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.

Friday, August 28, 2009

LGBT issues addressed in Memphis Mayoral Forum

WMCTV5 and the League of Women Voters held an informative and entertaining forum at Opera Memphis featuring candidates for Mayor of Memphis last night. I say forum, because the event was not structured for debate. A debate would have been difficult to moderate with 9 candidates. I was lucky to be a member of the live audience. There was not a great deal else going on behind the scenes (unless you count Prince Mongo's bare feet and rubber chicken), if you weren't present. Television viewers who watched now have a glimpse of the strengths and weaknesses of each candidate on the issues and on style.

In the end, it's the issues in this contest that should most concern us, and the LGBT community and their allies can be pleased that relevant questions affecting our community were posed to the candidates.

In a round of viewer questions in which candidates were asked to respond with a "yes" or "no," ALL candidates said they supported non-discrimination policies for Memphis city employees similar to those pursued with Shelby County government last spring. That's outstanding news and a tribute to the work that citizens of Memphis and Shelby County have done to move the political conversation into new territory. The unanimous response gives a boost to the campaign to pass a non-discrimination ordinance in the Memphis City Council.

While the non-discrimination question was a high point, the low point came when Jackson Baker of the Memphis Flyer asked Dr. Kenneth T. Whalum if he would explain what happened to the two women who visited his church last Sunday. Whalum began by saying "absolutely nothing." He said everyone knows what happened and asked people to "come over and find out." Whalum's response only heightens the mystery of what really happened at New Olivet Baptist Church and casts a shadow of doubt over his affirmative answer to the non-discrimination policy question posed earlier in the forum.

Check TDN Blog, Vibinc, Jackson Baker, Wendi Thomas, and Memphis Liberal for further reactions to the forum.

Watch the video here.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Mayoral candidate refuses on-camera interview over expulsion of lesbian couple from his church

The Rev. Dr. Kenneth T. Whalum, Jr.'s response to media inquiries over why his church expelled a lesbian couple from a worship service are only adding to the controversy. Youtube videos of services at New Olivet that are widely available to all provide a glimpse of the animated and spirited worship services held at the church. Dr. Whalum's subjective and vague claim that Yas Meen and Monique Stevens were "boisterous and loud" during the service last Sunday might also describe him and the rest of the congregation when the spirit runs high during services at the church.

His refusal to provide a more detailed description of the "disruptive behavior" he says took place only increases suspicion of the reason he gave for why the couple was accosted and ejected from his church. It is particularly galling that Dr. Whalum would resort to the tiresome claim that a lesbian couple must have an "agenda" if they are attending his church. The only agenda they had was to hear from a mayoral candidate whom they wanted to support. Dr. Whalum and New Olivet Baptist Church have every right to preach the word and worship in any way they wish. But when Dr. Whalum declares that he wants to be Mayor of this city, his appeal must be broader than than the pews he fills each Sunday in church.

Many people have commented on the Commercial Appeal story that New Olivet records video of each church service. Releasing video of what happened last Sunday would help clarify what really happened.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Female couple expelled from Mayoral candidate's church for "disruption"

The Rev. Dr. Kenneth T. Whalum, Jr. has some explaining to do.

Two women reported a disturbing story to me about their visit to last Sunday's morning worship service at New Olivet Baptist Church in Memphis that was also reported in this morning's Commercial Appeal. Yas Meen and Monique Stevens, a couple, decided to visit New Olivet to learn more about Whalum. Yas, a retired school teacher, admired Whalum’s passionate support for public education and considered supporting his candidacy for Memphis Mayor. Whalum currently serves on the Memphis City Schools’ Board of Education.

Yas and Monique visited New Olivet for the first time. They had heard that people are encouraged to “come-as-you-are” to the church. Many people wear casual clothes to worship there. On this particular morning, they observed several young men wearing basketball jerseys. Yas wore a dress while Monique wore a pair of slacks to the service that morning - dressier than many in the congregation. However, Yas and Monique felt a little uncomfortable when they entered and sat in the front pew after the service had started. They began to notice looks of disapproval from members of the congregation. The reason would become all too clear to them.

As the service progressed, Pastor Whalum called on the congregation to participate in expressions of “sanctified dance.” Congregants followed Whalum’s lead and began to fill the aisle. Some danced while other lay on the floor in prayer. As visitors, the style of worship was new to Yas and Monique, so they decided to remain seated and observe.

That’s when events turned for the worse. From the front of the church, the two women alleged that Whalum said “this is my house and everybody does what I say. But two people won’t do what I say.” After Whalum’s plea, Yas and Monique remained seated. When Monique extended her arm along the pew behind Yas, the congregation’s focus on the couple intensified.

Yas described what happened next:

[A] security guard asked us to leave because we were disturbing God's House. I asked what had we done to disturb God's House. He could not give me an answer. He just said you two need to leave. He informed us that he had called the police. I told him because I did not clearly understand what was going on, we will just wait for the police. That's when the herd of men gathered around to physically remove us from God's House! While this was going on, the church's photographer was taking pictures of Monique and I. We begged them to stop taking pictures of us. She continued and when she finished, she blew us a kiss and said God Bless You!
Under the watchful eyes of Pastor Whalum, children taunted the two ladies and women began to throw oil on them. A group of men gathered around them, calling them “bitches”, “Satanic,” and “devil worshipers.” They were told that they were dishonoring God’s House. Finally, a group of 25 young men began physically and violently pushing the two ladies out of the church. Monique’s glasses were broken and both suffered scratches and bruises.

During the incident, the church called the police because Yas and Monique had been “disruptive.” Yaz:

found it so strange how the security guard could not give us the reason, when the situation happened, of how we were disruptive until the police asked him, which was almost 45 minutes to an hour after the event. That's when he told us along with the police, that it was because Monique had extended her arm along the back of the pew seat right next to [me].

Yas and Monique may file assault charges against members of the church who put hands on them.

As this violent crime unfolded, Pastor Whalum said nothing and did nothing to intervene. As someone who wants to be the next Mayor of Memphis, Pastor Whalum has some explaining to do. Does Whalum condone violence toward gays and lesbians? Will he condone such behavior toward gays and lesbians among citizens and employees of the City Memphis? If this is how Whalum treats potential supporters, how will he treat his opponents? Is this the kind of leadership Memphis can expect from him as a Mayor?

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Metro Nashville NDO passes second reading

The non-discrimination ordinance sponsored by 10 Council Members that would protect Metro employees from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity passed on second reading 23 to 16 with 1 abstaining. Third reading takes place on September 15.

This is a great victory because the bill has now gone further than the ordinance in 2003 went in the process. Council Member Megan Barry and the other 9 sponsors have done a great job keeping their votes together. Over 40 organizations have helped convince the majority of Council Members so far that the ordinance has merit. Council Members Barry, Ronnie Steine, and Erik Cole spoke eloquently for the ordinance despite some rhetoric against the bill that was difficult to hear.

Much of the attention in the debate focused on Councilman Sam Coleman's substitute ordinance. His supporters attempted to defer Barry's bill, but they failed when Councilman Cole successfully tabled the motion to defer Barry's bill 22 to 18.

Here's how they voted on the Barry non-discrimination ordinance:

AYE: Garrett, Barry, Steine, Maynard, Matthews, Harrison, Hunt, Jameson, Cole, Jernigan, Page, Moore, LaLonde, Gilmore, Baker, Langster, Evans, Holleman, McGuire, Adkins, Wilhoite, Todd, and Mitchell.

NO: Tygard, Craddock, Murray, Forkum, Ryman, Gotto, Burch, Stanley, Claiborne, Crafton, Foster, Dominy, Hodge, Toler, Coleman, and Duvall.

ABSTAIN: Bennett

Vanderbilt, Nashville Firefighters, and congregations support Metro NDO

Vanderbilt University, Local 140 IAFF (Nashville Firefighters), two neighborhood associations, and now six congregations have joined the broad-based list of organizations supporting the non-discrimination ordinance that protects Metro employees from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The updated list is now available.

The ordinance is on second reading at Metro Council tonight.

Update: I was just informed that the Belmont-Hillsboro Neighbors have voted to endorse the Metro non-discrimination ordinance.

Update 2: Vanderbilt's own release on joining the list:

Vanderbilt University has joined the list of endorsers of a non-discrimination ordinance making its way through the Metro Council, which is scheduled to take the second of three required votes tonight.

The ordinance would make it illegal to discriminate because of sexual orientation or gender identity when it comes to hiring, promotion or firing of Metro Nashville employees.

“Vanderbilt has had a similar non-discrimination policy in place for several years, and it reflects the kind of open, inclusive and tolerant environment that Vanderbilt strives to create and that our faculty, staff, students and visitors expect,” said Chancellor Nicholas S. Zeppos. “The proposed Metro ordinance likewise sends a positive message about the city, which Vanderbilt so proudly calls home.”

Nashville has no legal protections against employee discrimination based on sexual orientation, which 170 cities and counties along with half of the United States have already put in place. Federal rules banning such discrimination have been in place for more than a decade.

“I appreciate that Vanderbilt has had this policy in place for so many years, and it’s time for the rest of Nashville to catch up,” said Councilwoman Megan Barry, an at-large member of the council and the lead sponsor of the legislation.

Contact: Jim Patterson, (615) 322-NEWS

Update 3: The Tennessee Federation of College Democrats have just joined the list.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Discussion of workplace fairness and equality to begin in Memphis City Council committee

TEP's Shelby County Committee is proud that the Memphis City Council will seek to establish workplace protections for LGBT city employees. The Council’s Personnel, Intergovernmental and Annexation committee will begin discussing a non-discrimination ordinance on Tuesday, August 18 that would prohibit employment discrimination based on religion, race, sex, creed, political affiliation, sexual orientation, gender identity or expressions or other non-merit factors.

Memphis would join Shelby County government and nearly 200 municipalities and 20 states who currently protect gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender employees from unfair discrimination on the job. Hundreds of citizens spoke in favor of similar county legislation last spring at a unity rally and in front of the Shelby County Commission.

This discussion on fairness and equality begins in the middle of a special election season for a new Mayor following Dr. Willie W. Herenton's retirement on July 30 from 18 years as Mayor of Memphis. In keeping with the current city charter, City Council Chairman Myron Lowery became Mayor Pro Tem when Herenton left office. Lowery's service as Mayor Pro Tem during this interim time leaves one seat vacant on the 13-seat City Council. While applauding the intent of the City Council, TEP supports delaying the advancement of the Non-Discrimination Ordinance until Memphis elects a new mayor and all areas of Memphis are fully represented on the council.

When the Memphis NDO comes up for a vote, TEP will be ready to argue the merits of this important legislation along with supporters like you. In the meantime, send messages of support for fairness and equality in the workplace to your Memphis City Council representatives at the addresses below.

Memphis citizens have four (4) city council representatives (1 District + 3 Super District Council members).

All Memphis citizens live in one of the following Council districts:

District 1:
District 2:
District 3:
District 4:
District 5:
District 6:
District 7:

If you live in the Southwest half of Memphis you have 3 Super District 8 representatives:

Super District 8, Position 1:
Super District 8, Position 2:
Super District 8, Position 3: (currently Mayor Pro Tem)

If you live in the Northeast half of Memphis you have 3 Super District 9 representatives:

Super District 9, Position 1:
Super District 9, Position 2:
Super District 9, Position 3:

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

No substitute for equality: Why the Coleman bill falls short

As Jeff Woods reported early this morning, Metro Councilmen Sam Coleman, Phil Claiborne, and Duane Dominy have filed an ordinance to counter the real non-discrimination ordinance filed by Council Member Megan Barry and nine others.

Coleman's ordinance reads: "It is unlawful for the metropolitan government to discriminate against any person in recruitment, examination, hiring, appointment, training, promotion, retention, or employee discipline because of non-merit factors. For purposes of this section, “non-merit factors” are those factors that relate exclusively to a personal or social characteristic or trait and are not substantially related to successful performance of the duties of the position."

If there are Council Members who can't figure out the definition of sexual orientation, then I suspect that "non-merit" factors will also be a problem. It's incredibly vague. If the opponents of the real non-discrimination ordinance filed by Barry et al thought it would invite lawsuits, then they should hate Councilman Coleman's bill. People would think they could sue for anything under this new bill. Furthermore, the bill is unlikely to offer any real protection. Woods paraphrases the opinion of Law Director Sue Cain: "But legal director Sue Cain already has said Coleman's bill wouldn't provide any new protection for gays and lesbians. Essentially, in fact, it would do nothing, Cain says."

The real problem with Coleman's bill is that the citizens of Nashville did not ask for it. Perhaps the Family Action Council or the Tennessee Eagle Forum did. The citizens of Nashville (as represented by over 30 groups including Churches and neighborhood associations) back the bill that Council Member Megan Barry and the nine other sponsors have introduced. You can find that list here including future updates.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Help TEP fight the lies and propaganda of the right wing

A Non-Discrimination Ordinance has not even been filed in the Memphis City Council, but a group called "Memphis City Churches" is already organizing against fairness and equality in the workplace.

Memphis City Churches has posted a petition on its website directed toward the Memphis City Council. The petition relies on erroneous propaganda and opposes any ordinance that establishes workplace equality for gay people.

When I look at their website, I notice that Memphis City Churches lists no one they claim to represent - individuals, pastors or churches. This "faceless" organization is spreading lies to the Memphis City Council without having the guts to step forward into the light. The devil quotes Scripture too.

Who's lurking in the shadows plotting against freedom in Jesus' name? A website of this sort costs money, but who is funding Memphis City Churches? If I were a pastor, priest, or church council member, I'd sure want to know.

In this fight for fairness and equality, we often don't know who we are up against. But we know they have deep pockets. Which is why it's so critical to support TEP's efforts to fight them. Consider making a contribution to support the work of TEP so that we'll always be ready to win legislative battles at the state and local level.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Quote of the Day: Viral Town Meeting

One analyst's view of what's going on at health care town hall meetings around the country, from the New York Times:

“We’re living in the era of the viral town meeting,” said Ross Baker, a political scientist at Rutgers University who once worked as a Senate aide. “I remember back in the ’70s getting identically worded telegrams in the thousands. What’s happened now is the technology of protest has metastasized, and it threatens to overwhelm the relationship between members of Congress and their constituents.”

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Drowning Out Democracy: The District 9 Townhall Meeting

The following is a piece written by Michelle Bliss of the TEP Shelby County Committee and reprinted with her permission:

Well congrats to all the conservatives in District 9. You made a big splash at the Town Hall Meeting with Steve Cohen today. You and the several dozen people from out of town who shouted down the speakers and stepped all over the First Amendment rights of the constituents. Good job. You successfully destroyed the ability of your neighbors to ask questions and hear the answers. Oh and you were helped by people who drove in from Nevada, California, Atlanta, Desoto County Mississippi, and Alabama. People who are not residents in this district and came here specifically to help you squash your neighbors ability to have a meeting with their elected representative.

You must be so proud of yourselves for being part of the solution like that. Because everyone knows that interfering in the open and free discourse of citizens with their representatives is in the best interest of America. Congrats.

By the way, you also achieved something else today. You successfully volunteered to be the voices of the Insurance lobby. Good job. I hope you got paid for it, because the people from out of town did. The got all their expenses paid by the same people who screwed up the healthcare system in the name of profit based rationing of services that you claim you are afraid will happen under this plan. Good job. They didn't even have to pay you.

The guy I got in a shouting match would not answer one simple you live in the district? he did not, he is from Atlanta. I know because he parked next to me with hsi georgia plates. He would not answer who he works for either. He was wearing a $30k watch and $500 shoes. Must be nice. His wife had on 2 carets worth of earrings. Nice. What did you get for coming to the meeting?

Is the healthcare plan perfect? No, it isn't. And we will never know what it could have been with our input. Good freaking job.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Non-discrimination ordinance deferred for two weeks

Tonight the Metro Council voted 22 to 13 to allow the non-discrimination ordinance to be deferred two weeks, but not before battles that revealed how far some Council Members were willing to go in ignoring councilmanic courtesy.

It started at 4:45 at the Personnel Committee meeting. Councilwoman Megan Barry sought a motion to defer the ordinance a couple of weeks, but the motion failed. Then a discussion of the proposed amendments ensued, but with one glaring omission. Councilwoman Barry herself never got to speak. This is outrageous behavior. It is common courtesy to allow Council Members to defer their bills and it is certainly common to allow the sponsor to speak.

Supporters of the ordinance regrouped after the committee meeting for a possible floor fight. Councilwoman Barry moved to the defer the bill, but Councilman Robert Duvall rose to table the motion to defer. His motion failed 14 to 22 with 0 abstentions and 4 absent. Again, it is notable that the common practice of allowing a sponsor to defer was almost ignored. The vote on deferring the ordinance for two weeks passed 22 to 13 with 1 abstention and 4 absent.

What we take away from tonight is a clear sense that the bill's opponents will use every procedural move at their disposal to stop the bill, just as they did on first reading when they pulled it from the consent calendar. Passing the bill requires that we never underestimate their drive to stop it.

A bright spot was the confirmation of former Metro Council candidate David Glasgow to the Tourism and Convention Commission.

Here's how they voted on the motion to defer:

AYE: Garrett, Barry, Tygard, Steine, Maynard, Matthews, Harrison, Murray, Jameson, Bennett, Page, Moore, LaLonde, Gilmore, Baker, Langster, Holleman, McGuire, Adkins, Foster, Coleman, Todd

NO: Hunt, Craddock, Forkum, Ryman, Gotto, Burch, Stanley, Claiborne, Crafton, Dominy, Hodge, Toler, Duvall

Abstain: Wilhoite

Absent: Cole, Jernigan, Evans, Mitchell

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Another talking point against the Metro ordinance bites the dust

The American Psychological Association hammered another nail in the coffin of the Family Action Council's talking points on the Metro non-discrimination ordinance today. The press release dealt a blow to the idea that therapists can or should try to change the sexual orientation of their clients:

"Contrary to claims of sexual orientation change advocates and practitioners, there is insufficient evidence to support the use of psychological interventions to change sexual orientation," said Judith M. Glassgold, PsyD, chair of the task force. "Scientifically rigorous older studies in this area found that sexual orientation was unlikely to change due to efforts designed for this purpose. Contrary to the claims of SOCE practitioners and advocates, recent research studies do not provide evidence of sexual orientation change as the research methods are inadequate to determine the effectiveness of these interventions." Glassgold added: "At most, certain studies suggested that some individuals learned how to ignore or not act on their homosexual attractions. Yet, these studies did not indicate for whom this was possible, how long it lasted or its long-term mental health effects. Also, this result was much less likely to be true for people who started out only attracted to people of the same sex."

One of the talking points used against the ordinance by advocacy groups and picked up by some Council Members is the idea that sexual orientation shouldn't be covered because it can change. For example, one Councilman made that argument in a NewsChannel 5 piece:

"How do we identify them? How do we know if they're telling the truth? What if they want to change in the middle? And it's something... you choose this way of life," said Metro Council Member Robert Duvall.

Unfortunately, such misinformation fed to our elected officials has negative policy consequences. But a thorough review of the literature and the studies makes it clear that there is no evidence for change in sexual orientation. Even if there had been evidence, it doesn't mean people wouldn't discriminate based on real or perceived sexual orientation. So the argument falls on two counts.

Fowler on Stanley: Oh, wait, he's too busy with the Metro ordinance

If you're looking for any denunciations of Sen. Paul Stanley's behavior on the Family Action Council of Tennessee's website, you won't find them. Thanks to Jeff Woods at the Nashville Scene, we do know what they consider the real threat to marriage to be--employment protections for Metro workers. That's where they're spending their time.

As their Church bulletin insert notes:

We need to appreciate that God will not be mocked; protecting and even fostering behaviors that violate God’s creational design for marriage and intimacy cannot, in the long run, serve the common good as they undermine the God-endowed foundational importance of the family.

Adultery, photographs, cover ups... are these part of God's design? Where's the outrage, Mr. Fowler? Employment protections are more of a threat than this? Are you not denouncing Sen. Stanley's behaviors because he was one of your go-to guys on so-called pro-family legislation?