Grand Divisions

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

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Family Action's war against health information: Wise as doves, innocent as serpents

Jesus recommended the reverse, of course--being wise as serpents and innocent as doves (Matthew 10:6). But the Family Action Council of Tennessee's continued screeching about a service learning project offered by Nashville CARES will leave students neither wise nor innocent. And even though the Tennessean says that Metro Schools and Nashville CARES are working together to determine how or whether to go forward with the project, Family Action isn't giving up.

In a message to members this week, Family Action president David Fowler noted, "While AIDS is an awful disease and we would never wish anyone to suffer from it, we also should not want our young people to be exposed to graphic demonstrations of sexual acts for which our bodies were not designed and which are not healthful." Besides that, the class might "make most people blush or cringe."

Where to begin? The basic false assumption is that the service learning class is teaching students TO use their bodies in certain ways that Family Action considers contrary to design. Teens in Tennessee may or may not be having sex more than teens in other states, but the teen birthrate in Tennessee is significantly higher than the U.S. rate as a whole. Teens in Tennessee are certainly getting STDs. So it's pretty clear that projects like the one Nashville CARES is offering are not teaching students TO have sex. Students are "learning" somewhere else.

Instead of acknowledging these facts, Family Action wants to focus on "propriety" and divert everyone's attention by arguing that the Nashville CARES service learning project is designed to "advance a sexual agenda." That would be the sexual agenda that makes people blush. But I would say that blushing and even cringing beat an unwanted pregnancy or an STD any day.

Projects like the one led by Nashville CARES at Hillbsoro High School help give students the information they need to prevent unwanted pregnancy and avoid deadly STDs. But those concerns only get a dependent clause in Family Action's message. In fact, they've moved way beyond the life and death question of health. Their focus is collecting stories in cities across Tennessee so that they can carry on their fight against information. They tell their members to report more of these stories that make people blush. They ask, "...will you let us know?"

So we can expect more attacks on health information around Tennessee in the name of "worldview." But the health of Tennessee teens is what is really at stake, not a worldview.

Straight male ministers' Day on the Hill

The Tennessean profiles Family Action's Ministers' Day on the Hill. It would more aptly be called conservative Evangelical Protestant straight male ministers' day on the hill. The article is at pains to point out that there were white and African-American ministers present. That's an improvement over previous years when the demographic was largely white as this video shows:

No clergy who are women are visible in the video and none are mentioned in the article. Obviously no openly gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender clergy were present. And why not? The agenda was an attack on the rights of women and the GLBT community. Oddly, they're still talking about "gay marriage," which makes no sense since we've already dealt with that in the Tennessee constitution. But Family Action has an odd habit of chattering about marriage no matter what equality issues comes up, as they did when we were working on the successful non-discrimination ordinance in Nashville.

So why is Family Action trying to add racial diversity to its Day on the Hill? It's simple. African-American lawmakers must not be voting with them on a lot of their legislative package. And my guess is that until they embrace an agenda of justice including jobs and education, that's not going to happen.

And until this day on the Hill reflects the diversity of ministers in Tennessee, we'll continue to call attention to the fact that it's really conservative Evangelical Protestant straight male ministers' day on the hill.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Justice delayed is justice denied for Duanna Johnson

The trial of Bridges "Sutton" McRae, the former Memphis Police Officer charged with beating Duanna Johnson in February of 2008, ended in mistrial today. All but one of the twelve jurors voted to convict McRae. The dissenting juror did not believe the prosecution had proven that McRae had acted "willfully." All twelve jurors had to agree that Duanna's civil rights had been violated to convict McRae.

The trial result is disappointing to say the least. We can try to take comfort in the fact that eleven out of twelve jurors agreed with the evidence. McRae hurled transphobic and homophobic slurs at Duanna and was then captured on camera beating her senseless. Five witnesses testified that McRae's attack was unprovoked. It's unfortunate that Duanna herself was not here to give her testimony in person (she was killed in the street in late 2008 in a still unsolved and open investigation). Would the result have been different?

The prosecution has the option of retrying the case. Both sides interviewed jurors after the outcome today to learn what worked and what didn't work. Today's result will not be the last word. Justice is still possible.

Hope still lives and we must tend the flames of that hope so that Duanna's brave pursuit of justice was not in vain. On Tuesday night, the Memphis Gay and Lesbian Community Center's Raise Your Voice committee will hold a vigil in Duanna's memory at 6:30 PM at Civic Center Plaza in downtown Memphis. We must speak for Duanna and the untold numbers of other transgender persons who suffer violence in our community. We must raise our voices so that our city is not defined by the fear and ignorance that led to Duanna's assault.

Some candles will be provided, but supplies are limited. Bring a candle from home and bring friends and loved ones. Let's show this city and the world that Memphis must become a place that welcomes and protects all its people.

- Jonathan Cole

More from myFOX Memphis:

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Gender and finding your fit: It's for straight guys, too

This piece in the Tennessean came from the business section, and it's not an overtly political story. But at the same time, it really is:

Growing up in Middle Tennessee, Jeff Garner didn't feel like he fit in. His friends liked to hunt and fish. He liked to draw in his room.

They played musical instruments; he loved colors and fabrics. He wore his hair long and his dad called him "daddy's little girl." Garner dressed like Abercrombie & Fitch before Abercrombie & Fitch was hip, then discarded the tattered hats and T-shirts when they became mainstream, said his childhood friend and Christian music star Jaci Velasquez.

"He was a cool-looking surfer boy who looked like he should have been in Malibu," Velasquez said.

These days, Garner feels more like he fits in. The 30-year-old clothing designer from Nashville is making a name for himself here and abroad — including being one of the few chosen to walk the catwalk at London Fashion Week in February.

I suspect many readers would be tempted to wonder about issues of sexual orientation. Well, the piece goes on say that he was married but is now divorced. Sometimes the story is not sexual orientation; sometimes it's the way people express gender.

Given Family Action's recent hysteria about sexual orientation and gender identity in Nashville, it's important to remember that the way people simply ARE can easily be politicized. But Jeff Garner wasn't taught to express gender the way he does. No subversive group of gay teachers conspired to make him a fashion maven. He went to conservative Church of Christ schools K-college. This is a guy who likes "target shooting, handling all-terrain vehicles, and horseback riding." He's just another stereotypically masculine straight guy, except he's got long hair and he is a fashion designer. Whether it's genes, hormones, or whatever, Jeff Garner is who he is, and not the product of liberal social engineering or the "homosexual agenda."

Thankfully, he's found his fit, his peace with who he is and what he's doing. Doesn't that seem like an odd thing to say about a straight man, though? Wouldn't you expect that sentence to be about members of the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community? But the way gender is politicized doesn't just affect us. Too often, members of our community have been fired from jobs because of who we love or for being transgender. But sometimes people who are straight and comfortable with the gender into which they were born are also stigmatized because they aren't seen as masculine enough or feminine enough. So instead of focusing on whether people are a good friend, a good mate, a good employee, people around them fixate on the way they express gender and obscure the gifts they bring.

Think of it this way. What would we be missing if Jeff Garner had simply conformed and given up on fashion, and in this case, eco-friendly fashion? What gifts are we missing out on when we project our gender issues onto others and try to make them choose between what is coming from inside themselves and what we expect? In the end, the issues that are at the center of the GLBT rights movement are liberating for everyone, including straight guys!

-Chris Sanders

Thursday, April 15, 2010

President signs memorandum on equality in hospital visitation

President Obama has signed a memorandum directing Health and Human Services to prohibit discrimination in hospital visitation based on a variety of factors including sexual orientation and gender identity. The memorandum affects any hospital that participates in Medicare or Medicaid.

This is huge, especially for people in states like Tennessee where marriage equality is a long way off. It means that wherever you live or travel in the United States, you can be with your partner if he or she has to seek medical attention. You won't have the added worry of being separated when your partner is most vulnerable or even at the point of death. Sadly, even in some cases where partners have all their legal documents in order, staff at health facilities have acted with what can only be described as cruelty in separating loved ones. This memorandum goes a long way toward remedying these horrifying situations.

Marriage equality is the obvious long-term solution, but until we achieve that goal, this directive will give couples in Tennessee another much needed layer of protection. It's a day to celebrate!

-Chris Sanders

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Gubernatorial candidates on the adoption issue

The Tennessee Newspaper Network, made up of the dailies serving Tennessee's four largest cities, is out with its latest segment on the positions of the candidates running for governor--social issues. Unfortunately it's not possible to link directly to the adoption question with the answers of the four remaining major candidates. You have to build it by clicking on their names and the feature adds each one.

Regardless, the answers are revealing, even when they aren't. Congressman Zach Wamp and Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey give largely similar answers. They both oppose adoption by same-sex couples. Wamp probably through oversight leaves out opposite-sex unmarried couples, but says he sees a role for singles to adopt children.

The answers of businessman Mike McWherter (the only Democrat) and Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam contain a bit more nuance. McWherter prefers married couples, but respects the status quo that in some cases allows unmarried couples to adopt. Haslam also prefers married couples, but pivots to his support of singles who provide good adoptive homes based upon people he knows at Church. He doesn't directly answer the question about unmarried couples. It's pretty clear that the adoption ban bill wouldn't be a focus of a McWherter or Haslam administration.

But would it be a focus of a Wamp or Ramsey administration? Wamp hasn't been tested on the issue, even though he has expressed hositility to homosexuality in the past. Ramsey presides over a State Senate that has not moved SB0078, although that's probably in large part because of the high fiscal note on the bill.

And that brings up the question of what role a governor really plays in an issue like adoption. The governor chooses department heads that help set a tone and the administration's lobbying posture on the issue. But governors in Tennessee typically leave these matters to the Legislature to work out. The question for equality-minded voters in Tennessee is whether we want to take that kind of chance. Quotations from the candidates are reproduced below:

Mike McWherter: “My personal preference is to see children placed in the care of loving, traditional families, but I do respect our current system that allows for judges and other authorities to make the final determination on what’s in the best interest of a child.”

Bill Haslam: “I believe that we should work to find a stable, loving home with two married parents for every child. However, I also recognize — through personal relationships with several single members of my church in Knoxville who have adopted — that there are many single, qualified individuals out there who could also provide the love and support needed to raise a child right and give that child opportunities he or she might not otherwise be afforded.”

Ron Ramsey: “I do not support allowing unmarried couples, including same-sex couples, to adopt children. Adoption is not an arena political correctness should be allowed to invade. It is a very serious matter and requires the highest level of commitment. Adoption is not an abstract policy issue. It is the most critical moment in the life of a child looking for a permanent home. When married couples wish to adopt, the adoption process should include a very high degree of scrutiny to ensure a positive environment for the child’s future.”

Zach Wamp: “As a father, I believe the best environment to raise children is one in which a married mother and father cares for and raises a child, and this is true for adopted children as well. While I do recognize the efforts of single parents to adopt, I do not support allowing same-sex couples to adopt.”

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Democratic candidates for Shelby County Mayor address LGBT-inclusive workplace protections

The Shelby County Democratic Party hosted a forum for the Democratic candidates running in the May 4 primary for Shelby County Mayor on Thursday night. Candidates Joe Ford, Otis Jackson and Deidre Malone answered important but familiar questions about sustainable funding for the Regional Medical Center, crime reduction, a special tax district for the Shelby County School system, school security, increasing county contracting with minority-owned businesses and Memphis & Shelby County government consolidation.

Candidates covered little new ground during the forum. However, the Mayoral candidates directly addressed a policy question that affects the lesbian, gay, bi and transgender citizens of Shelby County for the first time in the campaign season.

The three candidates were asked if they would support an ordinance that established workplace protections for gay, lesbian, bi and transgender employees of the county and county contractors like the non-discrimination ordinance proposed by Commissioner Steve Mulroy last Spring. The Shelby County Commission approved a much weaker substitute resolution that only protected county employees against discrimination based on non-merit factors instead of the stronger ordinance.

Current interim Mayor Joe Ford was first to answer that he voted for the resolution that passed last year while still serving on the Shelby County Commission. Ford said that the county does not currently discriminate on the job. Ford said he could not commit to the ordinance without seeing the actual wording. To be fair, almost a year has passed since he's seen the original ordinance.

General Sessions Court Clerk Otis Jackson, Jr. stated that if asked the question 20 years ago, he would have answered no. But today, Mr. Jackson said that he has gay members of his family that compel him to support such an ordinance 100%.

County Commissioner Deidre Malone stated that she voted in favor of the original ordinance and the substitute resolution that eventually passed last year. She added that she took a lot of heat from ministers in the community after that vote but maintained she was proud of her vote.

These responses give Democratic primary voters something new to consider for the May 4 primary. Thursday's forum only included Democratic primary candidates for mayor which means that Republican Shelby County Sheriff Mark Luttrell is the only major candidate who is not yet on record on this issue. Democratic and Republican LGBT voters and their allies need to hear from Luttrell before the May 4 primary and the August 4 general election. Will he respond?

Early voting for county primary elections begins on April 14, 2010.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

LGBTQ community may have some recourse with the TN Human Rights Commission

The Tennessee Human Rights Commission board of Commissioners held a listening session for citizens of Memphis and Shelby County last night at Bridges.

The Tennessee Human Rights Commission is an independent state agency which investigates allegations of discrimination in housing, employment, Title VI and places of public accommodations. Complaintants may report discrimination based on race, color, gender, disability, national origin, religion, creed, familial status or age (40 and over).

Noticeably absent among the unlawful bases for discrimination in housing, employment, and public accommodations is sexual orientation and gender identity or expression. Last night, I brought copies of the latest cover article from the Memphis Flyer to the commissioners about the efforts of the Memphis Gay and Lesbian Community Center to provide emergency housing services to lesbian, gay, bi and trangender youth to highlight the fact that these youth are being underserved and actively discriminated against when attempting to access emergency housing and shelter.

I also shared a personal story from a few years ago in which a friend and I tried to find shelter for one of these youth who called the center for help. The center's Youth Empowerment Services were not available at the time. The 18-year-old caller had just been kicked out of her family's home in Fayette County because she was transgender. We tried to find temporary housing for her in area shelters. But she was only allowed to stay over for one night before she was told she could not stay at these shelters. Shelters turned her away for "religious" reasons or told her that they could not ensure her safety. We were finally able to find a place for her to stay at a local church that welcomes all people.

The commissioners present at the listening forum were sympathetic, but they and I knew that they have no mandate under current Tennessee law to investigate or prosecute such claims of discrimination. Commissioner Jocelyn Wurzburg hoped that the commission would be able to investigate such claims in her lifetime, but she felt it would be a difficult task to expand the commission's mandate in the current legislative climate.

There was one bright spot though. The Regional Coordinator for the Memphis office of the TNHRC, Linda Reed, suggested that discrimination based on gender expression may be covered by the commission in some circumstances. Reed stated that similar claims of discrimination in housing, employment, and public accommodations have been successfully prosecuted under the category of gender. While the mandate of the commission's authority still falls short, such an interpretation may offer recourse to some LGBTQ citizens of Tennessee on a case by case basis.

If you have endured discrimination in the above areas within 180 days of the alleged discriminatory act, learn more about how to file a complaint with the commission on their website.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Don't Say Gay bill up in Senate Mon or Wed, in House on Wed

HB0821/SB1250, commonly known as the Don't Say Gay bill, is up in the Senate Education Committee on Monday and/or Wednesday and the House K-12 Education Subcommittee on Wednesday. This action campaign will allow you to contact both the Senate Education Committee and the House K-12 Subcommittee to let them know you oppose the bill. Here is video of the House K-12 Education Subcommittee from Wednesday of this week. You're not going to like what you see. Special thanks to Speak to Power's Steve Ross in Memphis for the video in two parts:

Rep. Campfield may be confused about what counts as curriculum. He mentioned examples that relate to professional associations, not the curriculum of Tennessee schools. Let's hope the House and Senate education committees will see the truth.

Does lack of LGBT-inclusive workplace protections in Germantown promote dishonesty in the workplace?

The Tennessee Court of Appeals recently overturned a lower chancery court ruling that a former Germantown police officer be reinstated with full back pay and benefits. The Commercial Appeal reports:

The three-member panel ruled Wednesday that the city was justified in firing former Lt. Stephanie Hill because the evidence supported charges of neglect of
duty and truthfulness.

The city fired Hill in July 2007 for violating departmental policies that stem from her accounts of how her unmarked police car was damaged in January that year.

Lt. Hill initially reported that she was uncertain about how the unmarked police car was damaged. She later reported that

her former roommate, Jamie Baker, had damaged the car at the home the two shared in Collierville. Baker told police Hill knew she hit the car when it happened.

Court records say that the couple ended their relationship "in an acrimonious and tumultuous manner" in mid-March only a few weeks before the city opened its internal affairs investigation.

I may be reading too deeply between the lines of this story, but the way this story is written leads me to believe that Lt. Hill and Baker were domestic partners. If Baker were simply a "roommate," wouldn't Lt. Hill have been forthcoming about the damage to the car?

Most gay or lesbian law enforcement officers will tell you that it's risky to disclose your sexual orientation on the job. The State of Tennessee and the City of Germantown currently provide no workplace protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation. In addition to basic concerns about employment discrimination, police officers have to know they can depend on other officers to protect each other in dangerous situations. Their safety and lives depends on it!

Did Lt. Hill withhold Baker's involvement in the damage to the car because she feared unfair treatment on the job? Disclosing Baker's responsibility for damage to the car to Internal Affairs may have exposed Lt. Hill to sexual harrassment, employment discrimination, and abandonment by fellow officers in dangerous situations because she is or may be perceived to be a lesbian.

Unless there are specific protections for unlawful discrimination (e.g., race, color, national origin, sex, religion, etc.), employment in Tennessee is "at will" - meaning that the employer is free to discharge employees for good cause, or bad cause, or no cause at all. No federal, state or local law prohibits the Germantown Police Department from firing employees because they are lesbian, gay, bi, straight, or transgender.

We should all favor honesty in the workplace. While it was wrong of Lt. Hill to withhold how the car was damaged, it is also wrong for the City of Germantown to promote dishonesty in the workplace. If the City of Germantown as an employer does not explicitly protect employees from discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, it sends the message that employees should fear for their jobs and live their lives in secret. Lt. Hill and other employees of the Germantown Police Department and City of Germantown should not have to fear being "outed" in the workplace.

Hardworking, high-performing employees shouldn’t be fired just because they’re gay or transgender. ALL lesbian, gay, bi, straight and transgender employees want the same thing: to work hard, earn a living, and provide for their familes.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

An accountability moment for the lives of our LGBT youth

Ahem. This post is addressed to the Tony Perkins, the "Rev." Steve Gaines, the "Rev." Alton Williams, "Bishop" Harry Jackson, David Fowler, . . . . . the list goes on. All of the above spoke, attended or supported the Stand for the Family Rally last Monday at Bellevue Baptist Church.

Your actions or lack of action have real consequences.

The lead story of the Memphis Flyer released today features the Youth Empowerment Services program of the Memphis Gay and Lesbian Community Center. MGLCC is meeting a need previously unmet by the social safety net, churches and shelters of our community. They are rescuing the lesbian, gay, bi and transgender youth of our community who were kicked out of the homes of their families before they could provide for themselves. These are families who heard and continue to hear the same messages as delivered at last Monday's rally (See here, here, & here).

The moral failing of our society to love and cherish ALL of our children is clear. Any pastor, church, lobbyist, or talking head who calls homosexuality or gender variance sin in our society shares responsiblity for the homelessness of these youth. That message is breaking the lives of children and their families.

Let's give thanks for heroes like Deb & Steve Word, Elokin CaPece, Mark Brown, Mary Parks, Bob Loos, Mike LaBonte, Lisa Kurts-Crume, and Will Batts. They are helping to undo the sins of this cruel world.