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.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The case for hate crimes legislation

There is a general consensus in the GLBT community that hate crimes laws should include sexual orientation and gender identity. That doesn't mean everyone within the community agrees and it certainly doesn't mean everyone else agrees.

Here are the opportunities before us. First, in Tennessee, HB 0335/SB 0253 was introduced in the General Assembly this year. It would add gender identity as a sentencing enhancement factor; sexual orientation is already covered under Tennessee law. There is no fiscal note on the bill, which gets rid of one opposing argument right off the bat. Second, we have hopes that the Matthew Shepard Act or the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act will be passed at the federal level later this year. The bill would...

  • remove the current prerequisite that the victim be engaging in a federally-protected activity, like voting or going to school;
  • give federal authorities greater ability to engage in hate crimes investigations that local authorities choose not to pursue;
  • provide $10 million in funding for 2008 and 2009 to help State and local agencies pay for investigating and prosecuting hate crimes;
  • require the FBI to track statistics on hate crimes against transgender people (statistics for the other groups are already tracked)
And it would add sexual orientation and gender identity to the classes of persons who can be categorized as the victim of a hate crime.

So what are the objections?

First, some religious right groups have been spreading the myth/lie/falsehood/ruse that hate crimes laws regulate speech. It's not true. Neither the state nor the federal bill deals with speech. You can still preach against the GLBTs from the pulpit if you choose. As Congressman Steve Cohen puts the matter eloquently:

Second, we often hear opponents, even within the GLBT community, argue that the hate part doesn't make any difference. A murder is a murder, after all. Right? Not true. First, of all, many hate crimes don't result in death. They can range from vandalism to assault to murder. The hate factor does matter because legal proceedings do consider motive and it is basic to criminal law to look at different categories of crime--viz., assault vs. aggravated assault. How many words do we have for a crime when someone is killed? Manslaughter, homicide, first-degree murder, etc. If there is a pattern of crimes that share a common motivation and target something specific about a group of victims, isn't it in society's interest to track them and treat them differently? Doesn't that kind of focus help us solve and prevent those crimes more effectively? What you're basically saying, if you oppose hate crimes legislation, is that you don't give a damn if particular kinds of victims are protected and receive justice.

Third, there's a new argument against hate crimes legislation that I'm starting to see coming from the left. Some are arguing (and get ready to cringe when you read the phrase) that hate crimes laws prop up the "prison industrial complex." In other words, hate crimes laws would simply put more disadvantaged people in our mismanaged and oppressive prisons. These same critics would argue that hate crimes laws don't work any way.

After getting past the eye-rolling about the phrase "prison industrial complex," the response to this line of argument is clear. Society has the right and responsibility to protect itself from violent offenders. The fact that our prisons are mismanaged and oppressive is such a broad argument that it would seem to justify not putting anyone else in them. If someone is convicted of a dangerous crime, he or she needs to be locked up. The argument also ignores the fact that most of the victims themselves are from racial, ethnic, and religious minority communities. Even in the GLBT community, the victims are often African-American. Consider the two transgender women in Memphis who were murdered and the third who was shot in the face last year--all African-American. And according to the Department of Justice, many of these crimes are committed for the "thrill" of it. Class isn't necessarily the dominant factor in sorting out the perpetrators. In fact, the average perpetrator of anti-gay violence can be your typical college student who may not be particularly disadvantaged at all, according to some studies. In this young adult age group, the motivations are described as self-defense against perceived sexual propositions, an anti-gay ideology, peer influence, and (in agreement with the Department of Justice) thrill seeking.

So are hate crimes laws effective? Standing alone, they will not prevent hate crimes. Education is necessary, too. If there are not aggressive prosecutions, then they won't work. We have not had aggressive prosecutions in Tennessee with respect to anti-gay hate crimes. In fact, we have not had aggressive investigations of hate crimes in Tennessee. That's precisely why the Matthew Shepard Act would make a difference. It would provide resources for investigating hate crimes and it would allow the federal government to step in if local authorities chose not to pursue acts of hate.

In rural Tennessee, it is often difficult for elected district attorneys and elected sheriffs to puruse a matter as a hate crime. That's not to say they don't do their jobs in taking on acts of vandalism, murder, etc. But it is up to the D.A. to go after the sentencing enhancement. It almost never happens. And there are no extra resources for county sheriffs and city police departments to conduct adequate investigations of the hate angle. So to argue that hate crimes laws don't work is speculative at best since they really haven't had a chance to be tested.

Based on other kinds of hate crimes, like cross burnings, that are less common today, I think we can make an educated guess that adding sexual orientation and gender identity to hate crimes, would have a positive effect. In other eras, the practice was fairly common. Twenty occurred between October 2005 and April 2007, according to the FBI. Because race is covered by federal hate crimes laws, here's what the FBI says it can offer in invesigating these acts of hate:

What do we bring to the table? Two things primarily.

First, our full suite of investigative and intelligence capabilities. For example:

  • We can use our intelligence to provide a broader understanding of any involved organized hate groups; we may also have or be able to develop informants or other sources of information in these groups or in the area.
  • We can run undercover or surveillance operations and send in our evidence response teams to help secure and map crime scenes.
  • Where needed, we can lend our laboratory and computer forensic expertise.
  • Using our network of national and even international offices, we can help run down leads that cross jurisdictional boundaries.
  • We can send in teams of specialists to help victims of the crimes.
  • We can issue wanted flyers for suspects on the lam.

Second, the full force of federal civil rights statutes when warranted. In some cases, for example, states may not even have hate crime laws on the books.

If the GLBT community is the target of hate violence, doesn't it seem reasonable to extend these resources to our community as well?

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Legislative surveys

It seems as if more legislators are conducting issue surveys, which I think is a great idea. Anything that gets more people interacting with the state legislative process is "a good thing."

You can see the results of Rep. Susan Lynn's survey so far here. I was pleasantly surprised at the number of answers in question 14 that dealt with GLBT issues. You'll also find a lot of 10th Amendment stuff, too.

Sen. Jack Johnson is also conducting a survey at his website. There isn't opportunity for open-ended feedback, but it's still worth a look.

Embryo bill to be heard in House and Senate this week

HB 2159/SB 2136, which would have a significant impact on who can use in vitro fertilization, will be heard in the House Family Justice subcommittee on Tuesday and in the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday. The bill was rolled in the House subcommittee last week.

Our reading of the bill is that it would restrict the use of embyros to married, opposite-sex couples. The language throughout the bill refers to "a woman and her husband." Obviously this bill is a concern to the GLBT community, some of whose members have successfully used such procedures to start a family. But, like SB 0078, it also appears to affect a lot of straight people--single women, women who might have been widowed at a young age, women who are in the middle of a divorce, etc. We could all probably think of several scenarios that would be ruled out either as an intended or unintended consequence of the bill.

As there hasn't been any media coverage of the bill or significant discussion anywhere else, it is difficult to determine exactly what problem the bill is designed to solve, which always calls into question an ideological motive. In this case, that motive appears to be a certain understanding of the ideal family.

Click here for TEP's action alert on the bill, which provides links to the committee members so you can contact them and express your views.

Glasgow's challenge for the 18th

Former Metro Council District 18 candidate David Glasgow has issued a challenge to the candidates preparing for the April runoff:

I challenge our next representative to take action to improve the quality of life for all of us. My short list includes taking action to
  • Make our streets safer for walkers and bikers by adding crosswalks, at least at 21st and Bernard, Blair at Harris Teeter's back entrance, and two more along the south end of Belmont Blvd. The new crosswalk on Blakemore must also be made safer.
  • Clean up Love Circle for good by breaking through the bureaucratic impasse that keeps the area in limbo. Work with the neighbors to solve the new traffic and parking issues created by new development and ensure that when we have a community cleanup day the city has not allowed 33 bags of trash and a mattress to accumulate.
  • Improve traffic safety at Chesterfield/Fairfax by adding a traffic mirror added at the bend in the alley between there and the Continental. This is a frequently used cut through to West End that currently puts children, pets and property at risk every day.
  • Add parking along Magnolia. Institute 2 hour parking between 9am-4pm and longer parking available between 6pm-6am in the outer lanes. This would help merchants in the Village, provide places for more people to start their jog or walk and help visitors and Belmont students avoid residential streets.
  • Adopt the green space on the Brightwood overpass as a demonstration project. This requires gaining the necessary permissions from metro, state and federal agencies, inviting Civic Design Center staff to develop ideas for using this neglected space up to its full potential, and bringing together neighbors from the bordering neighborhoods to raise the funds and donate the time needed to put the plan into action. This could be used as an example of what can be done with other green spaces around our neighborhood and the city - including Love Circle. Other neighborhoods are doing it, so we can.
  • Social issues. Our representative should take the lead on social issues that hurt Nashville's reputation and ability to attract new businesses and commerce. English Only was a huge waste of taxpayer dollars and time. Discrimination should not be tolerated in any guise. I hope our representative works actively to weed out discrimination in existing ordinances and to block future attempts to codify hate.
  • Work with Metro Transit Authority to develop a pilot project to take people from residential neighborhoods to commercial districts from 6pm-2am on Thursday through Saturday nights. Skepticism and entrenched interests will have to be overcome. In the end, though, we can get cars off the road, support our business districts and build community by getting people together for the ride to and from similar destinations. Our neighborhood has the density to prove the concept. If we have a leader who sells the idea to MTA and neighbors we can take a big step toward a financially healthy, user-friendly mass transit system in Nashville.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

District 18: A round of congratulations and thanks

Congratulations to Kristine LaLonde and Stephenie Dodson for making the runoff in tonight's Metro Council District 18 race. And thanks to John Ray Clemmons for entering the race, too. District 18 had a good field of candidates and got courted very heavily. Your district is lucky that four good people cared so much to seek your votes.

And to David Glasgow, you ran a great campaign. We wish you had made the runoff, but you're a fighter and a class act. Thanks for all your work and the positive campaign that you ran.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Election Day

It's here. The big showdown in the 18th Metro Council district features a field of four candidates--John Ray Clemmons, Stephenie Dodson, David Glasgow, and Kristine LaLonde.

Earlier the forecast was calling for a 40 percent chance of rain with mild temperatures. As of now, we're looking at a 30 percent chance. But what effect that will have on the turnout and whose turnout is anyone's guess. The last I heard about 127 people had voted early. A long presidential race followed by English Only must have burned out most of the voters. However, they will likely have one more series of campaigns before them soon. With four candidates in the race, it would a miracle if there were not a runoff. Let's hope the fact that voters will finally get to vote in their own polling places instead of at the Election Commission will be a big boost to turnout.

The coverage of the race has been light, but what do you expect for one council district? If it weren't for the blogs, City Paper coverage, a few general pieces in the Tennessean, Liberadio, and Morning Line, most of the rest of Nashville wouldn't have had a chance at knowing that an election is even going on.

Fundraising has been vigorous. Yard signs are everywhere in the district. Personal phone calls, door knocking, robo-calls, and mailers have all confronted the voters in the 18th at every turn. Now all that's left is the voting, counting, and the parties. Kristine LaLonde's campaign will be waiting for returns at the Dog of Nashville while David Glasgow's crew will be at Zeitgeist. At this point, I haven't heard where the supporters of John Ray Clemmons and Stephenie Dodson will be gathering. But I'll be happy to add updates if I find out anything about that.

We'll have Twitter updates from Eakin Elementary tomorrow morning and from the Glasgow party tomorrow night. What will be, will be.

Finally, for something completely different, Arcadia's Election Day:

Monday, March 23, 2009

Happy birthday to us

March 24 marks one year of Grand Divisions. So happy birthday to us. It has been an amazing year of state and local politics in Tennessee. Even though the presidential election overshadowed much of it, still there were a lot of great stories that came out of our state. We have tried to present the political struggles of the GLBT community as a part of the overall story, and we hope to do the same in our second year.

From our first post explaining the blog's title:

Admittedly, the title is a little comical. The three stars on the Tennessee flag stand for the three "grand divisions" of our state's geography. But "grand divisions" also strikes me as a way of describing the debates currently confronting Tennessee. We've seen growing partisanship in the last few years and there's no sign of a reversal. Nevertheless, there is a strong tradition of community and an effort to establish consensus and cohesiveness in Tennessee's political culture. I suppose that's the "grand" part.

We think it still fits. Here's to another year!

Fiscal notes out on bills of concern to GLBT community

The Fiscal Review Committee has been busy releasing the fiscal notes on some important bills to the GLBT community this session.

The adoption ban bill has a fiscal note of just over $2.8 Million for the State and $2.16 Million for the federal government. This figure is down from last year's $4.5 Million for the state, though the federal impact is roughly the same.

The good news is that the hate crimes bill that would add gender identity as a sentencing enhancement factor has a fiscal impact described as "Not Significant." During meetings with legislators who were sympathetic to the bill, we heard that there probably would be a significant fiscal note which would prevent its advancement. At least that obstacle is out of the way.

Both bills will have a difficult road to passage. The fiscal note on the adoption ban bill is still significant, especially considering the state's budget climate. Most important, though, is the fact that the estimate was determined based on the percentage of adoptive parents and children that would be affected. Lengthening the time a child is in the State's custody should give every lawmaker pause. Passing the hate crimes bill will be difficult because of lack of awareness of the dangers transgender persons face and because of ideological opposition. But the absence of a discernible cost should pave the way for a few more allies to give their support.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Glasgow campaign clean up day at Love Circle

The Glasgow for District 18 campaign spent the afternoon cleaning up the Love Circle area. It was the perfect spring day and the event brought out 9 neighbors and 7 other volunteers to pick up the trash, and there was a lot of it. In just over an hour, they had already filled 33 bags, not to mention removing a mattress and a tire.

The view of Nashville from the hill top is incredible. It's a shame the area was such a mess, but the volunteers did a great job of improving the ground view. While we were there, lots of people came through walking and jogging, as well as a few students coming to sit on the hill and read. Hopefully they won't have to navigate through as many broken beer bottles.

Slide show of the clean up.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

New Middle Tennessee blog: Volunteer Vets

Chris Atkins has started Volunteer Vets, a new blog that focuses on issues important to veterans around the state as well as updates and commentary on politics.

As he puts it in his first post on Thursday:

I hope that in the coming days I will start a discussion with you about ways that Tennesseans can do more to honor our veterans and ensure that they receive better benefits in our state than in any other part of the country. The Volunteer State has always been about service above self, and I believe that we must do more to serve those who served us. I also believe that service is not limited to the military and that we should all do more to take an active part in our community. Part of that activity is being knowledgeable about local, state and national politics. This is the spirit of Volunteer Vets.

Tennessee's political blogosphere is growing, and a blog with a focus on issues of importance to our state's veterans is a welcome addition.

Rep. Susan Lynn wants to hear from you

Here's the survey she's advertising on Facebook.

New York Times looks at work in Morristown

Photo and audio presentation here.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Love is a mess, says Glasgow

David Glasgow takes on the mess at Love Circle in the 18th District today in an email message:

Love Circle is a mess.
The problem is it's a reservoir maintained by Metro Water, not the park most people expect.

So, what does it take to get government departments working together to keep up this important part of our neighborhood?

It takes community involvement and a leader who knows how government works. Sorting out turf issues between agencies is the kind of work I do for a living.

Join me on Sunday, March 22 at the top of the hill starting at 2pm.

We're going to clean it up before the election and then, within my first year as your Metro Council representative, I will work with every department needed to ensure Love Circle is maintained like the important community asset it is.

Vanderbilt over the rainbow

It's Pride time again at Vanderbilt University. There's a little controversy over the number of rainbow flags flying over the Greek houses on campus. The questions seem to center around what the flag means. For example, is it political?

Nevertheless, some members of the Greek community on campus worry that although though they agree with Lambda's agenda, it is unfair to ask houses to fly a flag supporting what some see as a political cause.

"It was expressed in our chapter that Greek organizations shouldn't have to make political statements, and it's unfair that if we choose not to fly the flag, we are seen as bigots," said senior A.J. Axelrod, a fraternity member. "I don't really buy that, but it was a concern expressed in our house."

An editorial questioned whether there was undue pressure to fly the flags:

Several members of the Greek community expressed concern over oblique social pressure, asserting that not flying the flag was equivocated to being bigoted. They felt that the flag was a political statement, and forcing a majority of their chapter to vote on that statement was inappropriate. The fact that pressure existed, however subtly, is unacceptable.

OK, one thing at a time. Let's start with the issue of pressure and then we'll come back to the Pride flag itself.

Thank goodness the poor, defenseless straight student majority on campus has the Hustler editorial page to defend them against the gays going around asking people to fly a flag. What will they ask for next? Equal dining privileges? It's entirely too much pressure. Give me a break! It doesn't even scratch the surface of what GLBT students face in terms of pressure on campus.

Now back to the flag...I'm not a fan of the Pride flag. But the most vocal, visible element of our community around the country does like it. So I deal with it. Is it political? In a very broad sense, yes, it is. It means liberation to some, acceptance to others. But it doesn't have anything to do with any specific political question, candidate, legislation, or court decision. I don't know why it is that any time something GLBT comes up, some people automatically read it as political. If flying the rainbow flag is the new threshold for political activism, then there are a hell of a lot more activists than I thought. It strikes me now as more cultural than political. So to fly a rainbow flag doesn't tell me whether you support marriage equality, civil unions, polyamory, getting rid of marriage altogether or that you just happen to like rainbows...or, gulp, GLBT folks.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Don't Say Gay bill discussed on Nashville's Channel 5

Adoption ban debate on Morning Line

Family Action Council of Tennessee's David Fowler and I face off on SB 0078:

Don't Say Gay bill sent to State Board of Ed for report

HB 0821 by Rep. Stacey Campfield (R-Knoxville) was sent to the State Board of Education to prepare a report by March 15, 2010. I didn't find the representative's examples very compelling.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Human Rights Campaign discusses the Don't Say Gay bill

From the HRC Back Story blog:

It’s worth calling attention to a bill in Tennessee that uniquely grabs attention as an example of legislation threatening to break new ground in terms of extremism. House Bill 821, introduced by State Rep. Stacey Campfield, will be debated in the Tennessee House K-12 Subcommittee on Wednesday, March 18. ...

This is, quite simply, an attempt to control what teachers and schools teach. Consider what effects this bill could have if it becomes law: teachers could be prohibited from even mentioning the fact that lesbian, gay, and bisexual people exist. It is quite possible that school libraries would fail to comply with the law if their shelves contained books with lesbian, gay, or bisexual characters. It’s not clear what would happen if a student asked a question in class about laws that discriminate based on sexual orientation–the teacher might have to respond that he or she is not allowed to discuss such subjects.

This legislation raises serious issues of bias as well as free speech. It reminds us, not that we need reminding, that there are people with very extreme anti-LGBT goals. These goals apparently include controlling what teachers and students say in the classroom.

Monday, March 16, 2009

District 18 Roundup: LaLonde gets endorsement

Michael Cass is reporting that Kristine LaLonde has received the endorsement of the Central Labor Council. Congratulations, Kristine.

Nate Rau had this piece on the get-out-the-vote efforts of all four candidates. I was pleased to see that there are no attack posts in the comment section. In fact, I didn't notice any posts at all, which is unusual. The comments have been one index that the race is highly competitive, even though early voting is still slow at this point.

The Glasgow Campaign is hosting a get-out-the-vote rally at the home of David Taylor and Michael Ward in the district to celebrate St. Patrick's Day. Yes, Glasgow is a Scottish name, but it's a short distance over the North Channel to the Emerald Isle, after all.

Memphis Non-Discrimination Effort Expands to all of Shelby County

The Shelby County Committee of the Tennessee Equality Project recently learned that the Shelby County Commission plans to consider a comprehensive non-discrimination ordinance (NDO) for Shelby County. In fact, the Shelby County Commission may consider this legislation as early as the first week of April!

The proposed county ordinance would include protections from discrimination in employment by the government and government contractors and in the provision of government services. These protections would prohibit discrimination based on religion, race, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, creed, political affiliation or other non-merit factors.

We’ve updated the Facebook cause page supporting a non-discrimination ordinance for our community because of these new developments at

The Memphis City Council may also take up similar legislation this spring.

This is an historic moment for Memphis, Shelby County and all of Tennessee, and TEP invites you to be a part of it. TEP believes that majorities on the council and commission will agree to the proposed Non-Discrimination Ordinances, but they need to hear from the community.

When the ordinance appears on the agendas of the council or commission, community presence at those meetings will be critical. TEP would like to recruit you to be a contact liaison for your circle of friends or an organization you belong to. We’re asking volunteers to commit to calling and recruiting others to the cause within their organization or circle of friends and family. The task simply involves sending e-mails and calling people to invite them 1) to attend council or commission meetings and 2) to write or call their council and commission members to ask their support for the NDO.

When TEP learns that the NDO is added to the agenda of the County Commission or City Council, we will contact you with the dates and times of these meetings. The ordinance will have to be read at least three times before the commission and council over a six week period.

The Memphis City Council meets on the first and third Tuesday of each month at 3:30 PM on the first floor on 125 North Main Street. The Shelby County Commission meets on the second and fourth Mondays of each month at 1:30 PM at 160 N. Main Street

We know that many people work when the City Council and County Commission meet. We’re asking that you try to identify as many people as you can within your circle of friends, family or group who can come to these meetings. For those who cannot come, it will be important to call the Council or Commission offices to ask the council to support the ordinances.

If you are willing to serve as a liaison for your group or group of friends, please contact Jonathan Cole at 901.301.3306 or

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Shipley allegedly prophesies divine judgment on California and suggests secession

A blogger recounts some jaw-dropping words from Rep. Tony Shipley while discussing Tennessee's adoption ban bill:

-"They can do whatever they want out in California, with gays passing babies around, and violating God’s law, but when God drops California off into the sea, they will have to deal with the consequences of their actions.”
-"That [gays adopting] ain’t gonna fly-I’m sorry, I’m a Southern Baptist, I’m a Christian.”

And the most alarming in my opinion:
-"If they [the "secular progressives"] keep pushing and pushing and pushing-they’re pushing us too far, and something will happen-just like we did in 1860.”

The criticisms are just too obvious on the bigotry, but I wonder whether anyone has told the man that East Tennessee was unionist during the Civil War. East Tennessee values? He doesn't sound like he knows what they are.

MGLCC at Memphis St. Patrick's Parade

Participants in the 35th Annual St. Patrick's Day Parade on Beale Street included the grand krewes of Carnival Memphis, the Tiger Blue Fire Crew, the Gallowglass Bagpipers, the Dead Elvis Society, and many other regulars.

The Beale Street Merchant's Association invited the Memphis Gay and Lesbian Community Center to enter the parade this year for the first time. Since GLBT groups are prohibited from entering St. Patrick's Day Parades in other cities like New York City, the invitation was a big deal.

MGLCC entered as a walking group of about 20 people and carried a banner and rainbow flag. Having never attended this parade in the past, I was surprised to see such a large crowd lining the streets of Beale Street on either side. MGLCC's walking group was warmly received with only one "boo" reported from the crowd. The booing boor was chastised by other members of the crowd.

I am no stranger to marching in gay pride parades in Memphis, but this was a different experience. When people come to a gay pride parade they know to expect several GLBT groups and organizations in the procession. People who came to the St. Patrick's parade probably did not expect to see us yesterday. So I was pleased that MGLCC gained some welcomed visibility in the festivities. Maybe there really is a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Seen and heard at the Human Rights Campaign dinner

The Human Rights Campaign's annual dinner was a good ticket tonight if you wanted to be in the midst of State and local politics. Starting at the State level, Tennessee Democratic Party chair Chip Forrester was spotted at the silent auction and the dinner meeting the guests. Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ward Cammack, who earlier in the week had expressed his concerns about the adoption ban bill in the Legislature, was also at the dinner. It should be interesting to see whether this refreshing change in the rhetoric will catch on with some of the other candidates.

Council Member Ronnie Steine was also spotted at the silent auction and he attended the dinner as well. I didn't notice any other members of Council or hear their names called from the podium. District 18 candidate David Glasgow had a table at the event, and he got an enthusiastic reception from the crowd of 450. Vice Mayor Diane Neighbors had bought a ticket, but she sent word that she was too ill to attend. Both she and Mayor Karl Dean had welcome letters in the dinner program. When Dean was introduced, he got a rousing standing ovation before he even began to speak. He urged the crowd only half jokingly to go forth from the dinner to spend their money and help the local economy. Then he turned to a brief tribute to the honorees Suzanne Bradford and Judy Lojek and Brad Beasley. He ended by expressing his solidarity with the guests in their quest for equality. There was no specific mention of any forthcoming Metro legislation. I don't read much into that since it is the Council's prerogative to introduce the hoped for nondiscrimination ordinance.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Fightin' Friday Music: Williams for Williams

Given Speaker Kent Williams' victories this week, a little Hank Williams, Jr. hits the right note:

Can't even get her own definition right

Chairman Smith redefines the family again in listing the principles of the GOP: "You believe in the traditional family of one man and one woman".

No marriage, no children, no pesky in-laws, no commitment, no love. Just one man and one woman at a time...well, that part's really not spelled out. It's a little like a 70s movie. Key party fundraisers may be coming back to Tennessee.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Sex education in House hearing

I was struck today by the discussion of comprehensive, "age appropriate" sex education in today's House Health and Human Resources Committee as the abortion resolutions were debated. I guess I've become so accustomed to the language of dancing around the issue that I'm always surprised when the phrase comes up. But it came more than a few times. What also struck me was that women were the only speakers talking about it.

Where are the men? Have we become so trapped in a certain version of masculinity that the only public posture we can take is silence or the socially conservative rhetoric on that issue? The women who spoke today were strong voices for girls. Don't men want boys growing up with good information? While there is an emerging discourse about responsible fatherhood, what about giving boys the information they need to avoid sexually transmitted diseases or not becoming a father before they're ready? It seems as if it should all go together.

Maybe we just assume that guys are going to find out about sex one way or the other. Unfortunately, a lot of what they learn is not great information. A friend's "conquest" stories, overhearing what's being in said in the locker room, going to the internet, or random experimentation--that won't cut it. And neither is the 10-minute discussion with your father if your father is even around. Without good sex education, that's what we're basically leaving our boys and girls with.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Congratulations, HRC Nashville

Out & About Newspaper is reporting that the Nashville Steering Committee of the Human Rights Campaign has received the "Best Partnership with a State Group" award at their recent Lobby Day and national board meeting in Washington, D.C. The state group in question happens to be the Tennessee Equality Project.

The Human Rights Campaign provided valuable help last year on a number of bills, particularly the adoption ban, and they have shown the same commitment to helping with state legislation this year. We feel very fortunate to have the support of their national staff and their local membership. Congratulations!

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Have more babies? Dubious answers on Church growth

Normally we don't deal with matters that are strictly speaking ecclesiastical. But this piece in today's Tennessean caught my eye. The headline reads provocatively--Churches blame empty pews on fewer babies. Babies could not be reached for comment, but the Tennessean talked to Church growth types and looked at the statistics.

There's nothing anti-gay about the article, but my ears perk up any time someone suggests that the answer to a problem is in more fertility. Furthermore, the piece argues that conservative denominations are now either seeing a slight decline or a slowing of their growth, which does have an impact on GLBT issues. But back to fertility. I think that is one force in the decline of these churches, but there are some thoughts in the article that suggest the problem is more complex. Consider this cutline under one of the photos:

"Paul Prill leads the Wednesday night song service at Acklen Avenue Church of Christ in Nashville. The church's population fell when its children grew up and moved away. "

But while Nashvillians were busy moving away, weren't lots of people moving to Middle Tennessee who more than took their place? Some churches are simply not adapting to the mobility of our society. While not everyone moving to a new city is looking for a Church home, many people are. And if a Church is too caught up in being an institution designed for a few families who have been there for generations, then it won't put forth the effort to welcome the hundreds of new people who arrive in the city every day to start a new phase in their lives.

I guess there's also a theological issue I have with ministers and Church officials saying that babies are the answer. While God does say to humankind in Genesis, "Be fruitful and multiply," Christ says nothing of the kind in the Great Commission. That was more about preaching and baptizing, as I recall. So the issue, as always, is mission. What is the Church supposed to be doing?

I'm fortunate to be a parishioner at Christ Church Cathedral where the sense of mission is strong. During the Easter Vigil every year a number of babies are baptized and adults are confirmed or received into the Church. Outreach in the city is strong. The worship has integrity. And the GLBT community, for whom fertility is not typically the primary consideration, is welcome. I think what is so striking is that there are so many roles for lay persons in the parish. There is a strong, diffused sense of responsibility among the laity and newcomers can find a great place to worship and their own way of contributing to the work of the parish.

If the priests were to suggest that we should start having more babies, I think they would be met with blank stares.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Add Rural Republican to Carter County Republican

House Speaker Kent Williams is going to be admitted to the Rural Republican Caucus, according to the Kingsport paper.

State Rep. Joe McCord, R-Maryville, stood on the House floor on Thursday to announce he is forming a rural Republican Caucus with lawmakers who live in counties with a population of less than 175,000.

Williams would be eligible to join that caucus, and he wants to attend those meetings.

“He said I would be welcome to join that caucus,” Williams said of his conversation with McCord.

Two months later, Williams' election is still causing people to show their hands in this extended poker game. Democrats and Republicans are reevaluating their alliances both internally and between the two parties. The episode is revealing many clusters of leadership in the House. Some have painted this development as a bad thing, but I think it's too early to tell. If anything, we might be seeing more cooperation among the grand divisions of the state. And that appears to be increasing the backing for mega sites for business in each of the three areas. At least, that's what I've heard as I've listened to the speeches on the House floor. And yet, it's not turning into a rural vs. urban bloodbath either. Speaker Williams' trip to Memphis was a strong signal that there is openness to bridging the divide.

The Speaker may just get what he has wanted--independence:

"I think a lot of our members are beginning to see they don’t need to be told how to vote on issues. We’ve got Republicans with independent minds."

Early Voting in the 18th

Based on everything I've heard, the early voting turnout in District 18 is on the light side. When I was at the Election Commission this morning, the turnout was really low. John Ray Clemmons' campaign was represented along with David Glasgow's.

On Friday night several of us walked the neighborhood leaving information on early voting at houses on our routes. See below for a picture of the some of the members of the walk team wearing their snazzy shirts. Today the campaign held an early voting tail gate in the Election Commission parking lot.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Campfield's Don't Say Gay bill to be heard Wednesday

Rep. Stacey Campfield's (R-Knoxville) bill that would prohibit the furnishing of materials on sexuality other than heterosexuality will be heard in the House K-12 subcommittee on Wednesday.

The language of the fiscal note takes a little swipe at the bill pointing out, "Local education agencies teach what they consider to be 'age appropriate' topics, as based on the Department of Education’s
Healthful Living curriculum, which does not include homosexuality as a topic. No fiscal impact on state or local government."

It's really hard to know what is worse, bills desperately in search of ways to discriminate or the fact that we have a repressed curriculum.

Glasgow gets big boost from teachers as early voting begins

David Glasgow has announced that he has received the endorsement of MNEA's PAC as early voting begins today in the special election for the open District 18 Metro Council seat.

With his early lead in fundraising dollars as well as the number of local donors, this endorsement is another sign of an effective campaign.

Update: Michael Cass with the confirmation.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Memphis Commercial Appeal opposes Adoption Ban Bill

The Memphis Commerical Appeal has declared its opposition to the Adoption Ban Bill in the Tennessee General Assembly:
Couples who want to adopt in Tennessee are carefully screened to determine their ability to deal with a child's behavior. Their strengths are matched with the child's needs. A detailed study of their household includes medical and financial statements and references.

Whatever their motivations, politicians should not attempt to overrule the judgment of DCS professionals about who is fit to adopt and what is in the best interest of children in the care of the state.

There has never been a stampede to adopt children in Tennessee, especially minority children, children who are more than 8 years old and children with disabilities.

There are many important issues that will help determine children's future happiness, security and success. They need stable, caring, responsible parents with a good home.

Such parents can be found among married couples as well as those whose bonds are not formal but are stable and strong.

Another one joins the party

Out & About Newspaper has discovered that more than one candidate for Metro Council District 18 has voted Republican. Since it's a nonpartisan race, no one should care. But the City Paper apparently did care, or whoever was the source of their news tip cared enough to look at the voting records of David Glasgow.

Now my question is why didn't the City Paper look at the voting records of all the candidates and do a story about that like Out & About did? What exactly was behind that story?

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Anger in the GLBT rights movement

The Washington Blade has summarized some responses to this Equality California ad:

The reactions are basically that the ad is not angry enough. I actually think it's a great ad, although I suspect most straight people in Tennessee would consider it "in your face."

That's the tension. GLBT folks in Tennessee are angry about the demeaning, discriminatory bills we are facing in the Legislature. But if we show anger for even just a moment, we're suddenly the angry gays. As a minority group in a get-along/go-along culture, we have had to stay in a tight box of appearing gentle, reasonable, polite, perhaps even begging. If we stray out of that box, our words become completely eclipsed. I hazard to say that Jeff Woods at the Nashville Scene has expressed more direct outrage in print than any GLBT person in the state (in print) about these bills.

So rather than talk about human rights, we are forced to talk about fiscal notes because human rights sounds like something people talk about when Secretary of State Clinton visits China. How could we possibly have a human rights problem in Tennessee? How foolish sounding to spout off about human rights to state lawmakers! Right?

The sad thing is that we've internalized these checks on our language. We grew up around the same culture of Evangelicalism (even if we aren't Evangelicals) and neighborliness and hospitality that our straight counterparts did. We feel a strong social connection even to those who seek to deny us our rights. They are our family, friends, parishioners, and coworkers. We don't want to rock the boat.

The problem is...we didn't start rocking the boat. When you compare the number of positive bills to the number of discriminatory bills filed just about every year, it's pretty clear we're not the ones stirring the pot. So I suspect that as more hate crimes occur and if some of these bills pass, Tennessee is going to see a great deal more anger openly expressed. That doesn't mean that the professional mechanics of politics (lobbying, endorsing candidates, working the media, running for office, etc.) is going to be abandoned. It means that our opponents will have our anger to make them uncomfortable as well as our sexuality and our gender.

The tension will increase as federal GLBT rights bills pass. When we have full hate crimes protections and employment protections granted by the Congress, people will simply not understand when the Tennessee General Assembly entertains piss-ant bills that try to ban all mention of us in school curricula.

For the last 8 years, those of us in the GLBT rights movement in Tennessee have accommodated ourselves to a federalism that carves out specific prerogatives to the states, prerogatives that make us vulnerable to a wide variety of discriminatory attacks. But that day is passing away. GLBT people are either not going to understand or care that traditionally states have wide lattitude in family law and health and education policy. And as the role of the role of the federal government in the economy increases, the language of federalism will make less and less sense to everyone. It won't be that we have changed the debate. The terms will change and wash over us all. The issue is how we adapt to the change in discourse to claim our rights as American citizens right here in Tennessee. Expect a little shouting along the way.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Adoption ban bill in the news

Janell Ross of the Tennessean looks at the battle over SB 0078 that would prohibit anyone who is unmarried and cohabiting from adopting children:

If the bill were passed, the department estimates, children would probably spend an average of an additional 180 days — about six months — in state care, [Depart of Children's Service Executive Director of the office of child permanency Elizabeth] Black said.

As of the end of January, 7,184 children were in some type of state care or supervision.

Of those, 330 were available for adoption with no suitable family found. Some of these children have been in state custody for three or four years.

The Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth voted last week not to support the legislative effort to prohibit unmarried couples from adopting.

“We don’t live in an ideal world,” said Linda O’Neal, executive director of the commission.

“In some cases, having two committed adults who can provide financial and other types of stability, that situation may be better.”

Those are really the issues stated as concisely as possible. They summarize the wait for the child and the expense for the state. It's important to remember that the 180 days is an average. What that really means is that some children wait years and some never get adopted. When they become 18, they're pretty much on their own without much help or guidance.

Out & About Newspaper endorses Glasgow in the 18th

Out & About Newspaper has endorsed David Glasgow for the 18th District Metro Nashville Council seat in the upcoming election. Out & About surveyed all the candidates; three of them responded.

Early voting starts March 6.

TTPC statement on voter i.d. bills coming up in Senate committee

Statement from the Tennessee Transgender Political Coalition:

Seven Voter ID Bills to be Reviewed by State Senate Committee

This Tuesday, March 3, the State Senate State and Local Government Committee will hear seven bills which would make new requirements for Voter ID's in Tennessee. The Tennessee Transgender Political Coalition is opposed to any legislation which could lead to new requirements for changing gender markers which would present new challenges to transgender people who transition. This could lead to the disfranchisement of transgender voters in Tennessee.

The seven bills before the committee are:

SB0150 by Bill Ketron
SB1681 by Bill Ketron
SB0587 by Mae Beavers
SB0191 by Dewayne Bunch
SB0173 by Bill Ketron
SB0886 by Bill Ketron
SB0194 by Dewayne Bunch

Please contact members of the members of the State and Local Government Committee to express your concern about these bills and their potential negative impact on transgender voters:

Bill Ketron (R-Murfreesboro), Chair
Lowe Finney (D-Jackson), Vice Chair
Joe Haynes (D-Goodlettsville), Secretary
Tim Burchett (R-Knoxville)
Mike Faulk (R-Church Hill)
Thelma Harper (D-Nashville)
Mark Norris (R-Collierville)
Jim Tracy (R-Shelbyville)
Ken Yager (R-Harriman)

The State and Local Government Committee meets Tuesday, March 3, at 8:30 am, in Legislative Plaza, Room 12.

Marisa Richmond

Democrats "outgunned" in the Legislature

According to Andy Sher of the Times Free Press, 22 Republicans and 12 Democrats in the Legislature have permits to carry loaded handguns. That's a little over a quarter of the members. Holding a permit is not necessarily an indicator of one's position on the different gun bills in the Legislature this year:

“One of four has it? I’m really surprised,” said Rep. Naifeh. He noted he obtained his permit in part last year to demonstrate he was not anti-gun but largely “anti-gun in bars” when he blocked handgun-carry permit bills in a House subcommittee.

No local legislators have gun permits, according to a review of the Safety Department database. The handgun permit totals do not include as many as five other lawmakers eligible to carry guns as current or retired members of law enforcement.

While then-Speaker Naifeh blocked many of the bills in recent years, the issue has taken on new life with the election of a new House Speaker, Kent Williams of Elizabethton, a Republican-turned independent, who does not hold a permit, records show.