Grand Divisions

Tennessee Equality Project seeks to advance and protect the civil rights of our State’s gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender persons and their families in each Grand Division.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

What is the source of freedom?

According to Michael Steele, former Lt. Governor of Maryland and a candidate for chair of the RNC, "Our freedom is from God, not government." As a Christian, I'm inclined to agree in that complicated way that activists who are religious agree with such broad statements.

There's a certain pedigree to the statement and it's a zig-zag that runs through Christian thought. St. Paul in his letter to the Galatians talks a great deal about freedom and Martin Luther wrote a treatise called "The Freedom of a Christian." Neither St. Paul nor Luther meant precisely what Mr. Steele is saying, though. For both, the powers of the government themselves are from God, just as our freedom is. So it's a curious development over 2000 years that so many Evangelicals happen to be so anti-government and simultaneously for expanded government with respect to social issues.

A lot of the complication comes from differing interpretations of the "uses of the law" in Christian thought. For Luther, the law convicts one of sin and makes one conscious of the need for grace. It also exists to restrain the effects of sin so that society doesn't plunge into chaos. In the Calvinist tradition, there is a third use of the law. It provides a model for the regenerated life. Luther, always suspicious of the way people try to achieve their own justification, would have none of that, of course. We could further complicate the picture with the Catholic conception of natural law and its implications for civil law.

So while all Christians at some level can agree that freedom is from God, the disagreements that still drive the culture wars really center on law. What is divine law, what is natural law, and how much of it should be reflected in civil law? Secularists would say, "That's irrelevant" or perhaps "None of the above."

But for Christian progressives and Christian social conservatives, the question matters. And it requires a great deal more fruitful discussion between the two groups than it is currently receiving. It would require Christian progressives to do a great deal more in engaging Christian social conservatives on their own ground. Publications like First Things and Christianity Today have large followings and are supplying the intellectual resources for one side of the debate. My sense is that the Christian Century just doesn't compete at the same level.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Special screening and discussion of Milk in Knoxville on Dec. 14

The TEP Knox County Committee and Human Rights Group have arranged a special showing and discussion of Milk on Sunday, December 14 at 12:30 p.m. at the Regal Downtown West Cinema 8. Milk, the story of openly gay San Francisco supervisor Harvey Milk, opens nationwide in December. Starring Sean Penn, the film comes at a time when new activism is emerging in the wake of the passage of California's Proposition 8.

Ticket information here.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Adoption fight coming to Tennessee, predicts Family Equality Council E.D.

In a Time article about the issue of adoption by gays and lesbians, Jennifer Chrisler of the Family Equality Council says the battle is coming back to Tennessee:

Similar statehouse fights are pending in South Carolina, Georgia, and Tennessee, says gay adoption expert and advocate Jennifer Chrisler, and more are likely to follow, as conservatives try to duplicate their successful strategy to ban gay marriage state by state. "The other side was very strategic about their efforts to ban gay marriage," Chrisler, executive director of the Family Equality Center in Boston, told TIME. "They were able to bring that issue to the attention of the American people well before Americans were ready to have that conversation. They are likely to use a similar strategy when it comes to parenting issues."

It's not clear whether she has spoken to someone in Tennessee or she has just read the tea leaves. But given the experiences of 2005 and 2008, she's probably not off the mark.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Ladies (and gentlemen) in waiting: GLBT rights and Obama's priorities

Politico discusses the waiting game the GLBT community is playing with the administration of President-elect Barack Obama:

“You can bet that the community is going to be watching, and they’re going to want to hear what his plans are and when they think he can move legislatively,” said Denis Dison, a spokesman for The Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund and the Gay & Lesbian Leadership Institute.

“There are also some pretty politically savvy people in the movement who understand that what he has to tackle are the things that are going to affect all of us,” Dison continued. “Gay people are just as affected by the economy as straight people. I don’t think anyone is going to expect him on Day One to start working on equal rights issues.”

The article points out that national GLBT groups are currently focusing on the transition and have helped place 7 openly GLBT people on the team. That's a good start and it will help make certain that our concerns don't get lost in the mix. Of course, the piece only speaks to the priorities of the administration. What the Democratic leadership in Congress plans is another matter. Members of Congress with large GLBT and allied constituencies may press for some legislation next year, such as the Matthew Shepard Act, which would add sexual orientation and gender identity to federal hate crimes protections. It would be hard to imagine Obama not signing such legislation if it reached his desk in 2009.

Update: Andrew Sullivan tells us reports that a repeal of Don't Ask/Don't Tell will be delayed until 2010 may be false.

The spectre of Puritanism and after-hours clubs

Quotation of the Day: "Nobody wants to be puritanical and bring a return to Prohibition downtown," said Metro Councilman Mike Jameson, who represents the neighborhoods around Faded."

As a Cavalier Anglican, I know a thing or two about Puritans. They drank. Prohibition was their bastard child perhaps, but they drank alcohol. They were, however, fond of regulating and shutting down amusements. Kings James I and Charles I, wrongly but widely reviled in Whiggish histories of the 17th Century, sought to defend the people's lawful amusements in the Declaration of Sports sometimes known as the Book of Sports, recognizing the working class connection: "For when shall the common people have leave to exercise, if not upon the Sundays and Holy-days, seeing they must apply their labour and win their living in all working-days?"

Back to the 21t Century. Some will say that the word "lawful" is what is in question since there are so many instances of the police being called to the scene of one of these clubs, but much of that seems to be noise related. When you look at who makes up the clientele, we're not far from the Puritan's social control policies, after all: "The after-hours crowd can't envision a Music City where the music stops at 3 a.m. The clubs, they say, are a dead-of-night melting pot, where club kids rub elbows with factory workers and bartenders coming off shift."

Lord have mercy. What will happen if that sort continue to mix and carry on at all hours? Why can't they go home and sleep like decent people with 8:00 to 5:00 jobs?

Monday, November 24, 2008

Metro Nashville nondiscrimination ordinance for the new year

Rex mentions what the Nashville GLBT community has been discussing for months:

Look for major legislation from Council members Megan Barry, Tim Garrett and Ronnie Steine.

Barry has already said she intends to file a nondiscrimination bill to protect gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Metro employees. Steine has weighed in on English Only and word has it Garrett is considering attention-grabbing legislation as well.

With a dicey picture in the Legislature this winter, city and county governments may have to become the new focus for equality efforts in Tennessee.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

West Nashville vs. West Tennessee: Odom victorious

Colby Sledge of the Tennessean breaks the news that Rep. Gary Odom has emerged the winner in a close contest against Rep. Craig Fitzhugh for the House Democratic leadership post. Rep. Mike Turner was elected caucus chairman over Rep. Joe Armstrong.

Odom's victory represents another symbolic loss for Gov. Phil Bredesen who has been widely criticized for insufficient involvement in this fall's legislative races. Bredesen through his press secretary had recently expressed "trust" issues with Odom. Well, Governor, you've got a few weeks to work on that until the session begins. Please, take advantage of the time.

See also Ken Whitehouse.

Equality Styles on Tuesday, with more salons

We've got an easy way for you to support equality this month. If you're thinking about getting a trim or even a new look before Thanksgiving, we hope you'll mark Tuesday, November 25 on your calendar and participate in Equality Styles, a benefit for TEP supported by these stylists:

Equality StylesIn Middle Tennessee:
Robert Christopher's Salon
2806 Bransford Avenue
Nashville, TN 37204
(615) 383-0311
Stylists: Chris Espander and Bunny Martin

Suite One Salon
2907 12th Avenue S Nashville, TN 37204 (615) 385-5500 Michael Higgins, Proprietor

Studio GavenStudio Gaven
1601 Westgate Circle
Brentwood, TN 37027
(615) 503-9788
Fax (615) 503-9780
Mention the TEP promotion & schedule appt on 11/25.

In the Tri-Cities:
Saratoga Studio of Dezines
8 Four Winds Drive
Bristol, VA 24202
(276) 466-5873
Stylist: Joshua Helms, Creative Director

A portion of the proceeds from the day will go to TEP. We are grateful to these salons and stylists for their support.

If you own or work at a salon and would like to be included, we would be glad to add your salon. To participate, contact Chris Nelson at or H.G. Stovall at

We missed you last Sunday

President-elect Barack Obama hasn't been to Church in a few Sundays. Stories like this remind me of the times I've missed Church or was at Church but wasn't "seen." Invariably someone comes up, even in the Episcopal Church, and says, "We missed you last Sunday." I'm usually standing there with a faint smile thinking, "Did one of the priests appoint you to say that?" If I'm really feeling heathen, I've been known to respond, "I missed you, too." That usually results in a puzzled look.

But getting back to Obama....come on, let's not make much of this kind of thing. After all, who can blame him for being cautious about going to Church? Hasn't he been questioned enough about the content of sermons? I'm sure he'll be back in the pews soon enough.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Murfreesboro congregation gains welcoming status

The Unitarian Fellowship of Murfreesboro has been designated a welcoming congregation by the Unitarian Universalist Association. They meet at 112 W. College in the Murfreesboro Arts Center. The 46-year old congregation offered their help during the Vote No on 1 campaign when TEP was fighting the marriage discrimination amendment in Tennessee. Congratulations to them and thanks for their witness and work.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Tensions run high on City Council police residency vote

On Tuesday of this week, the Memphis City Council failed to pass a measure that would have relaxed residency requirements for Memphis police officers. From the Daily News:
On a 6-to-7 vote along racial lines, the council this week rejected a proposed loosening of residency requirements for Memphis police officers. The resolution would have allowed the police department to hire applicants who live within 20 miles of Shelby County.
The vote will have implications for the safety and security of Memphis as well as how Council members will work together with one another in the future.

Click here for additional coverage from the Commercial Appeal.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Making it official with bologna, Burchett running for Mayor

State Sen. Tim Burchett is announcing that he is running for Mayor of Knox County. He kicks of his candidacy with a bologna lunch at Powell Auction Co., perhaps in a nod to the tough economic times. But it is a very non-bologna platform that he's running on. No fillers, in other words. Sorry I couldn't resist.

-- Schools. “My degree’s in education (from the University of Tennessee). Both my parents were career educators. The best people to run the schools are teachers and parents. That’s the basics.”

-- Safe streets. “If the sheriff’s department does not have proper funding, crimes will occur.”

-- Low taxes. “We have got to figure out how to do it without (raising) taxes. We can’t tax ourselves into prosperity. If that were so, Russia and Cuba would be a mecca for people.”

The Senate's loss will be Knox County's gain if Burchett is successful. County government has been one long drama. Here's a sample: exhibit A, exhibit B, and exhibit C. He's got his work cut out for him and is to be commended for taking it on.

So who's taking his place in the Senate? There has been some talk about John Duncan III and Rep. Stacey Campfield.

Obama's transition team details 8-point commitment on GLBT and related issues

And it comes not a moment too soon for those of us in Tennessee wondering what the 106h General Assembly has in store for us. Here are the pledges, starting at about the middle of the page.

Though falling shor of supporting full marriage equality, the agenda outlined by the transition team (if pursued!) will remove many obstacles to the security of GLBT families. Expanding hate crimes and employment protections are basic to protecting the lives and livelihoods of our community. There is also discussion of adoption, but it's not clear what an Obama administration would do since the matter has been largely a state concern. Repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act is called for along with affording same-sex couples in a civil union or domestic partnership all the federal rights that opposite-sex married couples have. There is also discussion of Don't Ask/Don't Tell and HIV/AIDS issues.

It could be a major sea change. No administration has ever embraced such a far-reaching equality agenda. We'll see if Congress goes for it after they take some action on the economy.

Bridges McRae indicted for violating Duanna Johnson's civil rights

The Commerical Appeal is reporting:

Former Memphis Police officer Bridges McRae, who was fired for the beating of a transgender woman, was indicted Tuesday on one count of civil-rights violations.

If convicted, McRae faces up to 10 years in federal prison and a maximum $250,000 fine. . . .

The indictment alleges that McRae exercised unreasonable force, used a dangerous weapon and caused bodily injury to a person in his custody.

Further updates as they come.

A minor tribute to East Tennessee

I made the drive to Johnson City and back yesterday to meet with the TEP Tri-Cities committee. I've been in East Tennessee a lot this fall--two trips to Chattanooga, one to Knoxville, one to Sewanee (which isn't technically in East TN, but right on the edge), and now Johnson City.

It was a relaxing drive through a beautiful part of the state. The hills and trees make you want to stop the car and just run up in them and get lost for a day. I was reminded at almost every turn of how socially conservative the State is. First, every hour or so, your eyes meet a Zach Wamp billboard. It wasn't that long ago that he called homosexuality a "sickness." As I crossed into Roane County, I thought of the Ken Yager Becky Ruppe race and those radio ads opposing "gay marriage" that everyone had to listen to for weeks. And if you missed that, the number of religious (read "Evangelical) programs on the radio is hard to avoid as you're scanning through the channels. I have to say I don't blame Senator Yager a bit for going antiquing to escape the noise.

As I drove closer to and then through Knoxville I thought of the youth factor that has been everywhere in political news--the youth surge for Obama and all the twenty and thirty-somethings at the Prop 8 rallies in Tennessee and around the country. The face of the conservative movement in East Tennessee is also young. Naturally, I thought of Rep. Campfield and his enthusiasm for conservative principles and embrace of new media to join the conversation. As I drove further, I saw the sign for White Pine and thought of David Oatney, so I stopped for a quick bite to eat. Not much of a revenue boost to the town he loves so much to be sure, but it was the sign of respect I could manage on a quick trip. I continue to be impressed with his efforts to bring thoughtfulness to issues. Politically, he and I would agree on very little, but I love the fact that he has been involved in education at his parish. I suspect we would agree on a large chunk of theological matters. Driving on, I thought of Republican House leader Jason Mumpower. I didn't make it to Bristol, but he was on my mind. I thought of my college professor's lectures on Machiavelli and Leo Strauss and laughed as I wondered whether they should be updated to include Spider-Man, too.

And I wished as I drove on that thoughtful, young, successful, otherwise kind people like them didn't see our rights as a problem. And I hope it's not always so. In the mean time, I'm amazed at the work that our three committees in East Tennessee are doing. They share a great deal with their conservative counterparts. As the conversation in Tennessee moves along, I hope that will continue to become evident.

Paradigm shift in activism?

Some seem to think the Prop 8 protests indicate a big Yes.

Quoting one of them in the piece above:

The leaders of what is being billed as Stonewall 2.0 are not coming from large, established organizations. ... That this huge outpouring of organic outrage is not being channeled through official organizational channels has enormous implications.

Yes, it does. But what are the implications? Let's say that the Prop 8 protests are a factor in the eventual demise of the existing big national GLBT organizations. Won't this new movement eventually shift from charismatic, emotion-driven grassroots leadership to something more formalized with bureaucracy? I think it would have to in order to achieve its goals. Money still drives so much of the political process including the legislative process. If you're going to channel money, you have to do so lawfully. And that means structure that meets the requirements of state and federal law--the tax code and all that.

Furthermore, what began as a spontaneous movement is already developing an agenda focused on visibility and marriage. Since marriage remains a state prerogative, won't strategy beyond visibility be necessary at some point? That would seem to indicate that a national structure and leadership are necessary. After all, someone is determining what the goals, actions, and timing are, oh, and how the money is spent!

What the protests represent are a breakthrough in using the web to get people in every state to do approximately the same thing on the same day in a short amount of time. And that is definitely a significant breakthrough. But if such an effort is to be sustained to the point of having a real effect on law (and not just a way to channel justified rage), then it will take on some of the same structures as existing organizations.

And if marriage equality is on a different time trajectory in each state, will the new, centralized Web activism be patient enough to deal with 50 state legislatures or lengthy federal court battles? Either way you look at it, lawyers and lobbyists should not worry about being out of work. Their employers may change, though.

Monday, November 17, 2008

New York Times on the Duanna Johnson Case

Find the piece here.

Jonathan Cole, the Shelby County chairman of the Tennessee Equality Project, praised the Police Department as embracing the problem. But Mr. Cole said that Ms. Johnson’s killing demonstrated how much discrimination remained in Memphis.

“We’re a sleepy Southern town,” he said. “For the most part, I think people in the South treat each other well. But there are prejudices that people have, and those prejudices come out in ways that are often violent when no one is looking.”

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Memphis mourns Duanna Johnson

More than 50 people gathered in front of the flagpole at the Memphis Gay and Lesbian Center on Sunday night to remember Duanna Johnson who was savagely murdered one week ago. The crowd lit candles and processed in silence down Cooper Street to the front steps of First Congregational Church. The Rev. Cheryl Cornish reminded the crowd that Duanna - like so many Biblical figures in the Old Testament - only lived to see the promise of justice from a distance without ever experiencing it. Only those that followed the old prophets experienced the promise.

I gave a short remembrance following the Rev. Cornish:

We gather here tonight to pay our respects to a brave woman whose life was cut short. Who cried out for justice, but never saw it. On the steps of this church, I met Duanna Johnson this past summer after the abuse she suffered was revealed to the public. I was struck by her gentle spirit and the gratefulness she expressed as members of our community stepped forward to support her struggle.

Duanna had the courage to demand respect from those who did not understand her and abused her. She galvanized our community by calling attention to the verbal and physical violence inflicted on people because of race, gender, gender identity, or sexual orientation. We can all learn from her life. We know that she did not have great means, but she never let anyone take away her dignity. She stood up for herself. She forced our city to reflect on the awful violence and ignorance that plagues our city. Her life moved our city’s leaders and the police to re-examine how it treats people who live at the margins of our society. More importantly, she gave us hope.

She gave hope to young children everywhere and in this city who wonder if there is anyone else out there like them who’s struggled with questions about gender or sexual identity. Children who have quietly endured suffering when no one hears their cries. They know they are not alone and that others have gone before them to pave the way to greater respect, dignity and freedom.

In Jewish tradition, it is said that one can give no greater gift than to bury the dead because it is a gift that can never be repaid. In fact, people from all over our nation have contributed to her family’s funeral expenses. But we can give more. Her life will mean even more to us if we dedicate ourselves to making Memphis a safe place for all. All of us - black and white, gay and straight, rich and poor, transgender or not - must continue her struggle by pressing our government and law enforcement agencies to treat all people with respect, fairness, and dignity.

Duanna is no longer with us in life. But her light will cast out the darkness if we tend the flame.

Amy Livingston of the Midsouth Peace and Justice Center, who organized the vigil, provided closing remarks for the evening with a challenge to remember Duanna by taking action for justice in our community. Those who gathered ended the evening with a tearful "We Shall Overcome."

May Duanna rest in peace and may justice be served to those who murdered and persecuted her.

Check TEP's Facebook page for more vigil photos.
UPDATE! Local media coverage of the vigil:

Everything I Know about Tennessee Politics...

I Learned at a Prop 8 Rally in Nashville:

Remembering Duanna Johnson

Duanna Johnson's funeral and visitation was yesterday and Commerical Appeal columnist Wendi Thomas was there. Read her column here.

There will be a Candlelight Vigil in her memory this evening at 6 PM in front of the flagpole at the Memphis Gay and Lesbian Community Center at 892 South Cooper Street.

Video of Nashville Prop 8 Rally by Val Reynolds

Thanks for sending it our way, Val!

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Tracking the Prop 8 rally coverage in Tennessee

This post will be updated as we find links to coverage of the Prop 8 rallies in Knoxville, Nashville, and Memphis.

News sites:

Knoxville News Sentinel piece quoting Todd Cramer of the TEP Knox County Committee

Commercial Appeal piece covering the Memphis rally

WATE in Knoxville

NewsChannel5 in Nashville

Out & About Newspaper in Nashville piece that was actually written by Cole Wakefield, not the person who posted it.

The Advocate's blurb on Nashville

Blog posts:

Kimmaayy covers the Nashville protest with video
Egalia on the Nashville protest with links to Andrew Sullivan on Nashville and Chris Crain on Memphis. Crain was editor of the Vanderbilt Hustler before his involvement with Southern Voice and the Washington Blade.
Jim Maynard covers Memphis.
Andy Towle with Nashville pics, including a pic of that hot TEP banner!
Daily Kos picked us up on Nashville in their long list of cities

Photo collections:

Keith Hinkle
Out & About Newspaper

What Do We Want?

(post by TEP Foundation Board Memeber, Nancy VanReece)
Nashville came out in the cold drizzle to join dozens of other cities around the country for a demonstration.
What were we demonstrating? Support for each other, righteous indignation? Yes. But most off all, we were demonstrating solidarity.
It's one thing to live in a state such as Tennessee that forbids the equal right of marriage to all of its citizens, that's a a battle lost in 2006 that still stings. It is a whole other thing to remove rights already in place. That's what Prop 8 in California did and today, in solidarity the people that it effected were a single voice.

Gay and straight, married, single, black, white and brown, over 250,000 strong according to pledges across the country, today at 12:30pm central time, 1:30 eastern and 10:30am west -- We all with one voice said: What do we want? Equality. When do we want it? Now. (click to see video)

Memphians gather to protest Proposition 8

Nearly 200 people braved the cold and rainy weather in front of City Hall in downtown Memphis to express their solidarity with the many thousands of people protesting the passage of Proposition 8 in California. Many thanks to Amy Livingston of the Women's Action Coalition and the Midsouth Peace and Justice Center for organizing and promoting the event.

During the demonstration, I invited everyone to carry the cause forward by coming to Nashville on February 17 for Advancing Equality Day on the Hill. More than 25 people signed up to receive more information from TEP and the Shelby County Committee passed out flyers about AED.

Nashville Prop 8 Rally a Huge Success!

Hundreds of people gathered at the Metro Courthouse in Nashville today to protest California's Proposition 8, which bans same-sex marriage, and to advocate for equality for Tennessee's gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community. Pictured above is Nashville Pride president Pam Wheeler with friends marching around the Public Square. More photos from the event can be found here.

I would put the number at close to 300. TEP signed up 62 people who weren't already on our list and we couldn't get to everyone, especially after the march started. People were still joining the event when I left at 1:45.

Representatives from the Tennessee Transgender Political Coalition and the Nashville steering committee of the Human Rights Campaign were also on hand to support the rally. Carissa and her friends did an incredible job of organizing the event.

One of the most impressive aspects of the event was the number of young people who had never been involved in GLBT advocacy before. I would guess 75 percent of the participants were people I had never seen at any events before. I hope that they can turn their energy to efforts in Tennessee.

Cohen backs Clinton for Secretary of State

Congressman Steve Cohen's piece in Huffington Post.

I was an ardent supporter of Barack Obama during the heated primary season - in part because I agreed with his positions on the War in Iraq and on more aggressive diplomacy - but I whole-heartedly believe that Senator Clinton would make an exceptional Secretary of State. Senator Clinton's vast knowledge, experience representing our country and her finely honed skills of negotiation would serve this country well, and her presence within an Obama Administration would have an immediate, positive impact.

Well said! Clinton will not be afraid to raise the tough questions with her foreign minister counterparts and heads of state while imaginatively and pragmatically advancing U.S. interests abroad. I'm waiting for the Hillary haters to rear their heads. If she can fall in line and be a good soldier on the campaign trail, as she was, then I hope we can get through the next few days while president-elect Obama makes his decision without having to see the usual "bitch" and "witch" epithets all over the blogosphere.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Memphis rally against Proposition 8

Join Memphians as we participate the national movement of simultaneous protests against Proposition 8, the infamous ballot resolution that amended California's constitution to ban same-sex marriages. Speakers will address other restrictions on LGBT rights, including concerns for LGBT folks in the Midsouth. Bring signs, friends, and all your moral indignation!

Memphis Anti-Prop 8 Rally
Saturday, November 15
City Hall (125 N. Main)
12:30 PM

from Amy Livingston of the Women's Action Coalition.

Tennessee Prop 8 supporters revealed

Out & About Newspaper has the list of those who sent their anti-marriage equality dollars to California to keep gay people living in sin. Not really that many people, with Lee Beaman being the most "famous." I'm sure the folks at Lipscomb are proud.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Knoxville Prop 8 Rally is on!

Knoxville is joining cities around the country in solidarity with those in California whose right to marry is being threatened.

The TEP Knox County Committee/Human Rights Group is organizing the event. It takes place at 1:30 p.m. Eastern Time at the World's Fair Park lawn.

Find details here.

Candlelight Vigil for Duanna Johnson and Transgender Day of Remembrance in Memphis

The Midsouth Peace and Justice Center, the Women's Action Coalition, the Memphis Gay and Lesbian Community Center, First Congregational Church, and the Shelby County Committee of TEP will hold a Candlelight Vigil on Sunday, November 16 at 6 PM to remember the life of Duanna Johnson who was tragically murdered earlier this week. All concerned citizens are invited to participate to show solidarity with the transgender community and pay respects to Johnson.

While the exact details and circumstances of Johnson’s murder are still under investigation, her murder calls attention to the epidemic of violence directed at transgender citizens in Memphis, particularly those who are African American. The flag outside the Memphis Gay and Lesbian Community Center at 892 South Cooper St. currently flies at half-mast in remembrance of Johnson. The vigil ceremony will begin at the flagpole in front of MGLCC at 6 PM on Sunday followed by a short procession by candle light to First Congregational Church down the street.

The family of Duanna Johnson is unable to cover all of the expenses for a proper funeral. The Tennessee Transgender Political Coalition has set up a Paypal account to help defray the cost's of Duanna's funeral and burial in order to more safely secure donations. Their website ( explains how the money will be distributed.

The Shelby County Committee of TEP also encourages community participation in the annual Memphis Transgender Day of Remembrance on Saturday, Nov. 22 at 4 PM at Tom Lee Park. This event is sponsored by Perpetual Transition - a safe, confidential, and friendly Memphis-based support, discussion, and social group for transgender people of all varieties, including but not limited to transsexuals (regardless of transition status), intersex people, crossdressers, and genderqueers. This year, we gather especially to remember Tiffany Berry, Ebony Whitaker, Dre'Ona Blake, and Duanna Johnson. Contact Casey at for more information.

Anyone with information on Duanna Johnson's homicide is urged to call Crime Stoppers at 901-528-CASH or the MPD's homicide bureau at 901-545-5300.

Anti-Prop 8 rally comes to Nashville

A Rally for Equality against California's Proposition 8
Saturday, November 15 at 12:30PM
1 Public Square in Nashville

There are rallies across the country on Saturday to protest California's Proposition 8 which bans same-sex marriage. TEP folks are not the organizers. We're just helping publicize the event.

Dozens of people who have never been involved in politics or GLBT rights issues have contacted us about this event. My hope is that they'll turn their energy to State and local issues once the event on Saturday ends.

Update: Out & About's piece .

HRC calls for a thorough investigation into the murder of Duanna Johnson

The Human Rights Campaign issued a statement on the murder of Duanna Johnson yesterday. HRC President Joe Solmonese called on "the Memphis Police Department to fulfill its renewed commitment to treating transgender people with respect and fairness by thoroughly investigating this horrible crime and ensuring that every measure is taken to bring those responsible to justice."

WMCTV5 in Memphis covered the story last night and this morning.

Monday, November 10, 2008

TEP Foundation statement on murder of Duanna Johnson

The Tennessee Equality Project Foundation is deeply saddened to learn today of the brutal murder of Duanna Johnson, a transgender female living in Memphis, Tennessee. Ms. Johnson was the victim of a beating Feb 12, 2008 by two Memphis police officers in what has been described as a hate crime. Ms. Johnson's murder is yet another disturbing act of violence against the transgender community in Memphis, including the apparent murder of Ebony Whitaker, a transgender woman, in July 2008 and the murder of Tiffany Berry in February 2006. The TEP Foundation urges the Memphis Police Department to do all in its power to quickly apprehend the perpetrators of Ms. Johnson's murder and calls upon Chief Godwin to send a strong public message that violence against the transgender community will prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

Media Contacts - Rhonda White 615-424-2238 or Randy Cox 615-585-1371

Tragic news

News sources in Memphis have confirmed this morning that Duanna Johnson is the victim of an execution-style murder overnight. Duanna was also the victim of police brutality at the Shelby County Justice Center last February. Her story received international attention and moved the community and TEP to call for reform of the Memphis Police Department and Shelby County Sheriff's Department.

My thoughts and prayers go to Johnson's family and friends.

Proposition 8 creates a legal gray area for gay couples married in CA

Since the passage of Proposition 8 in California, I've been wondering about the status of all those couples who were married after the California Supreme Court ruling in May and before Election Day on Nov. 4. According to Kenji Yoshino of Slate, Prop. 8 has created a legal gray area:

The effects of Prop 8 on the more than 16,000 gay couples in California who got married after the state high court authorized them to do so is much less clear. California Attorney General Jerry Brown has opined that he believes those marriages will not get washed out by Prop 8. His position comports with the general intuition that retroactive legislation should not deprive people of vested rights like marriage.

However, that intuition will not necessarily be vindicated. As I have pointed out elsewhere, there is a surprising dearth of federal constitutional authority that would protect existing same-sex marriages from retroactive attempts to undo them. It may well be, as California constitutional-law professor Grace Blumberg of UCLA has argued, that the California Constitution would preclude the retroactive application of Prop 8. But as most experts agree, the outcome here is uncertain.

This is in part because a court might find that Prop 8 does not even constitute retroactive legislation. The amendment states that "only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California." A court could find that the pre-election marriages remain in existence but that California cannot recognize their validity going forward. Under that interpretation, a California same-sex marriage that was valid before today could be recognized by another state but not in the Golden State itself. Indeed, a state like New York that recognizes out-of-state same-sex marriages—even though it doesn't yet grant same-sex marriages—might be required to recognize a pre-election California marriage because of a state court decision that ordered the recognition of same-sex and cross-sex marriages.

With Republican majorities in both state houses, look for advancement of a socially conservative agenda

The Commercial Appeal describes the plans of the Republican Party in Tennessee after their successful takeover of both houses in the General Assembly.

While there is no mention of anti-LGBT legislative initiatives in the article, the recent passage of the anti-gay adoption amendment to the Arkansas State Constitution makes me nervous about what's in store for Tennessee in 2009.

Mark your calendar now for Advancing Equality Day on the Hill on February 17, 2009 in Nashville.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Nashville For All of Us out of the gate

Well, the movement to defeat Eric Crafton's English-only ballot measure has a name. Nashville For All of Us--it's got a kind of "Shiny, Happy People" feel to it, but it sends the right message. It's good to see that the serious questions about strategy have begun to be addressed, too. There seems to be discussion about the merits of a full-scale public campaign with yard signs, etc. vs. a targeted get-out-the-vote effort. Metro Councilman Ronnie Steine favors the latter.

"I think you have a real campaign," Steine said. "But I don't know if you have all of those elements. If you believe, as I do, that on Jan. 22 you won't have a very large number of people going to the polls, you don't need a massive countywide public relations campaign. You need to identify those people that will go to vote, and then get them to go vote."

The coalition of business people, clergy, and activists is looking to hire a campaign manager and has already filed with the Davidson County Election Commission.

This is one of the first media stories I've seen that didn't make Crafton the focus. Given the polling that shows the issue is close, more coverage like this, and a good campaign, there is a real chance the measure will be defeated in January.

Red States, Get Your Guns

The reports are that there is a rush on gun buying around the country because of fears that somehow an Obama administration working with Congress will move to restrict gun rights. Take Montana, for example:

In Helena, the owner of Montana Outdoor Sports said he thinks a ban on all gun sales is unlikely but expects some form of taxes or restrictions, which is boosting business now.

"We're selling a lot. Especially on the internet. That's where a lot of it is going. We just shipped out about four more hand guns through the postal service," Rex Seeley said.

I was in Knoxville this weekend leading a seminar on citizen advocacy. I know, not as exciting as guns. But guns came up. Some of the participants, many of whom were Obama supporters from all over East Tennessee, said that they had regularly gotten into arguments with their neighbors about gun issues. So it's not surprising that Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey has mentioned 2nd Amendment issues coming up in the next legislative session. Several candidates campaigned on the issue, but then again some of them campaigned on "gay marriage," which they can't do much more about than they've already done. I'm not sure at this point what kind of legislation is planned, but it won't be long until we find out.

Everybody's ready to control spending, not saying much about social issues

The Tennessean gave some op-ed space for what January holds when the 106th General Assembly of Tennessee convenes. House Republican leader Jason Mumpower is sending a clear signal that his party is prepared to assume leadership and control spending, but he is noticeably quiet on social issues. Hmmm.

We must live within our means and get spending under control. Increasing taxes on hard-working Tennesseans is not the answer. We need to cut wasteful spending, slow the growth of a ballooning government, and balance this budget just as any Tennessee family does their checkbook.

House Democratic leader Gary Odom is more specific on the budget while maintaining Mumpower's reticence on the culture war:

The most ominous challenge we face this year is the greatest revenue shortfall in our state's recent history. The state faces a budget crisis that could lead to a $600 million shortfall in projected revenue by the end of this fiscal year. This is on top of more than $500 million in anticipated revenue that was cut earlier this year. The budget shortfall will require the experience and knowledge of members of both parties working together to ensure that these challenges are addressed in a responsible manner.

Shaka Mitchel of the Tennessee Center for Policy Research would agree with Mumpower and Odom, but offers this warning just to be sure:

Similarly, squandering your political capital on abortion and illegal immigration resolutions that aren't really state issues and have no chance of becoming law would be an irresponsible use of the powers entrusted to you by voters.

All politicians would do well to remember that while the goal of campaigning is getting elected, the purpose of elected office itself is being a responsible steward of powers put in your care.

Finally, the changeover in Tennessee is an indication voters just want to be left alone. It has been said that most bad government results from too much government. Republicans at the national level found that to be true when they strayed from their principles and quickly became the minority party. Republicans at the state level should not forget that lesson.

The Tennessean offers basically the same advice urging restraint on social issues:

It would be a mistake to use newfound power to flex muscles over social issues like abortion and guns. A few lawmakers may be chomping at the bit to aggressively push such issues to the fore. The public will be better served if the legislature keeps sensible priorities and shows the best possible performance in managing the budget and working in ways all Tennesseans deserve.

Amen to that. I'm not holding by breath on that one, though.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Friday, November 7, 2008

Equality Styles: Cutting away at discrimination

Equality Styles benefits the Tennessee Equality Project. If you need a quick trim or a new look before Thanksgiving, head to one of these salons on Tuesday, November 25. A portion of the day's sales helps TEP.

In Middle Tennessee:
Robert Christopher’s Salon
2806 Bransford Avenue
Nashville, TN 37204
(615) 383-0311
Stylists: Chris Espander and Bunny Martin

In the Tri-Cities:
Saratoga Studio of Dezines
8 Four Winds Drive
Bristol, VA 24202
(276) 466-5873
Stylist: Joshua Helms, Creative Director

If you own or work at a salon and would like to be included, we would be glad to add your salon in next week’s email update. We would love to have participating salons in every part of the State. To participate, contact Chris Nelson at or H.G. Stovall at

Thursday, November 6, 2008

McCain outperformed Bush with gay vote

Exit polling indicates that John McCain got about 27 percent of the GLBT vote this year. George Bush got 23 percent in his reelection bid in 2004. Barack Obama got 70% of our community's vote, down from John Kerry's 77% in 2004.

In the overall scheme of things it didn't matter, of course. But what accounts for the change? From what I could tell, Obama's outreach in the GLBT community was more consistent than Kerry's. One factor may be the Log Cabin Republican endorsement. Another element may be the disgust factor. There was far more outrage against President Bush than there was with McCain. There was also likely a segment of GLBT voters who backed Hillary Clinton and wouldn't make the switch to Obama.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The Gov's plea to Obama

The Governor's take on Barack Obama's win:

As for its meaning, I do have a respectful request for the president-elect this morning. The strategy that produced our national win came at a real cost to Democrats here in Tennessee. We lost seats in the Senate, and this morning we have the first Republican House since the civil-war era. With the red landslide here in Tennessee, and with many counties with Democratic officeholders voting in the high 60s and even 70s for McCain, it’s very hard to swim against that current.

The center has shifted in this election, but America still has cultural divides we need to bridge.

My respectful request is this: I ask you to now reach out to all those people in my state—and across America— who attend small-town churches, who shop at WalMart, but who weren’t quite there for you yesterday; make them too a part of your vision for America. They will increase your understanding of our wonderful country, they will strengthen your ability to govern, and they need you.

Celebration and concern as Tennessee's GLBT Community Watches Election Returns

The GLBT community celebrated Barack Obama's victory around the State Tuesday night while watching with concern as the results from ballot initiatives around the country and legislative races in Tennessee rolled in. First, the celebration. The faces and shirts at Nashville's Tribe in the photos above say it all.

But the celebration was tempered by concern about ballot measures in other states. As of this posting, marriage amendments were leading in California, Arizona, and Florida. California is too close to call at the moment. The adoption amendment in Arkansas also appears headed to an easy win.

Around 9:30 some of us were getting word that Republicans were increasing their lead in the State Senate and possibly taking control of the State House. The Nashville Post is calling the House for the Republicans, 50-49, but there is no list. My two sources, one Republican and one Democrat, say as of now that the House remains in Democratic hands by one seat. I suppose we'll know later on Wednesday. There will likely be recounts. But either way, a legislative agenda that is amenable to the concerns of the State's GLBT community will be a tougher sell.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

In search of the God vote

Politico examines some Gallup data and Pew Forum analysis on the fact that Barack Obama is not performing well in attracting the bloc of white voters who attend Church weekly. That's about a third of voters. 29 percent backed Al Gore and John Kerry in the last two elections. Obama is coming in at 28 percent. (The unspoken assumption in the article is that Obama will garner a huge percentage of African-American Church-goers.)

He is not failing because of lack of effort. Obama's campaign specifically and Democrats generally have been doing a great deal to reach out to religious voters and put on a friendlier face to people of faith. The social conservatives in the piece cite the issue of abortion as a key to understanding the divide.

The so-called God gap manifests itself in interesting ways, particularly in the South. Democratic Congressman Lincoln Davis of Tennessee has made clear the connection between his faith and his Democratic values, though he has hesitated again and again when it comes to embracing Obama who is still losing to McCain in our State. Meanwhile, next door in North Carolina, Republican Senator Elizabeth Dole, who is running behind in her reelection bid, has launched an ad attempting to link Democratic opponent Kay Hagan to an atheist PAC. Obama, of course, is running a strong race in North Carolina, but Dole has picked a place where she senses Democrats are vulnerable.

Sen. Dole says she isn't concerned that the voting trend may bode ill for her."Republicans are outnumbered in registrations, so you can't win without Democrats," she said. "I've had people tell me they voted Obama-Dole."

Now that's something I never imagined I'd read.

The overall trend and the specific Southern examples bring up some questions. If the Democrats keep plugging away at the Church-going vote, can they eventually gain some ground, say a 10-point increase? And how long would that take--4 years, 8 years, 12 years? At the State and local level in the South, Democrats clearly cannot afford to give up their messaging and outreach to religious voters. But if there continue to be diminishing returns in the presidential race, might Democratic strategists be tempted to give up on the religious vote, thus recreating an opening upon which a chastened Republican party might build?

The key, of course, may be the ways in religion is changing in America. While white Evangelicals remain a strong voting bloc, the Catholic vote now receives a great deal of attention. Latino Catholicism, Evangelicalism, and Pentecostalism may become the key constituencies targeted for outreach in the next 10-20 years if their voter registrations catch up to their explosive growth.

In terms of this election, the white religious vote will probably remain stably Republican. But the results represent an opportunity for Democratic party leaders to dig in and wait for the ethnic demographic of religious voters to change.

Still Opposed: Obama and McCain's different approaches on same-sex marriage

The New York Times does a good job of tracking the differences between the positions of Barack Obama and John McCain on same-sex marriage. They both oppose it, but in different ways.

Obama's opposition comes from a religious sensibility, but one that is tempered. Still, he has opposed federal and state amendments that seek to ban same-sex marriage:

As a Christian — he is a member of the United Church of Christ — Mr. Obama believes that marriage is a sacred union, a blessing from God, and one that is intended for a man and a woman exclusively, according to these supporters and Obama campaign advisers. While he does not favor laws that ban same-sex marriage, and has said he is “open to the possibility” that his views may be “misguided,” he does not support it and is not inclined to fight for it, his advisers say.

McCain's opposition has not been stated in primarily religious terms, and while he has opposed the federal constitutional amendment, he has supported State amendments:

But Mr. McCain, reflecting his strongly held views on federalism, has also broken with many Republican senators and joined Mr. Obama and most Democrats to oppose amending the United States Constitution to ban same-sex marriage, arguing that the issue should be left to the states to decide.

The candidates have very different positions, though, when it comes to the state level. Mr. Obama opposes amending state constitutions to define marriage as a heterosexual institution, describing such proposals as discriminatory. Mr. McCain, however, has been active in such efforts: On the most expensive and heated battle to ban same-sex marriage this year, a proposed constitutional amendment in California known as Proposition 8, he has endorsed the measure and sharply criticized a State Supreme Court ruling that granted same-sex couples the right to marry.

While the GLBT community should not be satisfied with the position of either candidate, their positions are a welcome change from President Bush's efforts to stir rhetoric around a federal constitutional amendment. There is always a shift, and it's important to keep that in mind. During the 2000 Vice Presidential debate, both Joe Lieberman and Dick Cheney expressed support for civil unions. In 1996, we heard open attacks on our community at the Republican National Convention. At this rate, if our community is persistent, same-sex marriage could be a non-issue by the 2016 race. It will always be an issue for some, but it is clearly losing traction.