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.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Top 10 political stories for the U.S. GBLT community

I decided to break down and offer one view of the top ten political stories involving the GLBT community in the U.S in 2009. Ten is an arbitrary number, but you probably won't read more than ten. And they're in no particular order because I don't want to start any unnecessary arguments at the end of the year. So here they are:

1. Election of Annise Parker as Mayor of Houston. What a great victory in a big ole red state, especially after we had some big losses in marriage equality! A fundraiser for Parker here in Nashville raised over $3000 for her effort, so we feel a strong connection to her win.

2. November ballot initiatives. Washington state partnerships were upheld as was the Kalamazoo non-discrimination ordinance. Marriage equality went down in Maine, though, and that was a huge disappointment. Some of us here in Tennessee did phone-banking for the effort, so the loss was bitter for us, too.

3. Passage of the federal hate crimes act. It is the first federal legislation that offers protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity. It is especially welcome in Tennessee where we've had horrible hate crimes against transgender people in the last few years.

4. The National Equality March. A huge event that was carried off with an amazingly small budget. And, yes, there is a Tennessee connection. Knoxville native Kip Williams was one of the lead organizers. The event energized thousands of new activists.

5. Marriage victories. DC, Iowa, New Hampshire, Vermont, Connecticut. New Hampshire takes effect on January 1, 2010 and Connecticut technically began in 2008 but was confirmed in 2009.

6. Griping about President Obama. The American GLBT community has done a lot complaining this year about the pace of the Obama administration's efforts to advance equality versus what we think he promised. No doubt, we want things to move faster, but we're at least moving forward.

7. Like the Bilerico Project, I'm going to give the fact that ENDA didn't pass its own entry. You can't know in every case that a bill isn't going to advance before it stalls. I know that all too well from working on state and local legislation. But I wonder how many times our community can hear "It's going to move" or "We're close" or "There's going to be a mark up next month" before we produce fatigue and destroy our ability to get the community active at the right time. Regardless, in my opinion, it is the most important piece of federal legislation for our community.

8. Republicans playing gay guessing games. Toward the end of this year, suddenly Republicans starting implying and in some case openly saying candidates are gay. The NRCC has done it in Tennessee and it's going on in Illinois now. I predict we'll see more in 2010.

9. Conflict within the GLBT community about whether to advance marriage equality in California in 2010 or in 2012. The argument is still raging in some quarters. Some just don't see any point in waiting. Others want more time to change enough hearts and minds to make victory certain.

10. American ties to Uganda's Kill the Gays bill. Journalists and activists have suggested strong links between the proposed Uganda legislation and American groups and elected officials. American conservatives such as the Rev. Rick Warren have finally started denouncing the bill, but not before massive pressure was applied. The legislation became a public issue thanks to Fresh Air and Rachel Maddow.

There they are. It's just one view. Feel free to offer your own entries that should be part of the top 10.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Open Letter to Andy Sere of the NRCC

In response to Andy Sere of the National Republican Congressional Committee:

Mr. Sere,
I was disappointed to see the text of an email you sent out about State Sen. Roy Herron at this link .

You are mistaken in many of your assertions. First, Out & About Newspaper did not endorse Roy Herron. One blogger at the paper spoke favorably about him.

Second, you used the phrase "special rights." Being free of discrimination is not special. Why do you hate your fellow Americans and their freedoms?

And why do you support an adoption ban that would cost our state and federal governments a few million dollars and leave children without loving homes? Are you not fiscally conservative? Are you anti-family?

Get your facts straight before you wade into Tennessee political waters again.
Chris Sanders
Board Chair
Tennessee Equality Project

Monday, November 30, 2009

Clinton says discrimination hampers HIV/AIDS efforts on eve of World AIDS Day

In extensive remarks on eve of World AIDS Day, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton identified discrimination against the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community as a barrier to the fight against HIV/AIDS:

"Obviously, our efforts are hampered whenever discrimination or marginalization of certain populations results in less effective outreach and treatment. So we will work not only to ensure access for all who need it, but also to combat discrimination more broadly. We have to stand against any efforts to marginalize and criminalize and penalize members of the LGBT community worldwide. It is an unacceptable step backwards – (applause) – on behalf of human rights. But it is also a step that undermines the effectiveness of efforts to fight the disease worldwide."

No doubt, she had in mind the discriminatory, oppressive legislation being discussed in Uganda. This legislation would go well beyond criminalizing homosexuality; it would intensify witch-hunts against gay people. Clinton's statement is an important step in putting the breaks on this kind of government-sponsored terror against its own citizens.

Although I would not count on Secretary Clinton having the backing of the Congressman from Tennessee associated the Family/Fellowship, which may be supporting the Uganda discrimination bill, I hope she will have the support of another Chattanoogan, Senator Bob Corker, who sits on the Committee on Foreign Relations.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Ford's run to the right in TN may hamper a NY Senate bid

Many of you have heard by now that former Tennessee Congressman Harold Ford, Jr. is considering a bid for the U.S. Senate in New York. But will his positions on abortion/choice and same-sex marriage come back to haunt him if he jumps in the race? Glenn Thrush is taking note:

His positions -- including his opposition to gay marriage and opposition to some abortions -- put him to the right of Gillibrand, who was considered one of the most conservative members of the state's House delegation during her two-plus year tenure as an Albany-area rep.

Gillibrand, who may indeed be vulnerable, nevertheless figured out that she needed to move left to represent voters throughout the state. It will be interesting to see how Ford approaches the culture war issues if he enters the race. If Gillibrand made some changes, I don't see why Ford couldn't. After all, time has passed since he was in Congress. He is allowed to say that his views have evolved. Will it fly with New York skeptics?

-Chris Sanders

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Fellowship/The Family's role in Uganda anti-gay bill and question for Zach Wamp

Members of Chattanooga's GLBT community are starting to circulate some blog links tracking the connections between the Fellowship/the Family and Uganda's horrid anti-gay bill. And why would Chattanoogans care particularly about this piece of legislation in a country far away? Well, Congressman Zach Wamp, who represents the area, has lived in The Fellowship/The Family's housing for years.

Guilt by association isn't real guilt. It only raises questions. But it's worth asking the question of whether Congressman Wamp was one of the Members of Congress who may have prayed with Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni. Here's the meat of one of the blog posts at Truth Wins Out that makes the question relevant:

Sadly, this witch-hunt has the blood stained fingerprints of leading American evangelicals. The Fellowship, (aka The Family) one of America’s most powerful and secretive fundamentalist organization’s, converted Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni (pictured top) to its anti-gay brand of Christianity, which is the “intellectual” impetus behind the anti-gay crackdown. The clandestine organization’s leader, Doug Coe, calls Museveni The Fellowship’s “key man” in Africa. Jeff Sharlet, author of “The Family”, writes of the African strongman’s conversion:

“So,” Doug Coe told us, “my friend said to the president, ‘why don’t you come and pray with me in America? I have a good group of friends—senators, congressmen—who I like to pray with, and they’d like to pray with you.’ And that president came to the Cedars (a religious retreat), and he met Jesus. And his name is Yoweri Museveni…And he is a good friend of the Family.”

I think the people of Tennessee have a right to know whether the Congressman has met with Museveni and what he thinks about legislation that criminalizes and punishes homosexuality to such an amazingly harsh extent. After all, the Congressman has publicly branded homosexuality a "sickness" and a "sin."

I know that some people will call these "charges unfair." I'm just pointing out what citizens of the Chattanooga area are pointing out and asking, "What's the deal?" I'm not charging the Congressman with anything other than being found frequently around sources of hate and discrimination. I would like for him to articulate his own views in his own words about these events.

A hat tip to Andy Pyburn for some of these links.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Manhattan Declaration: Making Martyrdom out of Discrimination

The Manhattan Declaration of some Catholic, Evangelical, and Orthodox leaders has received some notable coverage over the last couple of days. The declaration itself isn't terribly long, certainly not long enough to deal realistically with any of the issues that it addresses such as abortion, stem-cell research, or same-sex marriage. But it is long enough to raise the question of whether it is trying to reverse a trend signaled in the 2008 Evangelical Manifesto, in which some leading Evangelicals called for less of a politicization of the faith. I'd like to take a look at the sections of the document and argue that it has failed to make an adequate case for its position on same-sex marriage.

Preamble: The Preamble is a quick trip through 2000 years of Christian history. It is a story of Christianity resisting and fighting evil. There is no hint about same-sex marriage in the preamble. But there are lines that deconstruct the narrative that the writers wish to weave. They note in passing that Christian women were "at the vanguard of the suffrage movement." Indeed, they were. It seems odd to me that the document, written by representatives of faith traditions that are the least likely to recognize women's leadership in the Church, would highlight this fact. But what should be suggestive about this bit of history is that the Church has encouraged people to achieve things in the secular realm that it would not allow them to achieve in the spiritual. So why would it not celebrate the Christians today who are working for same-sex marriage in the civil realm? I guess that would confuse the clear lines of us and them that the writers are drawing.

Declaration: Thankfully, the declaration acknowledges that the writers or signers are speaking on their own behalf and not on behalf of their faith traditions. They mention as their sources of authority Scripture, natural human reason, and the nature of the human person. So we basically have a mixture of Bible and Robert George's conception of natural law. It is in this section that we find the first explicit comments on marriage: "...the institution of marriage, already buffeted by promiscuity, infidelity and divorce, is in jeopardy of being redefined to accommodate fashionable ideologies." And that leads them to their definition: "marriage as a conjugal union of man and woman, ordained by God from the creation, and historically understood by believers and non-believers alike, to be the most basic institution in society." Here the writers seem to be covering their bases in that they locate marriage as they understand it in the divine command but also in society. But the words "historically understood" complicate both the roots of marriage--the divine command and society. In fact, they complicate the picture sufficiently to make their own swipe about "fashionable ideologies" incoherent. The historical interpretation of God's commands about marriage and the social pressures shaping marriage show great variety. Those of us who are seeking to give legal sanction to same-sex marriage are not outside the narrative that the Manhattan signers develop, but we are a part of it. Those of us who are people of faith are attempting to be faithful to our religious views and our partners in seeking marriage, and we are also responding to social changes that make it possible for us to establish lasting relationships, like our non-religious counterparts. There is no one ideology of same-sex marriage. The question for many of us arises out of Scripture, natural human reason, and the nature of the human person, just as it does for the signatories of the declaration.

Marriage: Following the declaration are sections on issues. I'll skip to the one on marriage. One finds a rehearsal of the benefits of marriage, how God has honored it, and a discussion of the threats to marriage. There is an interesting acknowledgment about the causality between same-sex marriage and problems in the wider marriage culture: "The impulse to redefine marriage in order to recognize same-sex and multiple partner relationships is a symptom, rather than the cause, of the erosion of the marriage culture." I was pleased to see this admission. Of course, the section goes on to argue that the impulse must nevertheless be resisted since it would lock confusion into place. But at least these leaders are on the record as saying that same-sex marriage does not directly hurt heterosexual marriages. But did you notice what else they did with that line? They put same-sex marriage and multiple partner relationships together. And they did the same in the following paragraph. Since there isn't to my knowledge legislation pending about multiple partner relationships, the effect is fear-mongering. I guess we can at least be thankful that they didn't bring up bestiality, though they did conjure the image of incest. As I've said before, the nearest analogy is between opposite-sex marriage of two partners and same-sex marriage of two partners. Those are the only viable ones under debate. Adding anything else has nothing to do with the issues at hand in politics today. Britney Spears songs notwithstanding, there is no lobby for threesomes.

Of course, they develop their argument for only allowing opposite-sex marriage based on "sexual complementarity" and procreation. Procreation always seems to be the obvious argument, the common sense position. But it's not. Not every opposite-sex married couple wants to procreate or can procreate, whether that be for age or medical reasons. So marriage need not be about procreation. The complementarity issue also seems to be common sense to many straight people, and one occasionally hears it explained in terms of pegs fitting into holes! I'll resist the urge to be crude in return and simply say, even if there were no same-sex couples...straight people have found plenty of ways to use their pegs and holes that don't have anything to do with procreation and certainly have nothing to do with sexual complementarity. The Manhattan folks won't be saying anything about that because they know how ridiculous they would sound if they started regulating those practices.

Religious Liberty: This final section is the most melodramatic. It is an attempt to scare socially conservative Christians into believing that the state will begin infringing the Bill of Rights with respect to some of the political questions addressed in the document. The state is not going to make any religious body perform a same-sex marriage. But some religious bodies want it both ways. They want the budgeting and tax advantages of forming separate 501c3 organizations to do social work and still not have to comply with non-discrimination laws. My advice would be keep your ministries in house. If you form a separate corporation to do social work and employ over 15 people, there is a reasonable expectation that you will have to comply with federal, state, and local non-discrimination laws and give spousal benefits to whoever is legally married in that jurisdiction. The dramatic language of resisting the state in the same way that the early Church did is laughable. The early Church kept its ministries within the Church and some of its members went to their deaths when they were compelled to worship idols. What those who complain about non-discrimination policies really want are the state-granted advantages of having their social ministries in a separate corporation. My guess is that in many cases, compromises would allow even their separate non-profits to be exempt.

Despite their rhetoric, they will never be commemorated in the liturgy for whining about their affiliated 501c3 charity resisting a local non-discrimination ordinance. They will not end up in the martyrologies. Those men and women were made of much stouter stuff than the signatories of the Manhattan Declaration.

-Chris Sanders

Friday, November 20, 2009

Saluting Tennessee's GLBT media

The demise of Window Media, which operated important GLBT news publications like the Washington Blade and Southern Voice, should make those of us in Tennessee pause and be grateful for what we have right here. The Washington Blade staff have banded together to form DCAgenda, so there are some signs of recovery. But the situation shows the vulnerability of local communities to the financial difficulties that plague national media companies.

Local GLBT newspapers play a vital role in not only reporting the news, but giving a community a sense of itself. It would be difficult to gauge the role that Inside Out Nashville, Out & About Newspaper, and the Triangle Journal have played over the last few years in creating forward-moving discourse in Tennessee's GLBT community, particularly in Memphis and Nashville/Middle Tennessee.

They are information hubs with spokes that reach deeper into the community than any of our other organizations. It would be hard to imagine the impact if they simply ceased publication one day. Local ownership of these publications has been good for the community.

The obvious gap in the picture is East Tennessee. Knoxville, Chattanooga, and the Tri-Cities are not currently served by their own GLBT newspapers. Those communities find themselves in a bit of a vicious circle in that there may not be enough ad revenue to support a publication, but without a newspaper it is hard for a community to become sufficiently connected and to grow. Social networking tools are starting to help connect those communities, but the effect is more diffused.

Hopefully, we will be able to sustain our Memphis and Middle Tennessee publications. It's a tough business in a market that is constantly changing. The cost of losing them is something I hope we don't have to face during these critical years in the movement for equality.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

MTSU to add gender identity to its non-discrimination policy

Tonight in a Facebook posting, MTSU SGA Senator Brandon Thomas, who is also Vice President of MTSU Lambda, published a letter from university President Sidney McPhee announcing the addition of gender identity to the school's non-discrimination policy. Congratulations to the students who worked for this policy change and thank you to the MTSU administration for being responsive.

Dear Mr. Thomas

I wanted to let you know that we will be amending the appropriate MTSU policies concerning discrimination to incorporate gender identity as one of the bases for which discrimination against any employee, applicant for employment or student will not be tolerated.

I appreciate your input with regard to this matter as well as your concern and support of our mission to maintain a campus environment welcoming and supportive to all individuals.

Sidney A. McPhee President

The changing LGBT political landscape and the 'Church'

In an earlier post, our own Chris Sanders applauded the endorsment of LGBT-inclusive workplace protections by the Mormons (Latter Day Saints) in Salt Lake City, Utah. Andrew Sullivan at the Daily Dish finds there is a model for churches and the LGBT community to embrace:
What the LDS church has done in Utah is an immensely important and positive step and places the Mormon church in a far more positive and pro-gay position than any other religious group broadly allied with the Christianist right. They have made a distinction - and it is an admirable, intellectually honest distinction - between respecting the equal rights of other citizens in core civil respects, while insisting - with total justification - on the integrity of one's own religious doctrines, and on a religious institution's right to discriminate in any way with respect to its own rites and traditions.

In the Midsouth, more evangelicals are "coming out" for LGBT equality in measured ways. In a Nov. 11 Letter to the Editor of the Memphis Flyer, two evangelical Christians wrote in support of legislation establishing LGBT-inclusive workplace protections:
We wish to register our support for the proposed amendment to Memphis Ordinance 9, which is intended to establish a nondiscrimination provision regarding sexual orientation or gender identity.

As Christians belonging to Bible-believing churches in Memphis, we feel obligated to note that the dominant evangelical voices heard in the Memphis media do not reflect the views of many evangelicals in our community. We are in agreement with evangelical opponents of this amendment on many issues, including the uniqueness of Jesus and the nonnegotiable nature of biblical ethics. But we believe that the protection of economic rights for all our fellow Memphians is an important part of showing love and support for the dignity of people created in the image of God, their Creator.

Our hope is that this amendment not only discourages discrimination but fosters relationships among diverse segments of our community.

The landscape for dialogue and acceptance of basic rights is changing. Can you imagine these sorts of positions expressed by faith leaders 5, 10, or 20 years ago?

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Epic truce in Utah culture war: LDS Church backs SLC NDOs

As I've said before, you shouldn't go into a fight assuming who your enemies are. What few would have predicted has happened. The LDS Church endorsed a couple of Salt Lake City non-discrimination ordinances that provide protection from discrimination in housing and employment. And then the City Council unanimously approved them.

The Mormons admitted what the Family Action Council of Tennessee would not. Non-discrimination in housing and employment has NOTHING to do with marriage:

An LDS Church representative read a supporting statement at a public hearing before the Salt Lake City Council regarding the ordinances proposed by Mayor Ralph Becker.

"The church supports this ordinance because it is fair and reasonable and does not do violence to the institution of marriage," said Michael Otterson, managing director of the LDS Church's public affairs office.

I wouldn't expect the LDS Church to drop their opposition to same-sex marriage any time soon, but their stance clarifies exactly where they draw the line. They don't view GLBT issues as a zero-sum game, as the Tennessee Eagle Forum and Family Action seem to. Given their numbers in Utah, which exceed the percentage of Evangelical Protestants in Tennessee, this development is amazing. It COULD show the way forward in red states. Considering that the majority of Metro Council members didn't buy into the Eagle Forum/Family Action strategy of arguing that non-discrimination is a slippery slope to marriage, it might be time for the Right in Tennessee to reconsider its strategy.

The difficulty, of course, is that there is no single spokesperson or head of Evangelicalism in red states like Tennessee. So it's not possible to turn off the faucet of opposition automatically. Then again, the faucet may only be dripping to begin with. Past Family Action newsletters have bemoaned the fact that they tried to get churches involved, but they wouldn't because they didn't equate the Metro NDO with marriage. Some Evangelicals in Tennessee are already beginning to make the distinctions in private that the LDS Church has now made publicly.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Why blaming the Black community for our inequality doesn't make sense

After the Prop 8 loss in California, there was a lot of blame gaming going on. One of the immediate targets was the African-American community. Those comments caused a lot of mistrust within the GLBT community because many strangely forgot the presence of Black gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people. Those comments could have also caused a huge rift between the GLBT community and major African-American civil rights organizations such as the NAACP, which has been an important ally for our cause.

Memories of those thoughtless accusations die hard. James Withers of hasn't forgotten them a year later in the wake of the crushing Maine defeat:

"These realities of black-American life cannot, and should not be ignored; however, too many of us blithely support a narrative where homophobia is somehow purer in black and brown communities. Yes we have California, but there is also Washington, DC, and those who leaned on race to explain Prop 8 have been strangely silent on the DC City Council.

From Maine to California, many black, brown, and white faces will gladly vote against gay marriage. If there is anything that crosses the racial divide it’s bigotry for lesbians and gays."

I occasionally hear similar comments and questions from people in Tennessee. What amazes me is how few people see the obvious reality that African-American lawmakers have been leading opponents of discrimination. When the marriage amendment was working its way through the Legislature, 3 of the 7 House members voting against it were African-American, and 1 of 3 senators voting against it was African-American.

This year in the House, the Black Caucus became a major advocate of the hate crimes bill giving it new life.

The Metro Nashville non-discrimination ordinance story is also instructive. 3 of the 12 sponsors were African-American Council Members. On third reading, only one African-American Council Member voted against the ordinance, but he was advancing his own ordinance that ended up being amended to include sexual orientation and gender identity. 1 African-American Council Member was absent for the vote. Without the support of the African-American Council Members, the ordinance could never have passed.

The lesson is always that if you don't reach out, you don't know who your friends are. And when you think you know who your opponents are, follow the money. The organizations that fund anti-equality measures are not predominantly African-American. But shouldn't that be obvious? Given the discrimination that African-Americans still face in this country, why would we think Black leadership organizations would be throwing money at discriminatory legislation and ballot measures?

Hopefully, the movement for equality is still moving in the sense that we are coming to the realization that we have to meet discrimination with targeted resources wherever we find it in particular contexts (by political district, by religion, by race and ethnicity, etc.). Going into a fight bedeviled by what we imagine one group will do just sets us up for more losses and more blame gaming.

Unscientific Survey Results: GLBT Community Active in TN Politics

Recently about 475 friends of TEP (people who are on one of our lists) filled out a 10-question survey. Note: Some people seem to have answered twice in some questions. Here are a few of the questions with answers and my thoughts:

Q: Are you registered to vote in Tennessee?
A: 90.7% or 430 respondents said YES; 9.5% or 45 respondents said NO.

A few are still registered to vote where they lived previously or they are college students, but it's a high percentage of members of our community and allies who registered to vote here in Tennessee.

Q: Have you ever given money to a political campaign?
A: 63.7% or 302 said YES; 36.5% or 173 said NO.
Q: Have you ever volunteered in a political campaign?
A: 46.2% or 219 said YES; 54.2% or 257 said NO.

This is good news. Not only is the GLBT community registered to vote, but the majority are interested in supporting candidates financially and about half are willing to volunteer. Further questions on the size of contributions and the amount and kind of volunteering would be interesting. But it all points to the fact that our community understands the importance of electing supportive candidates.

Q: Have you ever emailed, called, or visited a member of the Tennessee General Assembly about a piece of legislation or an issue?
A: 69.2% or 328 said YES; 31.0% or 147 said NO.
Q: With adequate lobbying and citizen support, do you think your city or county government would be ready for non-discrimination legislation (or further non-discrimination legislation) in the next 2 years?
A: 72.8% or 313 said YES; 27.2% or 117 said NO.

Members of our community are clearly not afraid of or unaware of how to reach out to their elected officials. The results may also mean that we've made it easier for them to do so over the last few years. What is striking is the fact that an overwhelming majority of our community lives in a community that they believe could move forward with non-discrimination legislation in the next 2 years. That bodes well for citizen support efforts in moving legislation at the local and state level. We're ready to fight for advances.

Geographic Distribution:
Here's a sampling of where the respondents came from (cities with 5 or more)

Johnson City-10
Oak Ridge-5

No surprise about the concentration in urban areas or in Middle TN. The distribution also tracks well with the locations in which we have County committees with the exception of Chattanooga. Murfreesboro's numbers are striking. A potential powerhouse for equality needs to be nurtured there.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

A mixed election night for equality

Tuesday turned out to be a mixed picture for the movement for equality at the ballot. First the bad news. At this point, it is not looking good for marriage equality in Maine, where voters appear to be overturning a law providing marriage rights to same-sex couples. Two candidates endorsed by HRC's PAC have lost their gubernatorial bids--Governor Jon Corzine of New Jersey who lost to anti-gay Chris Christie and candidate Creigh Deeds lost to Bob McDonnell in Virginia. In Tennessee, many of us were watching the Knoxville City Council District 4 race where TEP PAC endorsed Ray Abbas who narrowly lost the seat by 70 votes.

Now the good news, the Washington state ballot measure approving domestic partnerships appears to be passing. And in Kalamazoo, Michigan a ballot measure on the city's non-discrimination law passed. Many openly gay candidates won races around the country including Annise Parker of Houston who was the top voter getter in the mayoral race. She now advances to the runoff. A lesbian won a seat on the Akron City Council and a gay man won a seat on the Detroit City Council. And Chapel Hill, North Carolina has elected Mark Kleinschmidt as the city's first openly gay mayor.

These results aren't official and in some cases may not turn out to be final. It's a mixed picture and it will take some time to figure out where the movement for equality goes in the wake of tonight's results.

Guest post by Kim Troup: Protecting Maine Equality--A "Volunteer Vacationer's" Experience

Nashvillian Kim Troup discusses her experience of volunteering in Maine's Vote No on 1 campaign. Her son directs key projects in the campaign. Citizens of Maine are on their final day of voting on whether to keep or repeal marriage equality. What follows are Kim's reflections on volunteering in the campaign:

November 3, 2009 – Last week I spent 7 days on the ground with the “No On 1/Protect Maine Equality” campaign at campaign headquarters in Portland. It was exciting to be at the center of the action for most of the final exhausting week of the campaign. The headquarters was abuzz with constant activity from early morning until 10 or 11 pm each night. Over 100 “volunteer vacationers” like myself came from all over the country to supplement the work being done by the campaign staff and thousands of volunteers from Maine. There were canvass trainings and phone bank trainings at least once each day and hundreds of volunteers were in and out of the office all day long preparing for a canvass, manning the phones, doing data entry and a myriad of other tasks. It was inspiring to hear some of the stories and to meet both gay, lesbian and straight allies who were all united in a common purpose – protecting marriage equality for all Maine families which had been granted by the legislature in May. For those of you who may not know, Maine law provides a citizens veto provision. As expected, the other side collected enough signatures to put the measure on the ballot for today’s election.

I spent all of my time working with the Satellite Phone Bank and the phone from home “Call for Equality” program. My son, Matt Moonen, is the director of these 2 efforts so it was fun for us to reverse our previous roles and have Matt as the staff director and me as the volunteer. The first couple of days I did tons and tons of data entry into the VAN system. If you’ve worked on a campaign recently, you’re probably familiar with this database of registered voters. We were getting constant updates from the field efforts and it was critical to update the VAN to make sure voters were marked as a supporter, non-supporter or as undecided. It was a tedious job but important for our Get Out the Vote (GOTV) strategy which went into full swing on Wednesday. This effort targeted our supporters reminding them to get out and vote while allowing the campaign to not waste time calling voters who were on the other side. We had multiple satellite phone banks going on all over the country each day. Many of our sister organizations that belong to the Equality Federation such as the Human Rights Campaign, Equality CA, Equality Maryland, MassEquality and our own TN Equality Project held one or more phone banks for the campaign. Other groups like the Courage Campaign of CA, the Vermont Freedom to Marry Coalition and Love Makes A Family of CT were also involved. Matt estimated that more than 75,000 calls were made to Maine voters on Sunday & Monday from these groups. Student led phone banks were happening at colleges and universities all across the country including American, Georgetown, UC-Davis, UC-Berkley, Columbia, Harvard, Duke, Yale, Indiana, Oberlin, Notre Dame and many, many more. We made confirmation calls daily to the groups having satellite phone banks the next day to determine the number of people they expected, making sure they had the latest script and then finding out if they planned to use Call Fire or needed calling lists on paper so Matt could prepare their materials and train them as needed.

Each day we had hundreds of individual volunteers making phone calls from their home through the Call for Equality Program. We conducted webinar trainings for these volunteers daily walking them through our updated script and how to use the Call Fire computerized system to make calls to Maine voters. Matt & I did role plays for each training to illustrate several typical responses from voters that callers might encounter. After a couple of sessions I was able to help him field many of the calls that invariably came in from volunteers who had been through training but were having problems logging into the system. Usually it was something simple like omitting one of the steps of the login process. I also did daily data entry into VAN of all the volunteers, scheduling them for a training session and one or more call shifts. We made daily recruitment calls to individual volunteers who signed up for the Call for Equality program. Over 100,000 calls have been made to Maine voters by the phone from home program.

Local press was in the office almost daily with many state officials as well as congresswoman Chellie Pingree holding press conferences in support of “No On 1.” The governor held a press conference at campaign headquarters on Thursday and then appeared on Rachel Maddow that evening. I was able to attend a live televised debate at the University of Southern Maine in Portland on Wednesday. The 450 seat auditorium was filled with “No On 1” supporters all wearing red. We were represented very capably by Mary Banauto, a lawyer from GLAD in Boston who lives in Portland. Mary was so outstanding in the debate. She has a brilliant legal mind but presents her arguments in a calm, soft voice that is totally disarming to the other side.

Today is election day in Maine and it is too close to call. I will be eagerly awaiting the results tonight as will all of the wonderful people I met while working on the campaign. Our GOTV efforts have been extensive by phone and by face to face canvasses all across the state. Hopefully it will be enough to ensure that all Maine families equal protection under the law.

Monday, November 2, 2009

State adoption bans are on the federal government's radar

November is National Adoption Month, and President Obama used part of his proclamation to urge equality in adoption laws so that more children can find good homes:

"America is a country rich in resources and filled with countless caring men and women who hope to adopt. These individuals come from all walks of life, united in their commitment to love a child who is in need of the protective arms of a parent. We must do more to ensure that adoption is a viable option for them. By continually opening up the doors to adoption, and supporting full equality in adoption laws for all American families, we allow more children to find the permanent homes they yearn for and deserve."

Perhaps to outsiders the language is vague. But those of us fighting adoption bans at the state level know exactly what the President is talking about. Our only questions concern what can be done and when. A partial answer comes in Congressman Pete Stark's bill to cut off funds to states and entities that discriminate in their adoption laws. The President seems to be sending a signal that he would support a bill like Stark's, but nothing is concrete at this point.

Since Tennessee has not passed discriminatory adoption legislation, despite the fact that it has been introduced many times, we have nothing to worry about. Hopefully, the federal bill will give the Tennessee General Assembly pause as it considers SB 0078 in 2010.

Monday, October 26, 2009

From Criminals to a Protected Class in Hate Crimes Law

When President Obama signs the hate crimes law on Wednesday, an important six-year journey will be complete. What won't be fulfilled, of course, is the need for further legislation protecting the employment of GLBT people and recognizing our relationships. But the bill represents the transformation of our community from criminals to a class marked for protection from crime. Strictly speaking, the categories of sexual orientation and gender identity are netural since everyone has a sexual orientation and a gender identity, but the effect will be to recognize GLBT people in federal law.

Only six years ago the Supreme Court handed down Lawrence v Texas, which overturned state sodomy laws. Many states had already undone their sodomy laws, but some had not. Without the Court's ruling, any of the states could theoretically reinstate them. The Lawrence decision meant that same-sex relationships, though not fully recognized, could not be criminalized. And now in the space of just six years from Lawrence, crimes committed against us because of our sexual orientation and gender identity will receive greater scrutiny and more resources will be available to solve them.

Transgender people will count. Literally. Currently the FBI tracks hate violence based on sexual orientation, but not acts based on gender identity. Now both kinds of bias-motivated violence will be tracked, investigated, and prosecuted. That is good news for Tennessee where prosecutions are rare and our state hate crimes law does not include gender identity.

Progress can never be rapid enough for a group that faces discrimination and violence. We have much further to go to realize the promise of equal protection. But the movement from Lawrence to the hate crimes law is a breath-taking development and worthy of celebration.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Federal bill seeks to ban adoption bans at the state level

Congressman Pete Stark (D-California) has introduced H.R., 3827, the Every Child Deserves a Family Act. The bill would prohibit entities that receive federal funding from denying adoptions solely based on the marital status, sexual orientation, or gender identity of the prospective adoptive parents.

According to Congressman Stark:

When considering a potential placement for a child, the only criteria should be what is in the child’s best interest and whether the prospective parents can provide a safe and nurturing home. Bigotry should play no part in this decision. That is why I am introducing the “Every Child Deserves a Family Act.” This legislation would simply prohibit any entity that receives Federal child welfare funds from denying or delaying adoption or foster care placements based solely on the prospective parent’s marital status or sexual orientation. States and child welfare agencies that fail to end discriminatory practices would face financial penalties. This is the same approach that put an end to race discrimination in adoption and foster care placements.

If passed, this bill would obviously scuttle legislation in Tennessee and other states like SB 0078. The backlash is likely to take the form of Tenth Amendment angst. But, as Congressman Stark notes, the studies indicate that children do well in a variety of family settings. And if that's the case, then we probably should consider the Equal Protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, too. The bill, like other legislation affecting the GLBT community, is in for a long road to passage, but it's a good step.

Friday, October 16, 2009

frankj's fantasies and the rhetoric of the "real" Tennessee

Blogging has clearly become too incestuous when I am tempted to write about someone who posts anonymously at another blog. But in this case I'm going to yield to the temptation and follow the trail until it comes full circle and perhaps disappears back into oblivion where it belongs.

Someone who goes by the name of frankj has been adding notes to posts over at Post Politics lately. He continues to put the word gay in quotation marks. Here's a sample:

Even if the GOP takes Haywood County out of Naifeh’s district, imagine a team of eager Kos-educated East Nashville and Sylvan Park volunteers, some straight and yes, some “gay”, swarming Tipton County from their Kitchens going door to door for the Emeritus! Naifeh will befuddle the GOP once again [sic]

The image is supposed to be one of hipster gays and straights emerging from their urban enclaves and invading rural Tennessee with their enlightened values to rescue a politician in distress (Speaker Emeritus of the Tennessee House Jimmy Naifeh) from the Republicans. First, let's point out the obvious, Speaker Naifeh doesn't need rescuing. He's a good bet in any fight. Second, frankj, your fantasy of East and West Nashville hipsters--straight and "gay"--running from their kitchens serving up clever meals and Kos-style politics around Tennessee makes me wonder whether you're a producer for Bravo. I couldn't have thought of anything that "gay" myself. Besides, Cooper-Young in Memphis is much closer to Tipton County than East Nashville and Sylvan Park are. Don't you know anything about Tennessee?

And that really leads to the point. Behind this fantasy is the rhetoric of the "real" Tennessee. frankj never uses the word "real," but that's the principle at work. East Nashville and Sylvan Park can't possibly be the real Tennessee, right? As it turns out, 20 district Council Members in Davidson County voted for the non-discrimination ordinance. That makes the map a little more complicated. There must be a crisis of where the "real" Nashville lies. Perhaps frankj would describe it as "creeping East Nashvillism." That's just a guess on my part.

But what is the "real" Tennessee? Is it only rural Tennessee? Is it only red Tennessee? Does it matter that there are GLBT people and people who are liberal in every part of the state in various numbers? Does it matter that many of who are now in the blue parts of the state came from the red and rural parts of the state and throughout the South? Let's take it further. Is rural Houston County not real because the majority of its residents voted for Obama? Those pesky East Nashvillians must have distracted McCain voters with delights they imported from Batter'd and Fried.

Perhaps the conspiracy goes deeper. I wonder whether frankj thinks Governor Bredesen is secretly out to sweep away the real Tennessee. He brought in Volkswagen to establish a European beach head that will cool Tennessee into a light blue. I bet the whole idea was cooked up at the Gerst Haus. Brilliant!

-Chris Sanders

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Knox County Election Commission a Pioneer in Open Government

The Knox County Election Commission does a great job of making candidate information public. They use a Facebook page to make citizens quickly aware of all kinds of candidate information that you'd normally have to hope reporters would find. Of course, you can always go down to a county election commission, ask for the information, and try to fish out the change for the copies. But in Knox County, you know who's running for office within minutes of a candidate designating a treasurer. You also get easy access to financial disclosures. I hope the other county election commissions around the state will find similar ways of making this information easy to find.

Friday, October 9, 2009

TEP Foundation Updates

guest post by Nancy VanReece, TEP Foundation board member

The sister agency to TEP, The TEP Foundation, is rolling out fantastic opportunites to connect with their inititives.

Mission: The Tennessee Equality Project Foundation strives to eliminate prejudice and discrimination of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons by promoting and advocating equality through education, collaboration and victim advocacy .

The Projects of TEP Foundation are:
Anti-Violence/Hate Crimes
Safe Schools/Bullying
Outreach and General Education on LGBT issues
LGBT Health Issues
For more information about any of these projects please send us an Email

You can also now find us on FACEBOOK and on TWITTER

Events coming up in October that we invite you to attend



Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Coleman withdraws substitute NDO clearing the way for implementation of Barry bill

Tonight Metro Councilman Sam Coleman withdrew his substitute non-discrimination ordinance, BL2009-526, which was to be on third and final reading. It was filed as a substitute for BL2009-502 proposed by Council Member Megan Barry and twelve other sponsors.

In its original form, 526 barred discrimination against Metro government employees based on non-merit factors. It's hard to gauge intent, but the effect of the original bill was to leave out sexual orientation and gender identity. The bill was later amended to include sexual orientation and a variety of other factors, but it left out gender identity until Councilman Erik Cole successfully amended it.

The withdrawal of 526 leaves Nashville with a good result. Passing both bills would have cluttered the code or would have likely superseded 502, which was the bill that 51 groups had advocated. There were also questions about 526 raised in the Personnel committee and raised again by Sean Braisted that are important. Now Metro can proceed with implementation of 502 and Metro government employees will have protection from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The three-month legislative process is at last over. Sometimes you really do get the bill you ask for.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Family Action targets ENDA and DOMA and so do we

The Family Action Council of Tennessee has been writing about the federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act and the Respect for Marriage Act, which would overturn the so-called Defense of Marriage Act.

Family Action's objection to ENDA is that it would cause a problem for employers with religious objections to people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender and want to have the ability to fire them or not hire them in the first place. It should be noted that ENDA does not apply to religious organizations. But it would apply to organizations and businesses that are not religious in nature such as Exxon or the State of Tennessee. What if there is a director in one of their departments who has a religious objection to hiring people with different sexual orientations or gender identities? Too bad. I fail to see how a religious understanding of sexual orientation or gender identity should be the basis of whether someone at Exxon or in State government gets a job.

That's really the issue. It's not that the top leadership of most large employers like the State of Tennessee have established some policy that seeks to root out GLBT people. The problem with large employers with hundreds or even thousands of supervisors is that some of them will bring their views of us to the workplace and use their power to deprive us of work. ENDA would deter that sort of discrimination.

Family Action is nervous about the Respect for Marriage Act, not because it would immediately lead to same-sex marriage in Tennessee, but because of the surprising ways that federal action reaches into the states. I agree that the Repeal of DOMA will not immediately lead to marriage equality in Tennessee. But working to repeal DOMA is the one constructive thing people in Tennessee can do to bring it closer.

So this coming Sunday, which is National Coming Out Day, we'll be gathering to contact our Members of Congress about ENDA and the repeal of DOMA--two pieces of legislation that can make a big difference in states like Tennessee where the advances in equality are beginning but small.

The Road to Marriage in the South: Part 2

In my last post, I talked about developments in Illinois and Texas that put those two states on the road to marriage equality. I mentioned Virginia and North Carolina as the two states most likely to achieve marriage equality in the South. I should have backed that assertion up with a little checking. There are, in fact, small developments that bear out the prediction, though I suspect those victories are still years away.

In Virginia, Republican candidate for the House of Delegates Eric Brescia submitted an October 2 column to the Washington Blade arguing that equality requires Republican allies. He hopes to be that ally:

IF THE REPUBLICAN Party wants to be relevant for the newest generation of voters, it cannot continue to drive a social wedge between those who seek to protect “traditional marriage” and those who seek to extend the rights and responsibilities to couples who want to enjoy such a commitment. And if gays and lesbians want to enter into civil marriages in states like Virginia, they’re going to need Republicans in Richmond advocating on their behalf. The GOP is the majority party in Virginia’s House of Delegates and polls indicate Republicans could win the three statewide races — governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general — this November. No change in Virginia law will be possible without a broad coalition and an advocate for equal rights working within the majority party.

Whether you call him Don Quixote or a pioneer, he's right. Marriage equality won't come to the South without some Republicans moving on the issue. Whether Brescia becomes the first in a minor chorus or an anomaly for the next five to ten years depends, of course, on whether he wins.

Across the border in North Carolina, a billboard campaign for marriage equality has begun. Although some would consider any such campaign an in-your-face gesture, this one is really restrained. It shows four couples with the number of years they've been together and asks, "Haven't we waited long enough?" The campaign debuted in Greensboro, which is surprising because one might have expected Raleigh-Durham or Charlotte.

Both Brescia's candidacy and the North Carolina billboard campaign are the start or the new start of many difficult public discussions about marriage equality in the two Southern states that could lead the way. What they have begun will eventually spill over into their neighbor to the West and we welcome the discussion.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Marriage: The More You Ignore Me the Closer I Get

Some interesting marriage equality news has just come out. A Texas judge ruled today in a "gay divorce" case that the state's marriage ban is unconstitutional because it violates equal protection. The state attorney general has already said he'll appeal. No surprise there. What is surprising is that the judge made this ruling despite the fact that Texas not only has a statute defining marriage but a state constitutional amendment as well. Just like Tennessee.

Miles to the North in Illinois, a marriage bill has been introduced just months after the state had been looking at civil unions.

So what's the point for Tennessee? Both states are closer to Tennessee than any of the others that are on a path towards marriage equality. And I guess that's the other point--both states are now on some kind of path to marriage equality. In Illinois, it's going to be a legislative solution. In Texas, it could be a judicial solution. And even if the series of cases don't result in marriage, they could reignite a marriage equality movement there. Tennessee's path is more likely to be like Texas once it finally begins. Since we've just passed our first employment protections at the local level this year, it's unlikely that we'll move significantly on relationship recognition soon. But we need to be open to that kind of surprise, too. Perhaps one of our cities will adopt a domestic partner registry.

If more states closer to Tennessee adopt either marriage or civil unions, it will be harder to ignore the need for some reforms to family law. Tennessee couples have already gone to Massachusetts, Canada, and California to get married. If Memphians can go to Dallas, Nashvillians to Chicago, and Knoxvillians to Asheville (North Carolina or Virginia is likely to be the first Southern state to make a significant move on same-sex unions), then we're going to have a lot of cases related to divorce, inheritance, etc. in Tennessee courts that call for a policy remedy.

It's coming closer and we will not be able to predict what brings it to our borders and when. Perhaps some gubernatorial candidate will meet the new development at the state line. But even he can't hold it at bay forever.

Anger Nostalgia

Mike Byrd longs for the days when so-called progressives got their panties or boxers in a wad over the TN Eagle Forum. I'll admit that I still do sometimes. But I can honestly say it feels better to move a bill than be angry. Of course, this whole kerfuffle is premised on a column by an anonymous persona named Rex. I just can't be moved to respond to a tissue of hints. But since I know Mike and since he put the issues out there, I do feel some obligation to give an account.

Back when all we could do was be angry, I suppose our movement was purer. When no elected officials would take our calls or our endorsements, we weren't entangled in the evils and contradictions of power. And we also had no legal protections. My nostalgia for anger in the GLBT community does not translate into nostalgia for the days when we had few possibilities for advancing legislation.

Now that we are somewhat entangled in the ambiguities of lobbying and elections, I can't imagine why it would be a surprise that we might actually support two people who are in sync on our issues but at odds with each other on a variety of issues. Supporting and getting the support of people who are otherwise opposed is how policy moves ahead. And that is the job set before us when we don't have many legal protections.

As for the significance of the non-discrimination ordinance, I don't understand the argument that it does no good if there are lay-offs in Metro. The non-discrimination ordinance affects all the positions in Metro--whether the payroll grows or declines. We evaluated this policy option for a good two years before it was introduced and we're convinced it's a good bill. But thanks for the rain on our gay parade. Smirk.

On a personal note, Emily Evans is my Council Member. I was excited when TEP PAC endorsed her in 2007 and I am grateful for her support on the Metro NDO as well as her quick responses on other issues I've contacted her about over the last couple of years. She will certainly have my support in her re-election bid for what it's worth. And I know some people would say, "Not much." And that's just fine with me.

Mike, we should have a drink somewhere in the 23rd District soon.
-Chris Sanders

Monday, September 28, 2009

Attention, Legislators: Another study says gay couples are fit parents

An East Carolina University study concludes that gay and lesbian couples are as fit to adopt children as their straight counterparts. Let's hope that it's another blow against SB 0078, the adoption ban bill still hanging on in the Legislature. Some very liberal definitions of the family have emerged in Tennessee in recent years--a man, a woman, an intern, and a camera, for example. I am hopeful that future studies can explore these variables. I find that more and more people want to know how such trendy social experiments affect one's qualifications to parent.

-Chris Sanders

Saturday, September 26, 2009

National Coming Out Day Billboards vandalized in Memphis

Last week, the Memphis Gay and Lesbian Community Center launched a billboard advertising campaign for National Coming Out Day in October. Last night, one of those billboards was torn down in an act of vandalism. This particular billboard portrayed a good friend who was discharged from the Marines under the military's Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy. In the ad, he was saluting in full uniform with the caption "I'm gay, and I defended your freedom."

This act of vandalism hurts in so many ways. This crime dishonors all soldiers who commit their lives to the safety and security of our nation. This crime is an affront to the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender citizens of Memphis who merely wish to enjoy the same rights and responsibilities that others do. This crime seeks to silence free speech. This crime is a hate crime perpetrated on property due to bias against those who are gay or lesbian.

This crime will not send GLBT citizens and their straight allies in Memphis back into shadows of the closet. We are your family, your friends, your neighbors, and your coworkers. We are proud. We are unafraid. We stand with newly stiffened spines.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Mayor Dean signs Metro NDO

Mayor Karl Dean signedBL2009-502 today around 11:00 a.m. Central Time. The ordinance prohibits discrimination in Metro government employment based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Thanks to all the Council sponsors and Mayor Dean for your support!

The ordinance is the first law in Tennessee that provides employment protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Other bodies have adopted similar policies such Metro Nashville Public Schools, the Tennessee Board of Regents, and the Shelby County Commission--all of which provided important precedents for the Nashville effort.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Choosing the terrain: How equality legislation can win in Tennessee

"...having chosen the terrain, each charge achieved the maximum impact." So Desmond Seward describes the 13th century military victories of the Christians during the Reconquista (The Monks of War, 164).

No matter what you're doing you stand a better chance of winning if you choose the contest. 2009 marks a turning point in equality legislation in Tennessee because our community has chosen the battle sites more than ever before. For the most part, we've played defense since the 1990s. 2005 marked the high point in the defensive battles when a flood of anti-equality legislation was introduced in the General Assembly and the marriage amendment passed in its required second legislative session to go to the ballot in 2006.

Those battles forced us to develop a strong defense. But even if the other side isn't scoring, it's a lot like a scrum in rugby. If the ball's not heading your way as it comes out, your scrumhalf is still yelling, "Losing."

Despite the fact that we still have to take defensive positions on adoption and other bills, we've added a mildly successful offense this year. TTPC worked with legislators to introduce a hate crimes bill that garnered about 20 House sponsors and actually made it out of a House subcommittee. The Shelby County non-discrimination resolution that passed in June wasn't the ordinance that we wanted, but it provides more protections than were available before the Shelby County Commission took up the matter. The Metro Nashville non-discrimination ordinance passed the Council with a few votes to spare.

In all these cases, choosing the policy target and the venue for its hearing made a profound difference by throwing our opponents off their game. 2009 has also revealed that our level of organization is solid, which even our opponents have been forced to admit. Giving people something positive to fight for enhances the organizational efforts by attracting new and battle tested troops hungry for victory. Even in a socially conservative state like Tennessee, when the elements of choice and organization are yours, you have an even shot at winning. Expect more of the same in the coming months.

-Chris Sanders

Friday, September 18, 2009

State and Local vs Federal? The controversy over the March

Adam Bink has an interesting post at Open Left about a controversy within the GLBT community about the National Equality March and whether we should focus resources on state and local issues vs. federal.

The controversy turns in part on rhetoric and in part on strategy. The public face of the March, Cleve Jones, says that the state by state strategy has failed and he's tired of fighting that way. He desires a major Civil Rights style push at the federal level.

The rhetoric is annoying and yet understandable. But I think most of us in the Tennessee GLBT community can see past it. The people we know from Memphis, Cookeville, Knoxville, and so on who are connected with the March have been great state and local advocates. And I have no doubt that they will continue to work hard on those issues when they return from the March. I suspect they wish it were not necessary to fight so hard to gain so little in Tennessee. But I bet they continue to do so even as they add a substantial focus on federal issues to their work. So while I agree with the critique of Jones' remarks, I don't think they're an indictment of the March itself.

The issue of strategy is what really matters, but perhaps we are presented with a false choice between state/local and federal. Many of us working at the state and local level don't consider such work a failed strategy. For example, in Nashville, every Metro position will now be covered by a non-discrimination policy that didn't exist before. I can't see how that's a negative. If anything, it helps affirm Congressman Jim Cooper in his support of the federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act. It gives confirmation to those members of the Davidson County delegation to the General Assembly who have fought against the adoption ban and for the state hate crimes bill. And if we were to pass equality legislation at the state level, wouldn't it increase the odds that more of Tennessee's congressional delegation would support federal equality legislation?

And the March will paradoxically help in exactly the reverse order with respect to activists. Marchers will go to Washington, D.C. to make a huge show of force for full equality at the federal level. When they come home they will hopefully continue to work for that. But you can't tell me that they won't have any fire to defend our adoption rights here in Tennessee. And you can't tell they won't care about non-discrimination efforts in our cities where we are making progress. I can't speak about the situation in other states. But I've talked to and worked with the leaders who are going from Tennessee, and I know they care about their communities and their state.

There's enough work to go around and I hope those who go to DC come back inspired to help at every level. I believe they will inspire those of us who can't go to expand our efforts to keep working for full equality. We can all gain from the March if we look at it the right way.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

TEP endorses National Equality March

The Tennessee Equality Project endorses the National Equality March. We support the stated goal of "Equal protection in all matters governed by civil law in all 50 states."

It is our hope that the National Equality March inspires new activists to work for equality in ways that advance vital policy goals. In Tennessee, our hate crimes statute excludes gender identity and expression. We have no protections from employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity or expression. We lack any form of relationship recognition unless our employer chooses
to provide partner benefits.

At a time when our professional lobbying and citizen engagement
efforts are bearing fruit, we see fresh opportunities to pass state
and local legislation that makes life better for our community. In
that spirit, we invite the participants in the March to become
actively involved in the movement to advance equality in Tennessee when they return.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Opposition to the NDO: Phantom of its Former Self

One could say a great deal about why the effort to pass the Metro non-discrimination ordinance succeeded. I had thought about writing extensively about that, but I think I'll leave it at this. A very smart, strategic group of Metro Council Members led by Megan Barry were masters of the process and the arguments. It was an honor to help develop the ground game to support their efforts, and TEP is extremely grateful for their work.

But I will say a bit about why the bill didn't fail. The opposition really never materialized. Despite the press continually pointing out that the bill was "controversial," the controversy was a mere echo of 2003.

Churches: I think we can put to rest the old canard of the "churches vs. the GLBT community" with respect to policy issues that come up in Metro government. There were certainly some Evangelicals who opposed it. But Family Action itself indicated that efforts to mobilize congregations against the bill were failing before third reading:

"Although Family Action of Tennessee (FACT’s 501(c)(4) sister organization), a few churches and other organizations tried to rally Nashville-area Christians to urge their council members to defeat this ordinance, it moved forward by a vote of 23 to 16, with one abstention."

Nashville congregations had other things to do, like the support the ordinance, for example. Ten congregations--Jewish, Christian, Unitarian--supported the effort. In fact, we kicked off our campaign in October 2007 in a Church setting. Councilman Bo Mitchell's comments yesterday during the Personnel Committee meeting reflected the changed situation when he said that his "God doesn't discriminate." Sure, the inflammatory comments of Councilman Jim Hodge made an appearance in the debate, but they didn't seem to have any persuasive force.

Local vs. Imported: The opposition also failed because they could not mobilize support inside Davidson County. I heard again and again that Council Members were receiving negative emails from Franklin and Murfreesboro. The one letter to the editor in the Tennessean against the bill came from Cookeville. In fact, last night, some came from as far away as Bartlett to oppose the bill:

Among them was Liese Thomas, who drove from Bartlett, Tenn., in Shelby County.

"I believe that one man and one woman's marriage is the stabilizing force of all healthy civilizations, and where there are any deviations, the civilizations start to crumble," she said.

Even though the bill didn't address the issue of marriage, Thomas said her argument applied because approval of any "deviant behavior" inevitably leads to destruction of values.

I guess she missed her chance to say that back in June when we were working on the Shelby County non-discrimination effort. I have no idea why the opposition thought the Council wanted to hear from people outside Davidson County.

Web vs. ?: I don't know what tactics the opposition used to reach people. Their use of social networking media seemed non-existent. I know that we used it extensively as one tool among many to drive contact with Council Members. The opposition's resources, not to mention their language, struck me as primitive.

Obviously we'll be doing a great deal of thinking about what worked and what didn't work over the coming days as we prepare for the non-discrimination effort in Memphis City Council. But today we celebrate a great victory! Thank you, Nashville.