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.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Congratulations, Kristine LaLonde

The results are in, according to the City Paper. Kristine LaLonde has won the District 18 Metro Council seat by a vote of 672 to 476, beating Stephenie Dodson. LaLonde was endorsed by MNEA, labor groups, Women in Numbers, and TEP PAC.

I was working the poll at Eakin Elementary this morning and this afternoon through minor episodes of rain and a stream of people that was more parents and children than voters. Kristine's campaign clearly showed they know how to turn out their voters.

Congratulations to Kristine and to the people of District 18. You have elected a thoughtful, energetic Council Member. Everyone at TEP looks forward to working with you.

*Pictured above are Kristine LaLonde, Krissa Barclay, and Keith Merrill this morning at Eakin.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Congressman Cooper a cosponsor of federal hate crimes bill

A hat tip to Nancy VanReece for alerting us to the fact that Congressman Jim Cooper has signed on as a cosponsor to the federal hate crimes bill, H.R. 1913. He joins Congressman Steve Cohen on the bill. There are now 120 cosponsors. The number of supportive lawmakers and a president willing to sign the bill bode well for its passage. Anything can happen in the Senate, of course, but today's news about Sen. Specter should make passage even easier.

Hate crimes bill up on Wednesday

HB 0335 is up in the House Judiciary Committee as item 33 for Wednesday. Given all the new co-sponsors, it has a good shot. So far, all the negative bills are on the run. That, in itself, is a victory. But to be able to advance a hate crimes bill in this unusual session would be a real achievement. Thanks to everyone who has been writing to the members of the House Judiciary Committee.

Sen. Bunch not running "Don't Say Gay" bill

I just got word that Sen. Bunch is not running SB 1250 or the Don't Say Gay bill this afternoon in the Senate Education Committee. It is the companion bill to Rep. Campfield's HB 0821. What may have happened is that Sen. Bunch put all his bills on notice just to make sure he could get to any of them he needed to. But in this particular case, since the House bill has been sent to the Board of Education for study until March 2010, it doesn't make sense to run it in the Senate right now. Another day of good news if this proves to be true!

Monday, April 27, 2009

More support for the hate crimes bill

In an email to members, the Tennessee Transgender Political Coalition has announced more support for HB 0335:

We also wish to thank the additional co-sponsors who have signed onto the bill since it passed in subcommittee on Wednesday:

Sherry Jones (D-Antioch)
Mark Maddox (D-Dresden), House Democratic Whip
David Shepard (D-Dickson)
Mike Kernell (D-Memphis)
Janis Sontany (D-Nashville), Secretary, Judiciary Committee
MIke Turner (D-Old Hickory), House Democratic Caucus Chair
Gary Odom (D-Nashville), House Democratic Leader
Kent Coleman (D-Murfreesboro), Chair, Judiciary Committee
Joe Pitts (D-Clarksville)
Joe Armstrong (D-Knoxville), Chair, Health & Human Resources Committee

Furthermore, on Thursday, the Nashville chapter of the NAACP voted unanimously to endorse HB0335, and ask all of its members to support this legislation. We greatly appreciate their action as well.

The bill will be heard on Wednesday in the full House Judiciary Committee.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

House passes bullying bill

SB 0283/HB 0451 passed in House today by a vote of 90 to 2. It had previously passed 33 to 0 in the Senate. The bill requires local school districts to include certain criteria in their bullying policies. It's an advance in policy to protect our state's children from bullying at school. Congratulations and thanks to Rep. Bill Dunn (R-Knoxville) for advancing the bill in the House.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Congressman Cohen Co-Sponsoring the Hate Crimes Bill in US House

I received two e-mails today about the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act (H.R. 1913 ) that is up for a vote by the Judiciary Committee in the U.S. House of Representatives this week in Washington, D.C.

The first message was from David Fowler of Family Action of Tennessee* who encouraged me to send a message to my Congressman to tell him that I oppose H.R. 1913. Fowler is telling everyone who will listen that H.R. 1913 will send pastors who preach against homosexuality to jail (a terrible lie).

After grumbling at my inbox for a few minutes, I received a second message about the Federal Hate Crimes Bill from my Congressman, Steve Cohen of the 9th District, who wrote to reply to my recent inquiry to him:
Thank you for taking the time to share your views about H.R. 1913, the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act. I have heard from hundreds of constituents about the bill and they expressed a variety of viewpoints. I am pleased to share that I have proudly added my name to the long list of co-sponsors.

In Tennessee, I co-sponsored the Tennessee Hate Crimes Bill and I helped pass a civil rights law disallowing state funding for any group that discriminates. I oppose unjust discrimination and I believe that each and every one of us has the right to live with equal protection under the law. I am eager to see H.R. 1913 signed into law and I thank you for your support.
The second e-mail made me much happier. So, no thanks, Mr. Fowler. My Congressman has already received the right message.

*Did anyone realize that the shortened acronym for Family Action of Tennessee is FAT? Well, this citizen is going FAT-free.

TN hate crimes bill advances to full committee

HB 0335 has passed its first test in the Criminal Practice and Procedure subcommittee and will now move to the full House Judiciary Committee next week. I stopped by Legislative Plaza today and waited as the calendar got juggled. About 15 minutes after I left, the bill came up and I watched online as Rep. Jeanne Richardson got up, introduced the bill, followed by a quick and favorable vote. This is a small but solid victory for a great bill. Even an issue that has trouble gaining traction can move if the preparation is right and it certainly was today.

A big thanks to Rep. Jeanne Richardson for taking on the issue of hate crimes. I'm looking forward to more discussion of the issue in the coming weeks.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Big day for federal and state hate crimes laws

Wednesday marks a watershed for hate crimes policy at the federal and state level:

Tomorrow, the House Judiciary Committee will mark up the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act (LLEHCPA), also known as the Matthew Shepard Act. The bill would give the Justice Department the power to investigate and prosecute bias-motivated violence by providing the department with jurisdiction over crimes of violence where the victim is chosen because of the person's actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability.

Tennessee's own Congressman Steve Cohen is a member of the House Judiciary Committee that will work on the bill. The Human Rights Campaign has put together an action alert on the federal bill and this video featuring Judy Shepard, mother of Matthew Shepard, whose murder ten years ago helped change the debate about hate crimes in America:

As we noted in a previous post, the Tennessee House Criminal Practice Subcommittee will consider HB 0335, which would add gender identity and expression to Tennessee's hate crimes statute as sentencing enhancement factors, as advocated by the Tennessee Transgender Political Coalition. Click here for TEP's action alert on the bill to contact the members of this subcommittee.

Whatever happens with the federal and the state bills this week, the movement to pass these protections and to provide resources for tackling hate crimes is growing. The violence that besets the GLBT community, once so casually dismissed without having to require serious justification, is out in the open. Its justifying discourses are in shambles. Now all that's left is to fill the space with sound policy. I hope 2009 is the year that happens.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

TN Hate Crimes bill on notice this coming week

The Tennessee Transgender Political Coalition announces that HB 0335 by Rep. Jeanne Richardson (D-Memphis) will be heard on April 22 in the House Criminal Practice subcommittee. The bill adds gender identity or expression as a sentencing enhancement factor to Tennessee's hate crimes statute that currently includes sexual orientation. Additionally, TTPC announces that Rep. Brenda Gilmore (D-Nashville) and Rep. Larry Turner (D-Memphis) have signed on as co-sponsors.

The Tennessee Equality Project supports TTPC's efforts in advancing this bill. We have made the case many times for hate crimes legislation on this blog. We wish to remind everyone in this tight budget year in Tennessee that the fiscal impact of this bill has been assessed as minimal, which removes one of the chief objections. As we have said before, the main objections will now be ideological. But we hope that increasing numbers of legislators can put aside ideology and realize that there are real victims in Tennessee who deserve these protections. In particular, we should mention Duanna Johnson, who was beaten and verbally abused when she was taken into custody in Memphis and then later brutally murdered.

This bill, no matter how far it gets in the legislative process, is drawing attention to a serious problem that requires additional focus. It's time to protect all our state's citizens from acts of violence. When particular populations are at risk, public policy must address the problem.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Sounds familiar: GA Equality reflects on end of legislative session

Southern Voice has the story.

Georgia Equality’s two highest priorities — moving a hate crimes bill forward and stiffening anti-bullying protections — didn’t garner committee hearings this year, but Jeff Graham, the group’s executive director, is alright [sic] with the final outcome.

“Of course I’m frustrated that it is so difficult to move proactive legislation… but given the attacks on LGBT partner recognition and parental rights in other states, I am pleased that did not happen here,” Graham said.

State Rep. Karla Drenner (D-Avondale Estates), the state’s only openly gay lawmaker in the General Assembly, said gays have to look for small victories.

“It’s the subtle victories that we have,” Drenner said. “I wouldn’t look for a lot of bills to pass.”

Yes, that sounds familiar. While much of the rest of the country is looking at marriage, civil unions, and even municipal partner registries, those of us in the South feel lucky to keep negative legislation at bay. The attacks make news more often than the "subtle victories." But these small steps forward are exactly how we buy time until either the State's political views change or until federal victories that apply to us can be achieved. Either way, an incredible amount of time, energy, and money are spent on playing defense and it's a worthwhile effort.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Where is the love for Sen. Black and Rep. Dunn's bullying bill?

Jonathan posted earlier today about a horrible bullying incident in Massachusetts that led to the suicide of a child. He connected such incidents to the encouraging legislation sponsored by Sen. Diane Black and Rep. Bill Dunn to make school bullying policies consistent and effective.

While I'm not going to pretend that we've always agreed with these legislators, I have to say that we have praised their work for this bill in our emails and on this blog. But what strikes me is that I am completely missing any praise for this legislation on the right. I readily admit my research has not been as thorough as it should be. I'm glad conservatives are moving this legislation, but where are the public conservative voices backing it?

This issue is not merely one of sentiment. It hits issues of student attendance and performance as well as the health and well being of children. And if you don't like looking at issues from the "It's for the children" point of view, consider this. There is a huge liability issue. Local school systems don't have the money to defend bullying lawsuits.

Now I'm going to go down memory lane for a minute. If you grew up in the 70s and 80s as I did, you probably remember those goofy after-school specials that dealt with issues like bullying. Do you remember how they went? The whole drama of a bullied child wanting to learn to defend him- or herself and then sappy lessons about how to diffuse the conflict and make friends, sprinkled with a bit about the bully often not having self-esteem. Why did it take us so long to figure out that school officials ought to step in and make schools safe for children? Why did we not realize sooner that the damage done by bullying is the result of a lack of leadership by adults in authority?

The fact that progressives and conservatives can agree on this legislation says a lot for how far we've come on this issue in just a few years. But it would be good to see some public backing for this bill on the right. It ought to be touted as a conservative achievement.

Holigay Roundup: Obama to Dolly

There has been some buzz about a couple of President Obama's holiday activities. One is the first Passover seder in the White House. The Week mentions the speculation that it is designed to soften the blow to Jewish groups of the President having just been in Turkey and all the talk of engaging the Muslim world. My question is why are we just now having the first one in 2009? Many Christians of all varieties have been participating in seders for a long time. As long as that participation is respectful and not a sort of commandeering of another faith, it's a good way to connect with a people's defining experiences. It also acknowledges the long and rich history of people who have shaped the country. Others can sort out the public relations motivations, but the short of it for me is, it's about time.

The other event is the annual White House Easter Egg Roll. The administration has set aside some tickets for GLBT families for the event. Like the seder, it's an appropriate acknowledgment of who counts as an American family. The policy debates go on and the disagreements about the stimulus continue, but that is precisely when we need some symbolic politics to send a unifying message.

Finally, in a nod to a friend who posted this on his Facebook page, what better way to acknowledge Good Friday and Easter than a video of Tennessee's own favorite gay icon (No, she's not gay, but a lot of her fans are) singing He's Alive:

GLSEN report on gay-bullying victim

The Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) reports that an 11-Year-Old Massachusetts boy hung himself after enduring daily anti-gay bullying in school. Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover is at least the fourth suicide of a middle-school aged child linked to bullying this year.

Despite the fact that younger generations are more tolerant of their GLBT brothers and sisters, students still harrass and bully peers who do not fit within perceived gender or sexual norms. This happens regardless of whether someone is gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. Without support from school teachers and adminstration, students have few options in avoiding such harrassment. Two Memphis students were "outed"to parents and peers last year at Hollis F. Price High School when their names were posted as a couple on a list in the Principal's Office. Luckily, neither student experienced the same fate as Carl.

Let's do our part to ensure strong anti-bullying policies in Tennessee schools. Rep. Bill Dunn (R-Knoxville) and Senator Diane Black (R-Gallatin) are sponsoring bills (HB0451/SB0283) that require, rather than encourage, school districts to include certain criteria in policies prohibiting harassment, intimidation, or bullying. TEP SUPPORTS THIS LEGISLATION. The Senate has passed its version of the bill and the House is still considering their version. In memory of Carl, contact your House representative to let him or her know that you support this bill.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

TEP PAC to host reception for Kristine LaLonde at home of David Glasgow

From the invitation from TEP PAC chair Jenny Ford:

You're invited to a reception for Metro Council District 18 candidate Kristine LaLonde on April 14 at the home of David Glasgow and Van Pond. The event takes place at 1802 Primrose Avenue. Stop by between 7:00 and 8:00 to meet Kristine and enjoy light refreshments. TEP PAC has endorsed Kristine in the runoff election because of her longstanding commitment to working for equality. We believe that she will be an effective advocate for all the residents of the 18th District. We are grateful to former Metro Council candidate and TEP PAC endorsee David Glasgow and his partner Van Pond for opening their home for this event to provide an opportunity for more members to meet this candidate.

Monday, April 6, 2009

TEP PAC endorses Kristine LaLonde in 18th District Metro Council runoff

TEP PAC has endorsed Kristine LaLonde for the Metro Council District 18 runoff. A fuller statement on the endorsement will be going out in the next day. In our previous endorsement, TEP PAC noted her longstanding commitment to and work for equality. We look forward to working with Kristine in the days ahead.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

More Iowa reaction: penal colonies and cow rights

And so the conversation turned
Until the sun went down
And many fantasies were learned
On that day

Human League, Fascination

It never fails. Whenever there is a major decision on GLBT rights, we learn the most outlandish fantasies of some of our opponents. Here's a lovely reaction to the Associated Press piece that appeared in the Tennessean:

Now that there are 3 states, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Iowa, that should be enough to take care of all the abnormal gay people. Since there are 47 states who realize how this will decay our society, why don't all of you who have this lifestyle move to one of those states. That way you would be happy and those of us who do not want you here would be also. It would be somewhat like a penal colony. That way you could openly practice your sick lifestyle and no one would notice or even care.
I am not surprised at the 2 Northeastern states but am very surprised at Iowa. Since that state is loaded with cattle, wonder what the courts will do the first time a farmer falls in love with one of his cows and wants to marry her. After all, it is a living, breathing animal and should not be discriminated againist. Cows should have rights too.

Wow! A whole three penal colonies for gay people. Our own private Australia times three! Here the extreme right meets the extreme left who wonder why GLBT people stay in states like Tennessee. Ugh.

In the next argument we find animal husbandry gone awry. I tell you what, buddy, when there's a powerful lobby for bestiality and when cattle can consent, then we might have something to worry about.

Leaving aside the craziness on both sides, Family Action's David Fowler gives a more typical conservative reaction to the events in Iowa.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Fightin' Friday Music: Remembering King in Memphis

In grateful tribute to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who gave his life on April 4, 1968 in Memphis, Tennessee for the cause of civil rights.

The Iowa Supreme Court decision and religious views on marriage

In a unanimous decision today, the Iowa Supreme Court held that the Iowa statute limiting civil marriage to a union between a man and a woman violates the equal protection clause of the Iowa Constitution. The court's opinion is worth reading, but I was particularly interested in the court's position on religious opposition to marriage:
In the final analysis, we give respect to the views of all Iowans on the issue of same-sex marriage—religious or otherwise—by giving respect to our constitutional principles. These principles require that the state recognize both opposite-sex and same-sex civil marriage. Religious doctrine and views contrary to this principle of law are unaffected, and people can continue to associate with the religion that best reflects their views. A religious denomination can still define marriage as a union between a man and a woman, and a marriage ceremony performed by a minister, priest, rabbi, or other person ordained or designated as a leader of the person’s religious faith does not lose its meaning as a sacrament or other religious institution. The sanctity of all religious marriages celebrated in the future will have the same meaning as those celebrated in the past. The only difference is civil marriage will now take on a new meaning that reflects a more complete understanding of equal protection of the law. This result is what our constitution requires.

My hope is that our country is returning to a place where religious pluralism is allowed to flourish without the interference of the state adopting any particular religious point of view. The historic separation of Church and State is exactly why faith and religious life has thrived in the United States since our nation was founded. The return to this founding principle allows all people freedom to hold any religious belief. The decision to allow all dual- and same-sex couples access to civil marriage will not force any church or religious institution to bless a union it does not recognize.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Constitution makes an appearance in House debates

In Thursday morning's House debate on HB 0082, which would expand the gun authorization of judges, Rep. Susan Lynn gave an interesting and even eloquent argument about the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment in opposition to Rep. Fincher's amendment to the bill that would allow legislators the same privileges.

I knew she was a fan of the Tenth Amendment, but I admit every time she or someone else brought it up, I found myself asking aloud, "What about the Fourteenth?" She knows it well and made good use of it on the floor. Obviously, I'd like to see much more extensive use made of the Fourteenth Amendment with respect to some other legislation being considered this session. But I have to give her props.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Quote of the day: "We're not married, actually. We're a legal corporation, though."

From the Nashville Scene's interview with Augusten Burroughs:

Tennessee is unfortunately one of the many states where gay people are not allowed to marry the person we love, but you're lucky enough to live in Massachusetts. Are you and Dennis married, and if not, any plans?

We're not married, actually. We're a legal corporation, though. That's close. But we're not married and there really is no good reason for this; we've been together nine years and we both wear rings as if we were married. And I am sure that at some point we will actually formalize our union. But I am very proud that once again, Massachusetts has made a bold and controversial move to assure the freedom of every American citizen, regardless of sexual orientation.