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, June 30, 2010

Thank you, Tennessee

It's my last day as chairman of the board of the Tennessee Equality Project, a position I've held for four years. The thank-yous and the good-byes I say are hardly final since I'll continue to serve as chair of the TEP Nashville Committee and on the board of TEP PAC, our state political action committee. But it will be quite a change not worrying every day about what's going on in Bristol, Memphis, Gallatin, Knoxville, Chattanooga, Cleveland, Jackson, Murfreesboro, and on and on. Habits of worry are hard to break, but mine will be considerably easier given the new officers and all the county chairs who lead our organization around the state.

Besides the biggies like the Metro non-discrimination ordinance signing pictured in the upper right or debating David Fowler and Stacey Campfield on television, here are a few things that come back to me about the last four years:

(Find the rest here)

-Chris Sanders

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Knoxville Media AWOL on Pridefest

If you're looking for coverage of Knoxville Pridefest in the Knoxville media market today, you're looking in vain. I didn't find anything at the Knoxville News Sentinel except an article from yesterday focused on HIV testing. Nothing at WATE or WBIR showed up in searches. Perhaps the Metro Pulse will weigh in later this week.

But it's beyond me how a few thousand people can put on a festival celebrating gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people in East Tennessee and it not be news. If our community is not even allowed to exist in the news, then we certainly won't achieve advances for equality in Tennessee.

If nothing else, coverage of Knoxville Pridefest would have provided quite a counterpoint to Rep. Stacey Campfield's (R-Knoxville) efforts to pass the Don't Say Gay bill this year as well as his complaints about OUTeach, UT-Knoxville's LGBT & Ally Resource Center. The Don't Say Gay bill was certainly on the minds of Nashville Pride festival goers as noted by the Tennessean. I can't imagine that East Tennesseans would have been hesitant to share their views IF THEY HAD BEEN ASKED.

-Chris Sanders

Domestic violence in the GLBT community: From the NFL to Memphis

Two items on domestic violence at The Advocate made me pause this morning. The big headline was that openly gay former Minnesota Vikings player Esera Tuaolo has been charged with domestic assault. I want to emphasize Tuaolo has been charged, not convicted. Still, the allegations are troubling given his work to try to reduce homophobia in professional sports.

If it had been a straight male athlete currently playing for a major professional team, most observers would simply treat it as another example in a long list of highly publicized cases of "boys behaving badly." As The Bleacher Report's Scott Goll said a few years ago, "Yet, it's almost an afterthought when we read about it buried in the sports pages. It doesn't live long in our psyche, especially if he goes on to hit a game-winning homer the next day—all is forgiven somehow."

But what the charges against Tuaolo bring up for me is the invisibility of domestic violence in the GLBT community. As if to underscore the point, the Advocate linked to a clip from the TLC show Police Women of Memphis (I had no idea there even was such a show!) that captures the aftermath of a domestic violence call:

We can be thankful that there are officers like the one who responded to the call. Not all victims are treated so considerately. Amnesty International USA has outlined some of the problems in police response to domestic violence in the GLBT community. For example:

"Only 17% of police departments report having specific policies on same-sex domestic violence. 83% of police departments report providing training on issues around same-sex domestic violence. 14% of police departments report that they do not train on issues around same-sex domestic violence. "

We are fortunate in Tennessee that organizations like the Tennessee Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence do wonderful, inclusive work around these issues. They list this information if you or someone you know needs help with domestic violence:

If you are in immediate danger, call 911. For resources in Tennessee call 1-800-356-6767 or 1-800-799-7233 (National Domestic Violence Hotline).

-Chris Sanders

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

GLBT representation grows on Davidson Co Democratic Party Exec Committee

Congratulations to Nancy VanReece and Ryan Ellis, two of the newest members of the GLBT community to hold seats on the Davidson County Executive Committee. The two were selected at last night's meeting. VanReece serves as the District 4 committeewoman and Ellis serves as the District 29 committeeman. Both were TEP district captains of their respective districts in the 2009 effort to pass the Metro non-discrimination ordinance. Ellis is the incoming Vice President of TEP.

They join Shane Burkett, committeeman for District 12, and Marisa Richmond, committeewoman for District 23, on the executive committee--both of whom were on the ballot in the recent Davidson County Primary.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Closer to Equality in Family Leave

The Associated Press is reporting that the Department of Labor is set to interpret existing law to allow family leave for same-sex couples:

The Family and Medical Leave Act allows workers to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave each year to take care of loved ones or themselves. The 1993 law, which also allows employees to take time off for adoptions, has previously only been applied to heterosexual couples. The Labor Department planned to extend those rights based on a new interpretation of the law, the officials said. There was no plan to ask Congress to change the law, which means future presidents could reverse the decision.

It's a welcome step during a month when many communities are celebrating Pride. In a state like Tennessee, it's particularly welcome because we have little hope for marriage equality in the near future. It's further evidence that President Obama has appointed people who are trying to find ways to make life better for GLBT families.

With all that said, though, until we pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), many gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender employees will not be out at work and are unlikely to ask to use this benefit. And until we have marriage equality, any of these admistrative changes can be taken away. Every step forward has been a mixture of relief and frustration. We can't help but feel relieved when these advances are announced. Each one means that the bar is moving a little higher (sometimes inches), but the need is so much greater. The frustration remains. It's not ingratitude; it's the desire for equality.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Nashville Pride Political Roundup

Despite the heat, thousands turned out for Nashville Pride today. Channel 5 offered some coverage. The Tennessean's coverage was more political with several folks interviewed talking about the 2009 Metro non-discrimination ordinance, the Don't Say Gay bill, and the birth certificate bill.

It was a good day for politicking. State Representative Mike Stewart was making the rounds. Candidate for State House district 58 Steven Turner and candidate for State Senate district 21 Jeff Yarbro were busy engaging voters. Newly announced candidate for Metro Council district 6 Pete Westerholm (an outgoing TEP board member) was busy working the TEP table and meeting people. I was pleased to see that the Tennessee Democratic Party also had a table busy with volunteers.

Volunteers at the TEP table registered voters, surveyed festival goers about discrimination, and increased awareness of the upcoming State Primary. All in all, it was a great day to build the movement for equality.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

TEP Madison Co Committee launches

About 20 people attended the launch of the Madison County Committee tonight to provide new organization for the fight for equality in West TN.

The Madison Co Committee joins similar structures in the Tri-Cities, Knox County, Hamilton/Bradley Counties, Sumner County, Rutherford County, Nashville, and Shelby County. It fills a significant gap in TEP's coverage of the state. See the Jackson Sun's coverage here.

TEP Madison County Chair Drew Baker issues a call for those in West TN to help and get involved in the effort:

For more information, contact us at .

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Vote Equality: Getting out the Vote for the State Primary

Even though we've barely had time to catch our breath after a long legislative session, the State primary is just around the corner; it also happens to be the county general election. Early voting starts on July 16 and Election Day is August 5.

There's a lot at stake in this election--congressional races, half the State Senate, all of the State House of Representatives, the gubernatorial race, etc. The next General Assembly will set the plan for redistricting the State with important implications for Tennessee's congressional delegation. While TEP PAC, our political action committee, will be involved in the usual business of endorsing and helping fund pro-equality candidates, the Tennessee Equality Project will be doing what we can to raise awareness of the State primary in August and the general election in November. We want to make sure to turn out equality voters throughout Tennessee. We'll help get voters registered, make them aware of voting dates and locations, and the importance of these elections.

These races are vitally important for Tennessee's GLBT community. The Legislature routinely takes up bills that directly affect our rights. I've already found six State House candidates with anti-equality messages on their websites. We'll be calling them out just like we did in 2008. In the Nashville area, candidates for the Legislature that voted against the Metro non-discrimination ordinance are on the ballot. We'll be watching them closely, too.

If you'd like to help raise awareness of the State primary, check "attend" at our Facebook "event" and it will show up in your newsfeed. There's nothing to do after that but get informed and go vote.

-Chris Sanders

Monday, June 7, 2010

Two kinds of incrementalism in advocating job protections

First, let me say that incrementalism has become a bad word in the GLBT blogosphere. I don't say that's necessarily a universally shared view. But it's important to acknowledge at the outset that incrementalism with much justification is a bad word. Perhaps the most progressive president and Congress ever were elected in 2008, and the GLBT community's expectations were high after the election. Incrementalism was swept away as a necessary evil, a relic of the Bush-II years. Impatience is the order of the day.

TYPE 1--One meaning of incrementalism from the Bush years is particularly onerous--the effort in 2007 to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) without gender identity. Saying it that way is too clinical, though. What it meant was that transgender people, a sector of the population most susceptible to job discrimination and violence, would be left behind. The transgender community and allies have every reason to be on the lookout for this kind of incrementalism in current discussions of ENDA. Some voices in the GLBT community, not many of them saying so in public, continue to think that it would be sensible to go for ENDA with sexual orientation only and come back for gender identity later. As ENDA continues to be delayed, it may be that more of those voices will emerge from the shadows in an attempt to get something passed.

My first reaction is a philosophical NO. I can't see the justification for leaving behind a class of people who need these protections. I don't think that statement needs an elaborate "proof." I know it's not self-evident to everyone, but it is for me. It's probably not too persuasive, though, to certain kinds of incrementalists. They see themselves as practical people who want to move the ball forward...granted it's usually for themselves. But they see themselves that way nonetheless.

The most persuasive argument against that type of incrementalism is that it wouldn't move enough people to matter. The same people who are screaming about the imagined dangers of transgender people in restrooms (where's the evidence on this?) are completely opposed to any job protections based on sexual orientation. They are onto and completely opposed to ANY incremental approach. The Traditional Values Coalition is just one example. The fire fueling the opposition to ENDA in any form burns just as hot no matter how much of our community is included. I assure you that the Religious Right will not back down against a truncated ENDA.

So I say we just need to stand and fight.

TYPE 2--Despite my opposition to that type of incrementalism, there is another type that I completely support. The closest example I can draw on is the 2009 Metro non-discrimination ordinance. I don't believe we could have gotten half the support for an ordinance that would have applied to the private sector. Since no law (although there was a resolution in Shelby County and a Metro Schools policy) had ever been passed granting job protections in TN based on sexual orientation and gender identity, the territory was just too new. That's a sad statement on the state of equality in Tennessee, but it's where we are. Although the ordinance only applies to Metro government employees, it includes both sexual orientation AND gender identity. We wouldn't compromise on that point. There was an attempt to run a bill without gender identity, but it got amended to be inclusive. We were clear on this point from the beginning and our Council allies stood firm. No one was left behind. There was no question about coming back for anyone. Everyone took that small but important step together. It's a gain we can let sink in and build upon.

So until ENDA passes, TEP and others will continue to advance non-discrimination measures at the state and local levels in Tennessee. I believe we have an obligation to protect as many people as we can, protect them inclusively, and protect them with measures that can actually get the votes.

Maybe that's not philosophically consistent. I don't know. But from a practical point of view I would respond to the naysayers with this argument. My guess is that most of the members of Congress who support ENDA represent districts with at least one city that has some kind of non-discrimination ordinance. I believe that passing local ordinances makes it safer for members of Congress to support ENDA. I wouldn't say it's the definitive factor in their support, but it's a part of the puzzle. So I don't see that kind of incrementalism as a hindrance to achieving the larger goal of passing ENDA. If anything, it's a boost because it educates people in that congressional district about the issue of job discrimination.

-Chris Sanders