majority was on a particular issue. Let’s apply that thought to another marriage example. The recent passing of Mildred Loving of the famous Loving v Virginia case, in which bans on interracial marriage were struck down, comes to mind. Wouldn't we find it quaint and even laughable or perhaps disgusting to find descriptions of her supporters as elitist, even though we know most Americans would not have approved of her marriage at the time the case was decided? Now more than 75% of Americans approve of interracial marriages. Should we call the rest the victims of elite opinion? It makes absolutely no sense to call anyone advocating the protection of minorities elites. It adds nothing to the debate and it obscures the actions, positions, and rights of those involved.

Memphis Gay Couple to be among first to tie the knot in California

Equal access to marriage became a reality in California today. A Memphis couple will be among those making history. The Associated Press reports:

Derek Norman, 23, and Robert Blaudow, 39, of Memphis, Tenn., were in the Bay Area for a conference and decided to get married at the Alameda County clerk's office.

"We might wait a long time in Tennessee, so this is our chance," Blaudow said.

Local media have already contacted the Shelby County Committee to inquire about this pioneering couple. I don't know Derek or Robert, but I wish them every happiness and many years together on this joyous day.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Shelby County Committee at Mid-South Pride

The Shelby County Committee of TEP had a great day at the Mid-South Pride Parade and Festival last Saturday. The parade had a bigger lineup and more spectators than last year. Tennessee Senator Beverly Marrero and House Representative Jeanne Richardson joined the TEP walking group in the parade, spoke from the festival stage, and hung out with us at the TEP festival booth. In the 10+ years I have been attended Memphis Pride events, this is the first time I've observed elected officials marching in the parade. Thanks Beverly and Jeanne!

Many other candidates and elected officials came to celebrate pride at the festival including: U.S. Congressman Steve Cohen, State House Representative G.A. Hardaway (Cooper Young's district), State House Representative Mike Kernell, City Councilman Edmund Ford, Jr., City Councilwoman Wanda Halbert, County Trustee Paul Matilla, Carol Chumney (former City Councilwoman, State Rep., and Mayoral candidate), and David Upton (delegate to Democratic Party National Convention). I can't remember a Pride event that drew so many public officials.

The TEP booth was busy with activity. Almost 60 new people signed up to receive information updates from TEP. With the help of Nike TN GLBT & Friends Network, TEP raised over $100 in donations.

Festival participants completed over 400 postcards to send to the Memphis Mayor and City Council calling for passage of a comprehensive Non-Discrimination Ordinance that protects all citizens from discrimination in employment, housing, education, services, and public accomodations on the basis of age, race, color, creed, religion, national origin, ancestry, disability, marital status, sex, gender identity or expression, sexual orientation or physical characteristics. Thanks to everyone who took the time to complete cards to the Mayor and their city council representatives. This level of citizen action will certainly catch the attention of our city government as TEP works to promote the Non-Discrimination Ordinance.

Click here for more coverage and pictures of Mid-South Pride.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Congratulations, Grizzlies

A combined Nashville Grizzlies/World Barbarians team have won their division at the Bingham Cup in Dublin, Ireland. Here they are in yesterday's match in the yellow against the Boston Ironside.

Kerr vs Crafton

Tennessean columnist Gail Kerr takes on Metro Councilman Eric Crafton's English-only petition drive. She doesn't mince words.

It is unconstitutional. It is racist. It is wrong. And it will cost your tax dollars when it ends up in court, as it inevitably will.

She devotes the first chunk of her column to talking about what a waste the effort is. Predictable. The most forceful part of the column comes at the end, though.

So the Korean man trying to enroll his child in school? Tough beans. The Hispanic woman calling the police because her husband is beating her? Too bad, so sad. And how about murderer Paul Dennis Reid, who sits on death row thanks to the testimony of a Spanish-speaking man? The lone witness almost bled to death in the Hermitage McDonalds as he played dead until Reid left. He crawled to a phone and dialed 911.

Thank goodness this law didn't exist that night.

It's going to take television commercials with just that message to beat this amendment at the ballot, not messages saying that the measure is not necessary because immigrants are already learning the language. Opponents will have to hammer this amendment by persuading Davidson County voters that it causes real harms.

Purchasing air time takes money and that takes organization. Wouldn't it be better to spend the money of voluntary contributors in an effective campaign than to make the taxpayers pay the costs of defending against a lawsuit? Gail Kerr has already written your copy gratis. Who's going to bring the message to t.v.?

Based on what I've read so far, even though some prominent opponents have been quoted, no one is saying, "We're going to raise the money. We're going to wage a massive campaign to fight this thing." Hopefully, the coverage in the coming weeks will discuss how the opposition will organize.

Marriage roundup

The coverage of the California Supreme Court's marriage decision continues to fill the news. The New York Times has an extended piece on what married life is like for same-sex couples four years after Massachusetts granted them the right to marry. Wedded bliss, complications, compromise, infidelity, divorce--it's all there. It reminds me of Dolly Parton's defense of marriage equality when she was asked about her position on the issue: "Hell yes. You people should have to suffer just like the rest of us!"

Earlier in the week, the Pew Research Center released a new poll on same-sex marriage. The results are mixed. The good news of the poll is that while 49% oppose marriage equality, it is the first time the number is below 50%. 38% are supportive. The July 2004 numbers were 56% opposed and 32% supporting.

The bad news is that some groups consider the issue important in the presidential election:

Currently, 41% of Republicans say gay marriage will be very important in their voting decisions, up 14 percentage points since last fall. Notably, about as many Republicans now view gay marriage as very important as did so at the end of the 2004 campaign (41% now vs. 39% then). Similarly, 49% of white evangelical Protestants view gay marriage as very important, up 10 points since last fall and identical to the percentage of white evangelicals who rated gay marriage as very important in October 2004.

Perhaps in part because of numbers like these, a group of national GLBT organizations urged people who go to California from other states in order to marry not to go lawsuit happy when they return to their home states.

The fastest way to win the freedom to marry throughout America is by getting
marriage through state courts (to show that fairness requires it) and state legislatures (to show that people support it). We need to start with states where we have the best odds of winning. When we’ve won in a critical mass of states, we can turn to Congress and the federal courts. At that point, we’ll ask that the U.S. government treat all marriages equally. And we’ll ask that all states give equal treatment to all marriages and civil unions that are celebrated in other states.

In other words, it's going to be a long wait in Tennessee.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Mid-South Pride Festival and Parade is TODAY

TEP is a proud sponsor of this year's Mid-South Pride. The Shelby County Committee will be hosting a booth at today's festival 10 AM to 7 PM where you can:
  1. Add your name to TEP's e-mail list to stay informed of important events.
  2. Become a member of TEP with a $20 registration.
  3. Make a contribution to support TEP's efforts in Shelby County and Tennessee.
  4. Report GLBT hate crimes or discrimination.
  5. Write a postcard to the Memphis Mayor and City Council encouraging them to enact a comprehensive city non-discrimination ordinance that includes sexual orientation and gender identity or expression (We'll pay the postage and tell you who your city council members are).
  6. Register to vote in this pivotal election year.
  7. Meet local elected officials.
  8. Meet like-minded people who want to promote fair-minded legislation in Tennessee.

The Shelby County Committee of TEP will also be walking in the parade that lines up at 3 PM at First Congregational Church at 1000 South Cooper Street and steps off at 4 PM toward the Festival at Peabody Park (Cooper and Higbee). Come walk with us or visit us at the festival booth!

Marsha, Marsha, Marsha

The Washington-based watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, along with Germantown resident Barbara Kaye, has filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission against the campaign committee of U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn and the committee’s treasurer, Tea Hoffman.

Blackburn is the representative of Tennessee’s 7th congressional district that includes parts of Shelby County. The group’s complaint alleges several things, including that Blackburn’s committee might have violated federal campaign finance laws for reporting errors that have dogged Blackburn’s campaign finances covering each year since she first ran for Congress in 2002.

Darcy Anderson, spokesman for Blackburn for Congress, said the campaign has undertaken its own investigation, voluntarily reported errors to the FEC and already addressed the matters publicly.
This can't help her campaign in the Republican Primary against Tom Leatherwood.

Friday, June 13, 2008

More questions about the Crafton amendment

Nashville saw a number of interesting developments on Councilman Eric Crafton's English only charter amendment today. The Tennessean discovered the story. The City Paper's Clint Brewer and Mike Byrd traded barbs about the coverage of the campaign. And the Nashville Post put up this rare no-subscription-necessary item about all the usage errors in the post card being sent out that urges people to sign the ballot petition.

But let's get back to the issue of the coverage. As Byrd points out, P.J. Tobia seems to be assembling the largest array of voices opposing the measure. Despite the fact that I believe the editorializing of the Scene, the City Paper, the Post, and the Tennessean do not and will not take Crafton's side, he is still driving the coverage of the story. His simple message that everyone needs to learn English gets repeated day after day. Even when Crafton's opponents say that immigrants know this and are already are learning English, that just amounts to an argument that the amendment is unnecessary. In some ways, it has the effect of reinforcing Crafton's message by making some people wonder why anyone would oppose the amendment.

What the coverage in the mainstream media and in the blogosphere also indicates is that the organization of his campaign is way ahead of the opposition. Poorly worded and punctuated though it is, the post card is going out to thousands of people. The website is up, running, and collecting donations. Robocalls have already begun. (A hat tip to Mr. Kleinheider for posting the link to Southern Beale who received one of the calls.)

The next question that the media should be asking is what the opposition is going to do about it. So far, all I've seen are some well stated public arguments and hints of a law suit if (after?) it passes. The battle of ideas is important, but you can win the battle of ideas and lose the war. Will there be an organized campaign, a referendum committee? If so, who will lead it and become the organizing focus for the opposition?

Cross burning terrorizes Scott County family

An Elgin, TN family has been the victim of a cross burning. Terry Lay wasn't able to get a good look at the two culprits when he was awakened by the barking of his dogs around 4:00 a.m. His property has been vandalized before with previous incidents including racial slurs. To protect his grandchildren who live with him, he is considering moving away from Elgin.

"They're human beings. God put them here. They had no choice. They didn't ask, 'I want my mother to be this color or that color, I want my daddy to be this color or that color.' They didn't ask for it, and they don't deserve it."

"It's the last straw with me. I'm ready to go." He wants to go somewhere more welcoming, even if the cross burners are caught.

The FBI is leading the investigation with assistance from the Scott County Sheriff's Department.

Ragsdale sounds retreat on charge cards

Knox County Mayor Mike Ragsdale has decided to start all over with the County's purchasing cards. He likes the solution so well that he has suspended the cards for everyone in County government, even for those who don't report to him. County officials and employees will have to reapply for purchasing cards; their current cards will stop working on Monday.

The decision has already caused a minor outrage.

Commissioner Scott Moore, however, said suspending the use of the cards with one day's notice could cause a hardship on employees. He asserted that the Sheriff's Office buys food for inmates and that Engineering and Public Works employees in the field make efficient use of the cards.

Every county employee issued a purchasing card, Moore said, is being punished for misspending in the mayor's office.

This strikes me as the latest chapter in the County's efforts to manage the perception of its problems rather than the reality. Just a few weeks ago, it was decided that adding more members of the public to the Ethics Commission would be a good way to improve public trust in the government. Stay tuned. This drama is bound to continue.

Pitch Perfect

Unfortunately, our lobbyist could not include Ireland in her vacation plans as we had hoped, but Jenny is determined to get there later this year. In the mean time, we've been getting updates on the Nashville Grizzlies Rugby Football Club and their adventures in Dublin at the Bingham Cup.

The Grizzlies have combined with the World Barbarians and have won their first two matches. They defeated the Amsterdam NOP 55-0 and Kings Cross Steelers of London 6-0.

The best story of political intrigue I've heard about the tournament so far is that Jon Glassmeyer and Scott Ridgway were a little early to a party hosted by the Australian ambassador to Ireland so they got a personal tour of the residence by the ambassador and his wife. The Sydney Convicts, who were supposed to be the guests of honor, arrived some time later, none the wiser. International incident avoided!

Straight ally explains why...

...she and her husband attended Pride this year and support the GLBT community in today's City Paper letters.

Our decision to attend Pride was because we support and love our friends and because PRIDE is an important event to them, PRIDE has become an important event to us! While we weren’t too sure of what to expect, what we experienced was a time of love and friendship with no worries of criticism or gawking because you want to hold your partner’s hand.

School funding now a poker game

The funding of Memphis City Schools is becoming a poker game with 4 players:

1. Memphis City Schools Board of Education

2. Memphis City Council

3. Tennessee Department of Education

4. Shelby County Commission

The Memphis City Schools recently reduced its contribution to the MCS budget by $73 million. Now the Tennessee Department of Education is threatening to withhold $423 million from the district if the MCC does not restore funding. The city and state actions are based on different legal interpretations of state law. The city says that only county governments are obligated to fund school systems. The state says that once a local government funds a school system, that level of funding must be maintained.

Who will have to ante up? Who's holding the best cards? Who's going to call a bluff? I think a court judge will have a decide.

The new Superintendent of Memphis City Schools and many others in the school system may not have a job if this isn't settled by July 1. I have to think that the jobs of the majority of educators are safe. It's the MCS administration whose jobs are on the line. If the City of Memphis totally defunds the school system, the Shelby County School Board and Administration would likely take over.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

I saw the sign

The price of gas has cut back my campaign yard sign scouting significantly. But I do notice a few signs here and there in Nashville. Lee Limbird is doing some bus bench advertising in Bellevue in her bid for school board. Alan Coverstone has signs up and down Woodmont Boulevard. I spotted a Mike Stewart sign (Democrat for House district 52) on the same street. Of course, he and primary opponent Eric Stansell have been getting them in yards all over East Nashville. Stansell's yard signs are also available in OutLoud on Church Street. In old West Nashville (where the streets are named after states), you won't find many, but you can still spot the occasional Bob Clement for Mayor sign.

In the presidential race, I've seen a few Obamas and a Clinton on 19th Ave. South and a few McCains on Hillsboro Road heading into Forest Hills. Obamas are conspicuous on a few of the streets in Inglewood as well.

The bumper stickers that I notice are largely for Obama, but you can still find plenty for Fred Thompson around town. I have yet to see a bumper sticker for a legislative race that also happens to be attached to a car.

Nope, it's not a scientific survey of Davidson County. But it's one index of how campaigns are spending their money and the races that interest the most politically active groups in the area.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Metro School Board passes inclusive nondiscrimination policy

I received a message just minutes ago that the Metro Board of Education has passed additions to its nondiscrimination policy that include sexual orientation and gender identity.

The language can be found at MNEA's site. Here is the relevant portion:

Article III, Section I, Non-Discrimination

[New language is noted in bold.]

There shall be no discrimination in the filling of positions, administrative or classroom or extracurricular because of race, religion, creed, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, national origin, color, age and/or disability. Nor shall an applicant for a position be discriminated against because of grade level taught where that experience is not requisite to the desired qualifications.

Congratulations to MNEA for pursuing the policy change and for the Board of Education for adopting it. The achievement comes after years of raising awareness and conversation. Current and future teachers will enjoy an environment where discrimination is not tolerated. Let's hope this opens the door to an inclusive nondiscrimination policy for all Metro employees.

Cohen on Bilerico

Congressman Steve Cohen of Memphis talks about how he came to be a fighter for GLBT rights at this national blog on GLBT politics. This particular site routinely features guest bloggers, but not many Southern members of Congress.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Here's to you, Bishop Robinson

The Rt. Rev. V. Gene Robinson, Bishop of of New Hampshire and a class of 1969 Sewanee graduate, has entered a civil union with his partner of 20 years, Mark Andrew. Congratulations to them both!

“When your life is at stake, you learn that there are things in life that are much worse than death,” Robinson said on the Today show on Thursday. "That’s the great reward of being a Christian. Not living your life -- that’s worse than death. And if something were to happen to me, I would know that I am doing what I discern God is calling me to do.”

The civil ceremony performed by a justice of the peace was followed by a religious service of thanksgiving. Bishop Robinson has received many death threats prior to and since his consecration to the episcopate.

Would their union be recognized if he were in Tennessee visiting his alma mater and something happened to him or Mr. Andrew? Hard to say.

There was an attempt in the 104 General Assembly to make civil unions from other states void in Tennessee, but it was taken off notice in the House and Senate in 2005, the same year the marriage amendment passed the Legislature a second time before going to the ballot in 2006. Tennessee currently makes no provision for civil unions. I'm not aware of any court cases that have defined the matter for people visiting or relocating from out of state.

The GLBT thing and the presidential race

I know, I know...I've said we're going to try to avoid the presidential race as much as possible on this blog, and I think we've largely succeeded. But a few things happened this week that justify some comments about the race so far.

Yesterday Sean Braisted raised this possibility about what Sen. Clinton might do with her post-campaign influence:

It would be great if she channeled this run to champion gay rights that were left behind in her husband's administration. After all, while the focus in the media had been on women and "blue collar whites," Hillary had quite a large following in the gay community in terms of volunteers, donors, and voters. It would be nice to see her reward them with a high-profile champion of full equality.

It's exactly the kind of question that is on the minds of observers in the GLBT community and one that we've been asking with some urgency in light of our concern for Sen. Ted Kennedy, who has been diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor. If he were to die or leave the Senate, who would fill his shoes in fighting for equality?

For now, it's not clear what Sen. Clinton's future holds, but if she were to take on the mantle of women's and GLBT equality, she would be warmly welcomed.

The other developments this week that prompted the post are the Human Rights Campaign's release of this stinging report on Sen. John McCain's record on GLBT issues and their endorsement of Sen. Barack for president. The endorsement has some significance for the Nashville area given the active presence of their local steering committee. Their annual dinner in Nashville routinely attracts around 600 people. So it will be interesting to see if a number of their members are activated to volunteer in the Obama campaign.

Battle for TN House District 2

Rep. Nathan Vaughn (D-Kingsport) has kicked off his reelection bid. He will face Republican Tony Shipley in the general election. The article mentions House Minority Leader Jason Mumpower's interest in picking up the seat. Both candidates hope to run issues oriented campaigns. But what exactly will the issues be?

Doesn't Vaughn disrupt a challenge from the Right by being so pro-life/anti-choice himself? Republicans will argue that Vaughn may vote for abortion restrictions but that he helps elect a pro-choice/pro-abortion leadership. That argument will convince the die-hard activists, but how do you explain that in a simple way to the average voter, when most voters don't closely follow state legislative races to begin with?

Vaughn has two other advantages. He indicates that Governor Bredesen will campaign and raise money for him again. He also had more money than Shipley at the end of the first quarter--$56,300 to Shipley's $13,900. While we don't have the second quarter figures yet, I think the totals are telling. Vaughn has not been able to raise money from January through May because the Legislature was in session and he still has a huge lead over Shipley. Will the dollars match Republican talk of targeting this race?

Another question mark is the pocketbook issue. If gas prices continue to rise and the economy is still in the tank when the election rolls around, Vaughn may benefit from higher negatives for Republicans nationally, even in a GOP stronghold like East Tennessee.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Coach Alexander in the game

The Knoxville News Sentinel includes this profile of Sen. Lamar Alexander, who is the chairman of the Senate Republican Conference. Calling Alexander a "moderate," the piece discusses his ability to reach out to Democrats and the weekly bipartisan breakfasts that he cohosts with Independent Senator Joe Lieberman.

One of Sen. Alexander's recent outreach efforts was missing from the story, though. He worked with Democratic Congressman Steve Cohen to get Bishop William Graves of Memphis reappointed to the TVA board. He had been deadlocked with Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid who thought it was time for a Democrat to be appointed to the board. Bishop Graves identifies as a Democrat, but has supported Republicans such as President Bush and Alexander himself.

Sen. Alexander's rising position gives him the opportunity to advocate for Tennessee on a more regular basis:

"Whenever I see the president, which is more often now, I remind him about our clean air issues in Tennessee," he said. "I remember walking in to (see) him, and he said, 'Lamar's going to ask me about sulfur.' "

Arrogance, imperialism, and totalitarianism

Descriptions of the Soviet Union during the Cold War? Yes, but that wasn't the subject of today's broadcast by Richard Land. Instead, he used those words to describe the California Supreme Court's decision to overturn the state's ban on "lesbian and homosexual" marriage.

Dr. Land wants California to tell the Court to "sit down, shut up, and butt out." And he thinks voters will do just that because he cites polls saying that they will reverse the Court. But the latest California Field Poll says the vote is close, and for the first time more Californians favor same-sex marriage than don't.

He compares the legal recognition of gay and lesbian couples to "administering poison to the wounded" for its effects on our culture.

Inflammatory language abounds in the broadcast. Most troubling, though, is that someone educated in the texts and traditions of Western thought could impute totalitarianism to a Court protecting minorities while he ignores the long chain of commentary concerned with the "tyranny of the majority." If Jesse Ventura can see that, why can't Richard Land?

"But you can't put a civil rights issue on the general ballot in a state and let people vote on it, because if you do that, in the southern states before, you can bet they would have voted to continued slavery."

Round up on the Crafton Charter amendment

Coming in fast are the responses to Councilman Eric Crafton's effort to amend the Metro Nashville charter with a ballot initiative that would make English the official language of Nashville.

Jim Grinstead of Progressive Nashville had this full-blooded retort to the effort.

It's a multi-cultural world and Crafton has yet to realize it. He would rather see families do without necessary services if they cannot ask for them in English. Do people learn faster when they are denied water and sanitary services? Should they ignore the accident victim on the side of the road because they cannot speak English during a 911 call?

Mike Byrd asks why the City Paper isn't asking more questions, particularly about the claim that Crafton's amendment would help immigrants. As we said at Grand Divisions earlier this week, it's the media coverage that will matter in shaping the debate.

Truman Bean takes another view, focusing on the perspective that Crafton is a champion of democracy in jumping over the Council on the issue. He touches on the media issue, too:

Just wait, the Tennessean and their status quo cronies will opine heavily against it.

I wonder how long we'll have to wait. As of Saturday, the Tennessean still has not covered the story. WSMV has. And even though WSMV included a response to Crafton's initiative, it's clear that Crafton is setting the agenda for the coverage so far.

The Nashville Scene's Pith in the Wind quoted Mike Byrd and added their own touch by posting a picture of Godzilla. Let's hope they assign one of their writers an extended piece on Crafton's campaign.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Racist vandalism in Franklin

WSMV is reporting on racist words painted on an electric box in a Franklin neighborhood named after KKK founder Nathan Bedford Forrest. The words are likely directed at the two African American families who live in the neighborhood.

"Oh, it's so hurtful; so hurtful. I cannot even let my kids go outside due to this. They cannot go outside until something is done," said Audrey Burks.

People in the neighborhood feel powerless to do anything about it and the police to have few options.

"I know at this point, there's really nothing you can do except to make it known to the rest of the community that this is something that's not acceptable," [the Rev. Anthony] Hendricks said. Police in Franklin took a report on the graffiti but said they believe it's an isolated incident. Police have not received any similar reports.

That's probably because they don't have adequate resources to deal with hate crimes. But if Congress had passed and the President had signed the Matthew Shepard Act last year, then they might be able to access the resources they need. On this blog, we've mostly talked about Shepard in terms of its addition of sexual orientation and gender identity to hate crimes laws. And most of the opposition has focused on the fear of making thought a crime, which the Act doesn't do at all.

However, the reason local law enforcement agents and communities in Tennessee should get behind Shepard is that it would provide more resources to fight all hate crimes regardless of their classification, including crimes of racial bias. Not only would money be available but other valuable forms of assistance as well. Consider section 4 of the act:

    (a) Assistance Other Than Financial Assistance-
      (1) IN GENERAL- At the request of State, local, or Tribal law enforcement agency, the Attorney General may provide technical, forensic, prosecutorial, or any other form of assistance in the criminal investigation or prosecution of any crime that--
        (A) constitutes a crime of violence;
        (B) constitutes a felony under the State, local, or Tribal laws; and
        (C) is motivated by prejudice based on the actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability of the victim, or is a violation of the State, local, or Tribal hate crime laws.
      (2) PRIORITY- In providing assistance under paragraph (1), the Attorney General shall give priority to crimes committed by offenders who have committed crimes in more than one State and to rural jurisdictions that have difficulty covering the extraordinary expenses relating to the investigation or prosecution of the crime.
Notice the priority for rural jurisdictions. It's time to pass this legislation. Let's hope that Senators Alexander and Corker can find a way to get on board when it comes up again and let's hope that House and Senate Democrats can stop wrangling over attaching it to a defense bill.

Otherwise, we're going to be left with solutions like this:

The homeowners association is going to look into how to remove the paint.