Grand Divisions

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

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Nevada partnership recognition: GLBT rights moving inland

Overriding a veto by the Governor, the Nevada legislature has passed a domestic partnership bill.

The bill provides that domestic partners have the same rights as married couples in matters such as community property and responsibility for debts. It also prohibits discrimination against domestic partners.

We've already noted that a civil unions bill has a good chance in Illinois. Although it's not marriage, the Nevada legislation is an exciting development. It will immediately help couples trying to gain basic protections and it was passed by a significant majority in the Legislature. It also shows that these discussions are becoming inevitable, not merely at the cultural level, but at the policy level in more and more states.

Video of today's Shelby County Unity Rally

Here's a link to the Commercial Appeal story that goes with the video. Among the speakers was State Sen. Beverly Marrero:

Sen. Beverly Marrero said as a Memphian, she had seen discrimination her entire life.

“I promise you, what I believe in, I will always believe in and stand up for what I know to be the right thing,” she said.

Shelby County Unity Rally inspires crowd

A crowd of approximately 500 gathered at the First Congregational Church in Memphis today for a Unity Rally in support of the proposed non-discrimination ordinance that will come before the full Shelby County Commission tomorrow. The event featured religious leaders, activists, Civil Rights veterans, politicians, and engaged citizens.

We tried to capture all the Tweets of those who were on the scene here so you can get a play by play. Many thanks to former TEP Shelby County committee chair Tommy Simmons for his reporting including the picture at the right.

Pentecost in Shelby County

...there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Acts 2:2 (NRSV)

The Feast of Pentecost comes to Memphis today just as it arrives in every part of the world using the Western Church's calendar. Making Pentecost a little different this year is that it comes on the eve of a critical vote of the Shelby County Commission on the non-discrimination ordinance.

A diverse congregation is gathering today at First Congregational Church to find the strength for tomorrow's fight:

Hundreds of people from local religious, gay rights, political and business communities will urge Shelby County commissioners to vote in favor of the ordinance Monday, organizers said at a press conference Saturday.

The rally will start at 1 p.m. on the front steps of First Congregational Church at 1000 S. Cooper.

Just as Pentecost is sometimes called the birthday of the Church, today's rally is not the end, but the beginning of a new coalition that will fight for equality regardless of the outcome of tomorrow's vote. If last week's General Government committee discussion and vote is any indication, a violent wind will shake the entire house tomorrow as the full Shelby County Commission meets to deliberate.

Let the debate rage and the tongues of fire descend!

Friday, May 29, 2009

Did you come here to play Jesus to the lepers in your head?

David Fowler finally discovers the Shelby County non-discrimination ordinance and sounds the alarm in an email blast today, while offering his flock a strategy for dealing with "sinners."

We urge you to be present at the County Commission meeting on Monday, June 1, and let your voice be heard. The meeting is scheduled for 1:30pm, on the 1st floor of the County Building, 160 N. Main.

Come a bit early if at all possible as the gay/lesbian advocacy group will certainly be encouraging its members to be present as well. As always, we should conduct ourselves in a peaceful, Christ-honoring manner. As Jesus encountered sinners, he confronted their sin, but always demonstrated love and mercy toward the individual.

David Fowler, President
Family Action Council of Tennessee

David, the l0ve we're looking for from you is to stop getting in the way every time we try to claim our rights as Americans--the same rights that you enjoy.

Audio Archive of First Reading of the Shelby County Non-Discrimination Ordinance

The audio from the May 27th meeting of the General Government Committee of the Shelby County Commission is now available online. Click on the "Audio" link for "Committee Agendas - 05/27/09." Select agenda item #2 on the "Jump To" drop down menu to advance to the discussion of the Non-Discrimination Ordinance.

Why I am not afraid about Monday’s vote

I must admit it. I must tell you that since this struggle with the Non-Discrimination Ordinance began a few weeks ago, I haven’t gotten much sleep. On the nights I do make it to bed at a reasonable hour, I wake up in the middle of the night thinking of unfinished tasks, phone calls that need to be made, messages that need to be sent and the laundry that’s piling up while I’m working on this ordinance (thanks Paul).

These sleepless nights do affect me, but not in entirely adverse ways. I write this in one of those sleepless nights thinking about what needs to be done again. But I am not anxious. I am not worried about whether we get the seven votes we need at Monday’s Commission meeting.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m in this to win. There’s no citizen in this county that wants to see fairness in Shelby County more than me.

But I have realized something really profound lately that is not dependent on the voting outcome at the first, second or third County Commission meeting that is to come. In this work, I’ve had the great privilege to work with friends and make new ones who have stepped forward to help make our community and our government responsive to the needs of its citizens. This work has not been without struggle. We have all heard and endured misguided and hurtful rhetoric.

We’ve heard it before from a very early age. We can all remember sleepless nights wondering if we would ever see the light of day in our lives because we are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender.

My sleepless nights remind me of a story that has always given me strength when faced with adversity – a powerful story that has always had a tremendous meaning to me personally. I love the story in Genesis of Jacob wrestling with an angel in the night. You probably know it. He goes to sleep the night before crossing the River Jordan to meet his brother Esau whom he thinks must be really pissed at him. Much earlier in the story, Jacob tricked his father Isaac into giving him his blessing instead of Esau. Jacob had to flee his home in fear of death at the hands of his brother.

But Jacob comes back a new man and with a new family hoping to return to his native land. As he approaches his home, he is filled with anxiety. He knows that his brother waits for him on the other side of the River Jordan. He sends his family ahead of him along with messengers to his brother to warn that he is returning home. During the night, Jacob wrestles with a man assumed to be God or at least an angel. Jacob could not be overpowered and would not let the man go until he blessed him just before daybreak.

After receiving his blessing, Jacob meets the sunrise in a new day and crosses the river Jordan where his brother Esau greets him with open arms.

We are like plucky Jacob wresting in the night hoping and waiting for safe passage into promised and sacred land. We wait for a blessing of a different kind. We wait for the recognition from our community that we belong. We wait to be greeted with open arms by our brothers and sisters and to be told that there is room enough at the table for us all.

Our night may not be over when Monday’s vote comes. We may still have more wrestling to finish in the night. But it is a struggle worth having. There is no blessing without struggle. And the struggle is not just for us, but for our families and our community. What we seek is reconciliation. What we seek is a blessing that benefits us and everyone.

We are a community in transformation. The conversation that we have started will not end with the vote on Monday - regardless of the outcome.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Hate crime report alarming

A hat tip to Mr. Kleinheider for making us aware of the TBI's 2008 Hate Crime Report.

As we have noted before, this document does not include bias offenses based on gender identity or expression. So the Duanna Johnson case is likely not included in the figures, but the report does include crimes based on "sexual bias."

The reports findings are truly disturbing. In 2006 and 2007, there were 54 sexual bias hate crimes. In 2008 that number jumped to 61, which is an increase of 13%. 25 of the incidents were directed at gay men, 15 directed at lesbians, 18 directed at gays and lesbians (perhaps an attack on a group of people), 1 directed at a straight person, and 2 directed at bisexual persons (p. 5). The victims of sexual bias crimes were young in 2008. 20 of them were between the ages of 18 and 24. 26 of the incidents occurred on a Friday or a Saturday, which makes me think attacks at bars make up a large part of the number.

In 2008 hate crimes took place against gays and lesbians in the following jurisdictions: Anderson County, Cleveland, Collierville, Covington, Dickson, Elizabethton, Franklin, Gordonsville, Hamilton County, Humboldt, Huntland, Johnson City, Knoxville, Lawrenceburg, Memphis, Milan, Millington, Morristown, Oak Ridge, Red Bank, Shelby County, Soddy Daisy, Sparta, Vanderbilt University, Warren County, and Washington County (p. 17).

Not only is this problem clearly on the rise in Tennessee, but it affects rural and urban areas in all three Grand Divisions of our State. Passing the Matthew Shepard Act at the federal level and Rep. Jeanne Richardson and Sen. Beverly Marrero's bill at the state level would help increase the safety of more people in Tennessee.

It's a Girl!

Commissioner Wyatt and Meredith Bunker just had a baby girl. Commissioner Bunker and I do not share many views in common. But on this we can agree: the birth of a child is wonderful blessing.

Let's offer sincere well wishes to the family. Send a note of congratulations to

Let's hope that she grows up in an inclusive Shelby County.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

More faux outrage about sex in Pork Report

The Tennessee Center for Policy Research's Pork Report is out again. I won't deny that they provide a valuable service in scrutinizing state spending at a time when we don't have much money. As I pointed out last year, they seem to have developed a bad habit of trying to whip people into a frenzy about sex in the arts. Page 9 of this year's report delivers more of the same. One heading reads "Tax Dollars for Dirty Movies."

They point out: "In 2009, the Tennessee Art Commission handed $29,040 in tax money to subsidize the Nashville Film Festival. Some of that money went to support films many taxpayers will never see and, in fact, would find highly objectionable."

Based on the testimony of guests and the comments of some members of the Shelby County Commission today, it's pretty obvious that we have a long way to go in being able to discuss issues of sexuality with great openness. Some people seem to revel in finding anything "objectionable."

We'd love to see the TCPR do a study on what science-based sex education would do for the teen pregnancy rate and sexually transmitted disease rate in Tennessee. Who knows what kind of money that might save? Thrift is a great Puritan virtue, repression a Puritan vice.

Shelby County ordinance takes a hit, will stand again on Monday

The Shelby County non-discrimination ordinance had its first reading today in the General Government committee of the Shelby County Commission. The discussion of the ordinance lasted two hours and was contentious. At first, it appeared there would be no discussion, but a motion for the previous question early in the meeting was ruled out of order, which meant that discussion had to proceed. We managed to provide updates on Twitter for most of the discussion.

There was a motion to amend the ordinance to cover only County government employees and the motion passed. The motion on the amended ordinance was 5 for, 5 against, and 2 abstaining, which amounts to an unfavorable recommendation from the committee. Nevertheless, the full Commission will consider the ordinance during their meeting on Monday at 1:30, as the Commercial Appeal reports today.

A lot of the opposition argument hinges on the false notion that one's sexual orientation is a choice and a bad choice at that. It's simply preposterous to assert that one chooses to which sex one is attracted. Even the old and un-p.c. phrase "sexual preference" gave a nod to the fact that it's not a choice. Now the key term among the opposition is "lifestyle." I've known hundreds of people in the GLBT community and I couldn't begin to tell you what the typical lifestyle is for this diverse group. We are part of every racial and ethnic group, every faith tradition, every socio-economic background, and we live in every part of the world. Lifestyle doesn't fit, but our opponents use it because they want to focus on "behaviors." The only behaviors that are relevant in the discussion of a non-discrimination ordinance are job performance and whether hiring, promoting, and firing based on these factors is rational. There is no evidence that sexual orientation or gender identity affects job performance.

Many of the comments in the debate show a profound misunderstanding and fear and, hence, illustrate the need for the ordinance. The socially conservative religious community has shown its muscle and put a big dent in the momentum for the ordinance. But the email traffic, I'm told, is overwhelmingly in favor of the ordinance. We are hopeful that we can move a couple of votes between now and Monday. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Video of today's NDO confrontation in Shelby County

Link to the Commerical Appeal piece.

Steven Turner campaign kicks off

Steven Turner kicked off his campaign for the TN House 58th District tonight at the Werthan Mills Lofts. It was a nice evening for it as the rain held off, at least while I was there. The crowd was a mixture of people from the district, young Democrats, and progressive activists and bloggers. It was great to meet Ilissa Gold, as I have admired her work for the last couple of years. The California Prop 8 decision was on the minds of more than a few folks and we got to chat about that as well as events in Shelby County today.

As might be expected, everyone attending was enthusiastic about Turner's campaign. I think he'll have a strong volunteer base from which to draw. He's been out knocking on doors and meeting the people of the district. Facing a long-term incumbent is always tough, but he has made a strong start.

*Note: TEP PAC has not made an endorsement in the race. The race is interesting because so far it's one of the few that we know will be contested in Davidson County.

First reading of Shelby Co ordinance tomorrow

More thanks to Jonathan Cole for providing additional information about the Shelby County non-discrimination ordinance. The first reading is tomorrow in the Shelby County Commission's General Government committee. It's the second item on the agenda for the 9:15 a.m. meeting.

The TEP Shelby County Committee has put together this list of questions and answers regarding the ordinance.

Monday, May 25, 2009

The rhetoric of opposition to the Shelby County ordinance

A hat tip to Jonathan Cole for making us aware of the video at this link that discusses some ministers who oppose the Shelby County non-discrimination ordinance. The minister in the piece says that he didn't march "one inch" for this ordinance during the Civil Rights Movement. Maybe not, but a gay man, Bayard Rustin, organized some of the most important marches of the Civil Rights Movement.

The GLBT rights movement and the Civil Rights Movement have many important differences. But we must not forget when a minister speaks out against GLBT rights that people of faith and people of all races are part of our movement. It is not a question of THE Church vs. the GLBT community. As always, a closer look reveals that religion of a certain kind is being used to oppose the rights of a minority. Ironically, many of the people who would benefit from the ordinance are GLBT African-American Christians. The devisive rhetoric obscures this fact.

Civil unions inching closer to TN, geographically, that is

No, we won't see the General Assembly pass provisions for civil unions this year. But they may be coming a little bit closer to our state if they pass in Illinois. According to the Washington Blade, that may happen. If Illinois adopts civil unions, it brings real relationship recognition closer to Tennessee than it has ever been. No longer just a phenomenon for New England and the Pacific coast, marriage in Iowa and civil unions in Illinois will mean that more and more states will soon border a state that is dealing constructively with same-sex relationships. While Tennessee doesn't border Illinois, both states border Missouri and Kentucky. We're pretty close on the map.

The near-term result we're likely to see is a proposal to ban civil unions and domestic partnerships in Tennessee, as we expected this year. There has even been some affirmative talk about civil unions among gubernatorial candidates. Calvin Rye talked with Democrats Ward Cammack and Kim McMillan about the possibility. Matthew Hurtt reported earlier that Republican candidate Bill Gibbons is not altogether opposed to recognizing contractual agreements between partners. I have tried to be careful not to mischaracterize Matthew's take on this point, but may have missed the nuance.

Taken together, all these factors may make 2010 a big year for debating same-sex relationships in Tennessee. I'm looking forward to the debate, but I'm dreading the bills that will be filed in the Legislature.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

No TN sponsors of DC anti-marriage equality bills YET

The city council of Washington, D.C. recently voted to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other jurisdictions. That decision is in jeopardy with the introduction of legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives, according to the Human Rights Campaign.

So I looked up H.R. 2608 fully expecting to see at least one Tennessee member of Congress listed as a cosponsor. No dice. Maybe they haven't heard about the bill. Maybe they haven't been approached. Maybe they don't care. Maybe some of them see it as a home rule issue and are avoiding it on principle. I'd like to think it's the last of those four, but I'm not holding my breath. Still, it was a pleasant Memorial Day weekend surprise.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Inside Story: Council Member Spends Days, Nights in Detroit

And the news from Metro Council seems to be getting worse.

I missed this story that aired on April 27. Pam Murray can't represent her district very well while spending time working a full time job in another city...or can she?

regardless, it's pretty bold.....and now we find out that she hasn't been a good steward of paying her property taxes, and then her company ends up paying them.

Channel 5 Catches Metro Council Members Not Paying Property Taxes

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In a great example of local investigative reporting, Channel 5's Phil Williams finds out that four Metro Council members are slow (or have not paid) their property taxes.

Read the story here

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Free Screening of the film ASK NOT

Community Cinema in Nashville: Ask Not by Johnny Symons
Wednesday - May 20
Location: Conference Center at The downtown Nashville Public Library on Church Street

Ask Not This documentary by Johnny Symons explores the tangled political battles that led to the infamous "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy of the U.S. military, and reveals the personal stories of gay Americans who serve in combat under a veil of secrecy.

Join us for refreshments at 5:15, followed by the screening at 6:00 p.m.
Co-production of ITVS and NPT.

Reception at 5:15-films begins at 6:00.

To secure a seat for the FREE screening, please RSVP to

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Congratulations to TEP's new officers

Today at our annual meeting, the new board of the Tennessee Equality Project elected our officers whose terms will begin July 1.

I will continue to serve as chairman with a focus on state policy and our work toward a Metro non-discrimination ordinance.

H.G. Stovall, formerly membership chair, has been elected president and will direct the statewide effort to build support for all aspects of our lobbying efforts.

Stephen Henry will continue as vice president and continue to have an important role in policy around education issues as well as board development.

Wes Aull, CPA of Rowan Financial, will serve as treasurer.

Jonathan Cole, chair of our Shelby County Committee, will serve as secretary.

LaToya Belgrave, vice chair of our Shelby County Committee, will serve as the at-large board member on our executive committee.

It's a very strong executive team with substantial talents and the election acknowledges the significant role that Shelby County plays in our statewide efforts.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Bearing false witness watch

The anti-GLBT organization, Exodus International, joined the "Illinois Family Institute" today in disavowing its previous misuse of the definition for sexual orientation. But the "Memphis City Churches" continues to misuse the DSM IV to claim that there are 30 sexual orientations in their attack of the Shelby County Non-Discrimination Ordinance.

How sad.

By my count, "Memphis City Churches" has been bearing false witness for 3 days.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Mayor Karl Dean receives CABLE Power of Inclusion award

Today at the CABLE Nashville luncheon, Mayor Karl Dean received the Individual Award for the Power of Inclusion. Other nominees included Carol Etherington, Marcy Johnson, and John Seigenthaler. The speaker for the event was Maria Echaveste, former White House Deputy Chief of Staff in the second Clinton administration. TEP was glad to contribute material for the nomination of the Mayor for the award for his inclusive approach to Nashville's GLBT community. Congratulations, Mayor Dean.

Waiting for retraction from Memphis City Churches

A group calling themselves Memphis City Churches has adopted the strategy of distorting the definition of sexual orientation to malign attempts to pass a Shelby County Non-Discrimination Ordinance.

However, one of the many organizations who have used this strategy to oppose GLBT friendly legislation in other parts of the country has apologized for their malicious error.

The confession booth is open.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

A refresher course on the Ten Commandments needed for some Shelby Co Churches

Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor. Lord, have mercy upon us, and incline our hearts to keep this law.
(The Decalogue preceding Rite I of the Holy Eucharist, Book of Common Prayer)

Take a look. Some Churches are complaining about the addition of sexual orientation to Shelby County's nondiscrimination ordinance. They cite a whole list of what sexual orientation means. The problem is that the ordinance also defines what it means by sexual orientation:

Sexual Orientation means a person’s real or perceived sexual preference (i.e.
heterosexuality, homosexuality, or bisexuality).

Oops. You're busted. You're lying in public to a lot of people about a lot of people.

Perhaps someone can minister to this coalition, provide them with copies of the Ten Commandments, and call them to repentance.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Hate crimes bill in Senate Judiciary on Tuesday

SB 0253, the companion bill to HB 0335, is up for consideration in the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday. As we have noted many times, the bill would add gender identity and expression as sentencing enhancement factors to our state's hate crimes statute.

The bearing false witness campaign against the bill continues. Despite what opponents are saying, the bill does not restrict speech, thought, or religion. The current hate crimes law already includes sexual orientation and not one church or pastor has been prosecuted under it for preaching against the GLBT community. So how is it that adding another sentencing enhancement factor is going to lead to problems for churches? It won't. The whole campaign is a lie designed to cover the real opposition to the bill, which stems from the belief that some people shouldn't be protected. I'm not lumping in that group some libertarians who simply believe that such laws are not needed. But they don't go around making up lies about the bill. So that's another matter entirely.

If you would like to contact the Senate Judiciary Committee about the bill, you can do so here.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Let's do our part for fairness and equality in Shelby County

The Shelby County Commission is currently considering adding sexual orientation and gender identity to its non-discrmination ordinance.

We need your help to ensure that this historic and powerful measure passes.While action on the legislation will be deferred for three weeks, the Tennessee Equality Project (TEP) and MGLCC have set a goal of collecting and sending 250 handwritten letters expressing support for the Non-Discrimination Ordinance to the Shelby County Board of Commissioners.

TEP and MGLCC invite you to become an active participant in the NDO Campaign with a kickoff that begins on Sunday, May 10, at 2 p.m. when you can learn how to advocate effectively for the NDO at upcoming Commission hearings.

Come by MGLCC at 892 South Cooper at the following times to write or drop off a personal letter to send to your Commissioners. Every single letter can make an impact.

Sunday May 10, 2:00-6:00 pm
Monday May 11 - Friday May 15, 6:00-9:00pm
Saturday/Sunday May 16/17, 2:00-6:00pm

Letter-writing materials and talking points will be provided at MGLCC for those who want to write personal letters to their Commissioners. You can also deliver your letter to MGLCC if you're in a rush. If you write it, we'll make sure your letter is delivered. Nothing beats a handwritten letter to get your message across.

Please contact Jonathan Cole from TEP or Will Batts from MGLCC for more information.


Thursday, May 7, 2009

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

What sexual orientation means in the federal hate crimes law

A hat tip to Mr. Kleinheider for bringing everyone's attention to the TN GOP bureaucracy's response to the federal hate crimes bill recently passed by the House.

We'll leave aside the spurious issue of so-called "thought crime" that the press release raises. This blog has addressed that issue in the past. What I want to respond to is the argument that sexual orientation as used in hate crimes laws includes pedophilia. I say "argument." In fact, it is meant more as a dramatic image used to scare people from supporting the bill. Some Republicans, though not all, tried to amend the bill to say that it would not be construed to include pedophilia. There is no need to do that since the law was never intended to protect pedophilia.

It's sad that some are still trying to equate homosexuality and pedophilia.

H.R. 1913 assumes and explicitly references the law under which the FBI currently collects hate crimes statistics based on sexual orientation. Here's the definition in the FBI's authority to gather statistics on hate crimes based on sexual orientation:
As used in this section, the term `sexual
orientation' means consensual homosexuality or heterosexuality.

Hopefully we can move past these ridiculous scare tactics soon.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Shelby County would be in good company

As the Shelby County Board of Commissioners begins hearings in committee TODAY on a Non-Discrimination Ordinance that will promote fair treatment of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender employees, it's good to know that Shelby County would be in good company if it were to make it's equal opportunity employment policies more inclusive.

Consider how many employers in Shelby County already have fair employment practices that include sexual orientation:

Best Buy*
Borders Group Inc.*
Delta Airlines
Delloitte & Touche*
Ernst & Young*
First Horizon National*
Harrah’s Entertainment*
Hilton Hotels*
Home Depot
International Paper
J.C. Penny*
Pinnacle Airlines
Rhodes College
Smith & Nephew
Southwest Tennessee Community College*
SunTrust Banks*
United Parcel Service*
University of Memphis*
Wachovia Bank*

Employers with an asterisk (*) also include gender identity or expression in their Equal Opportunity Employment policies. The data comes from individual business websites and the 2009 HRC Corporate Equality Index.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Will Shelby County government embrace fairness and equality for all?

In 2008, Shelby County was “ground zero” for many of the most publicized hate crimes perpetrated against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender citizens in Tennessee. Most prominent among these crimes was the transphobic police beating of Duanna Johnson at the Shelby County Justice Center. A video of the incident exposed a violent bias against GLBT minorities in Memphis and Shelby County. Before the beating began, police officers called Duanna a “faggot” and a “he/she.” Shelby County Justice Center staff did nothing to intervene as Duanna endured blow after blow.

The violence suffered by Duanna was abhorrent and served as a “wake up” call for reform in our community. The time for reform is now.

On Wednesday, May 6, the Shelby County Board of Commissioners will begin reviewing a Non-Discrimination Ordinance in its General Government Committee that will prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity/expression in facilities like the Shelby County Justice Center. The ordinance also calls for fair treatment of employees of Shelby County Government, contractors with Shelby County Government, and businesses in unincorporated areas of the county regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity/expression.

It’s time to reclaim Memphis and Shelby County as a community that welcomes diversity, values safety and security, and promotes fairness and equality for all. Take a moment to contact the Shelby County Board of Commissioners in support of this legislation.

Call the Shelby County Board of Commissioners at 901-545-4301 and send a message to tell them you support fairness and equality in Shelby County.

To learn more about the Non-Discrimination Ordinance and how you can help advance the cause with the Shelby County Board of Commissioners be sure to attend at least one of the special information and strategy sessions led by the Shelby County Committee of TEP.

Information sessions are scheduled for 2 PM on Sundays for the following dates: May 10, May 31 and June 14. All sessions will be held at the Memphis Gay and Lesbian Community Center at 892 South Cooper Street in Memphis. For more details contact TEP's Shelby County Committee at

TNDP Summit:: What the Big Tent means

I offer an incomplete review of the TN Democratic Party Summit since I was only able to attend on Saturday. What I saw was a success in the sense that Democrats are clearly focused on the 2010 election. Whether that focus holds and whether the plan unfolds remains to be seen. But the focus and the energy were undeniable.

I heard the phrase "big tent" quite a bit. So I'll try to break down how I think I heard the Democrats using the phrase.

Engagement at all levels: People with all kinds of roles in the party participated actively. Candidates, state legislators, county chairs, state party volunteers, campaign managers, and new activists were all well represented. It's hard to design an event that meets everyone's needs, but it's impressive that all these groups came to the table expecting to get something they could use.

Rural and urban: One panel explicitly dealt with electing Democrats in rural areas. Walton Robinson spoke about Rep. Eddie Yokley's ability to win his district consistently despite being targeted by Republicans. The first panel dealt with what "unites us as Democrats," and there was substantial agreement between the rural and urban folks in their descriptions. The words "care" and "opportunity" came up quite a bit.

Big money and grassroots: Speakers frankly acknowledged the skirmishing between the so called "big money guys" and the grassroots activists. But everyone seemed to think that the fight was either over, settled, or bracketed for now. Rep. Mike Stewart summed it up in his opening remarks by saying that everyone knows that both are needed. He highlighted the importance of volunteers for the upcoming House races.

Conservative and liberal/progressive: These differences on abortion/choice and "gay marriage" were also frankly acknowledged. Speakers continued to emphasize the big tent with respect to these issues. From where I was sitting I noticed some progressive annoyance at characterizing the issue as one abortion instead of choice. But speakers tried to make a positive out of the difference by contrasting the Democratic big tent way with the Republican way of only allowing a pro-life/anti-choice perspective. They also began building the case that, regardless of differences on social issues, Democrats are unified on education and the economy--issues on which they felt they could connect with voters and win.

So the big tent took on many shades of meaning. And based on Saturday's sessions, I'd say the Democrats could be in for a big tent revival.

Additional thoughts on GLBT issues at the summit: By no means were GLBT issues central to the substance of the summit. But there were moments when I saw the headway we are making. Rep. Mike Stewart talked about the adoption ban in his opening remarks and how Democrats can stop such measures if they take back the House. Leader Gary Odom introduced me on the first panel as his constituent. It was a small thing, but it meant a lot. He and his staff have always had an open door when I've wanted to talk and I appreciated the fact that he didn't back away from that. After the panel was over, I received a warm welcome from dozens of participants who wanted to help with the bills that we are working on this session. I was also impressed with Caucus Chairman Mike Turner who discussed the issues of marriage and civil unions and acknowledged his appreciation for the gay constituents who had supported him.

I know we continue to have a lot of work to do with both parties on GLBT issues, but I saw signs of forward movement today. It's a big tent, all right. It includes people who just aren't comfortable with us, but it's big enough to allow us to continue working.