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, January 28, 2011

Birth certificate and hate crimes bills filed today

Two bills vital to the safety and equality of transgender people in Tennessee were filed today in the Legislature. Both bills will be familiar to equality advocates around the state as they have appeared in previous sessions

Birth certificates: Rep. Jeanne Richardson (D-Memphis) filed HB0187 that allows an amendment to one's birth certificate for gender. Tennessee is the only state by statute that prohibits such a change. The bill is important because one's birth certificate is used as a form of identification for employment, etc.

Hate crimes: Rep. Richardson also filed HB0188 to add a penalty enhancement factor for hate crimes committed on the basis of gender identity or expression. There is an existing penalty enhancement factor for sexual orientation. We have sadly seen a number of hate crimes against the transgender community in Tennessee over the last few years.

The Tennessee Transgender Coalition has taken the lead over the years in advocating these important pieces of legislation. TEP has been glad to support the bills. Equality advocates will have the chance to work on their behalf again on March 1 at the 7th annual Advancing Equality Day on the Hill.

-Chris Sanders

Thursday, January 27, 2011

No jobs for sinners: TN Baptist Convention reacts to Belmont announcement

The reaction among fundamentalists to Belmont University's announced policy change is revealing. Lonnie Wilkey, who is editor of Baptist and Reflector, had this to say:

When you open the door to have homosexual faculty and staff, you have already lowered and, in this case, completely disregarded Christian standards.

I must admit I am confused by a statement attributed to Belmont President Bob Fisher. Fisher told The Tennessean that he realized not everyone would agree with the new policy. He went on to say, "I am not going to dig into all the different positions that Christians come from on this issue because Christians do come from lots of different positions."

It seems pretty simple to me. Just take the position that is clearly spelled out in God's Word and we wouldn't even be having this discussion. Homosexuality is a sin and a Christian institution should not knowingly employ those engaged in it. It is not "discrimination" for a private organization to clearly state where it stands and hire accordingly.

The message is clear--one should not "knowingly employ those engaged in" homosexuality.

The discussion of Belmont and the Metro Contract Accountability Non-Discrimination Ordinance over the last two months has outed an aggressive agenda to much of the public in Middle Tennessee. Jobs are not about the work required by an organization. They are actually a tool to reward "straight" and narrow behavior and to teach sinners a lesson.

And why must gay people (gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people) be taught a lesson? David Shelley of the Family Action Council of Tennessee made his feelings clear when he was interviewed guarding the door of the secret meeting at LifeWay designed to thwart the CAN DO bill. As he told the City Paper's Joey Garrison:

“I believe homosexual behavior is not only morally wrong, it’s abhorrent, it’s unnatural,” Shelley said. “It prevents the species from reproducing and continuing, and it’s certainly not something that should be given special protection by law.”

Gay people have a choice in this worldview--repress it or suffer the consequences including getting fired. It is a fundamentalist's duty to make the choice clear to employees.

Except...where in the Bible does it say punish gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people by firing them? And why just them?

So much for the biblical debate. What matters is that the forays of fundamentalists into the public sphere have shown that they can't stick to a business argument to undo efforts to pass non-discrimination laws. They jump naturally to a very particular understanding of their private religious beliefs and attempt to embody them in public policy and in the policies of institutions.

That is the real agenda of these fundamentalist leaders. And that is what we face as we attempt to make arguments based on reason and American constitutional traditions when we discuss these issues. It's a fair point to ask as often as it takes, "Why should your particular religious views define whether I am eligible for a job?"

*Note: Not all Baptists believe what David Shelley and Lonnie Wilkey believe. Many believe firmly in the distinction between religious faith and public policy. Furthermore, some Baptists are extremely welcoming of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people. So it's important not to lump everyone together. But the leaders of the official Southern Baptist institutions are working hard to make sure that people continue to have the right to fire people based on sexual orientation and gender identity and it's important to make that clear.

-Chris Sanders

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Trouble for Rep. Casada's anti-anti-discrimination bill?

As first reported here at Grand Divisions, Rep. Glen Casada plans to file legislation that would prevent municipalities like Metro Nashville from extending their non-discrimination policies to businesses with which they contract. As of today, the legislation still hasn't been filed, even though the Representative indicated that it would be. So he's late, but I'm sure it's coming soon.

This bill has problems.

Not popular: Williamson A.M. letter writers don't seem to like it. OK, one letter writer liked it, but the rest clearly didn't. The writers either thought the state shouldn't be interfering in a local matter or that gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people should have job protections like everyone else.

Here's what Suzanne Clement of Franklin had to say:

Rep. Casada's attempt to prevent cities from enacting non-discrimination ordinances leaves a bad taste in my mouth on a variety of levels. Equality of rights and protections applies to all citizens, period, whether they are on the "official list" or not.

Casada's meddling with how municipalities do business is over-stepping. It is within the scope of the city governments' functioning bodies to determine what conditions apply to city contracts.

Worse, whether it is the intent or not, this measure appears to be an attempt to deny homosexual business people the right to equal consideration in doing businesss with cities.

I think he should step back on this one.

Smell Test: At a time when our Legislature is saber rattling about federal meddling in the states, it just seems odd to be considering state prohibitions on local government.

Interference with Contracts: I'm no lawyer, but doesn't it strike you as odd that with this bill the state government is trying to get between two parties in a contract? Isn't it typical for parties to set conditions for a contract? Why isn't Metro's proposed extension of its non-discrimination policy looked upon as just another condition that one party desires to set up in the contract that two parties freely enter into? If a business doesn't like the proposed condition, then it doesn't have to bid. This ought to be pretty easy.

Fun Fact of the Day: Rep. Casada's employer has inclusive workplace protections that cover sexual orientation and gender identity. According to his website, he has worked for Schering Plough for 23 years. Schering Plough gets a high score on the Human Rights Campaign's Corporate Equality Index. Yes, that's right; Rep. Casada most likely has openly gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender coworkers.

Note on that whole Williamson County vs Nashville thing: It just looks bad when a Williamson County state legislator and another Williamson County resident (David Fowler of Family Action Council) are the leaders in the effort to stop a Metro Nashville ordinance. It doesn't help appearances that Family Action is holding its Nashville "Truth Project" Worldview Training Seminar event in Williamson County. No doubt, one of the big topics at the seminar will be how to work against the Metro ordinance. I just shake my head sometimes at these things.

-Chris Sanders

Friday, January 21, 2011

Hard Copy: Nashville Business Journal surveys business reaction to CAN DO

Above the fold on the front page of the Nashville Business Journal is a great piece by Brian Reisinger on the business community's reaction to Metro's BL2011-838, the Contract Accountability Non-Discrimination Ordinance. It's only available in the print edition so I recommend going out and getting a copy. Here are a few highlights, but I won't give everything away since they obviously want you to go out and make a purchase. And I can't blame them in this economy.

Pretend business arguments: President of the Family Action Council of Tennessee David Fowler is attempting to make a business argument against the ordinance in the piece. It runs something like this. The ordinance would contribute to a "patchwork" of regulation that stifles business. Beware of culture warriors who try to use business arguments to justify opposition to human rights laws. The problem with Fowler's argument is that business is already used to the patchwork. Many Metro vendors already do businesses in many cities and states other than Nashville, TN. CCA and AT&T among others are already subject to many other jurisdictions. And what have they done? They adopted inclusive policies.

In the shadows: Interestingly the business leaders that met in secret a few weeks ago at LifeWay didn't want to comment. That tells me that their opposition is based on prejudice and a prejudice that they don't feel comfortable articulating in a public forum. And why would they? It's hard to justify job discrimination, after all. So they get Fowler to do their dirty work for them.

Prize for best argument: The price of the paper is more than worth it to read Darrell Freeman's comments. He not only says his companies are voluntarily updating their policies in light of the debate, but that it is actually detrimental to business if companies aren't hiring the best people. In other words, business not only can adapt, but it must adapt.

-Chris Sanders

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Contract Accountability Non-Discrimination Ordinance passes first test

Tonight in one of the longest Metro Council meetings in history due to the Fairgrounds public hearing, the Contract Accountability Non-Discrimination Ordinance (BL2011-838) passed 22 to 13 with 2 abstaining and 3 absent. Family illnesses and the long night took their toll on potential yes votes, but we still pulled out a victory on first reading. Given where the votes lie it will be necessary to reexamine strategy and possibly the content of the bill. But a successful first reading gives us time for both.

A big thanks to the Council Members who voted YES and to all the supporters who came out to advocate for the bill.

Here's how they voted:









Sunday, January 16, 2011

Haslam and Casada: Contrasting philosophies on government, business, and discrimination

According to Tennessee Report, Governor Bill Haslam has issued an executive order about job discrimination directed at companies considering locating in Tennessee:

Executive Order No. 2011-03 prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, gender, color, national origin, religion, age, and political affiliation or against otherwise qualified individuals with disabilities. The Commissioner of Economic and Community Development also is directed to inform and instruct all companies considering Tennessee as a business location that the prevailing policy of non-discrimination must be reflected in their employment practices and workforces in Tennessee.

Conflicting Philosophies: We obviously wish that the order included sexual orientation and gender identity, but there's another point here worth noting. The Governor obviously doesn't see his order as a barrier to job creation. What a contrast to another member of his party!

Commenting about Metro's proposed Contract Accountability Non-Discrimination Ordinance that would only require businesses contracting with Metro to change their policies, Rep. Glen Casada told the Tennessean:

"We’re putting so many require­ments on busi­nesses that we’re mak­ing them be the social police of the com­mu­nity,” he said. “That’s not their role.”

It's pretty clear that there's a philosophical difference at work here in the understanding of the relationship of government and business when it comes to discrimination. Let's hope the Haslam model prevails and can be expanded to be even more inclusive.

-Chris Sanders

Friday, January 14, 2011

Breaking: Campfield files Don't Say Gay bill

Everything old is new again. Senator Stacey Campfield has filed his Don't Say Gay bill again. It's SB0049 just filed today.

Here's a review:

Please, join us on March 1 for Advancing Equality Day on the Hill to work against this unneeded, discriminatory legislation. The legislation sounds a particularly tone deaf note in light of so many youth suicides last year (and years before) across the country due to bullying.

-Chris Sanders

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Closed door meeting to conspire against equality legislation

Today at 7:00 a.m. there was a closed door meeting at LifeWay in Nashville that should concern every Tennessean who cares about equality.
Certain business leaders along with Metro Councilman/State Representative Jim Gotto and Rep. Glen Casada met with the Family Action Council of Tennessee to work not only against the Contract Accountability Non-Discrimination Ordinance up for first reading in Metro Council on January 18, but against all local ordinances across Tennessee that would affect how municipalities conduct relationships with their vendors. The Tennessean obtained a copy of the email invitation.

Here's what we know about the meeting:

Secretive: Despite the fact that public officials were discussing legislation affecting the public, reporters such as the City Paper's Joey Garrison were turned away and told to wait outside.

Tactics Revealed: According to Councilman/State Representative Gotto, he or some other Council Member will attempt to pull the contract ordinance from the consent agenda on first reading and kill it then: “I feel certain that someone would pull the bill on first reading,” Gotto said. “If somebody doesn’t, then I more than likely will."

Statewide Master Plan: Our source who was present for the meeting indicates there are plans to look at ways to limit the ability of municipalities to add factors like gender identity and sexual orientation to their contracting policies. That would surely explain the presence of a Williamson County representative at a meeting related to a Metro Nashville issue.

The atmosphere of fear, secrecy, and conspiracy to limit the rights of cities and the state's gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community is disturbing. This is not way good public policy that brings progress to Tennessee is made.

-Chris Sanders

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Breaking: Lawmakers and some business leaders organizing against Metro Contract bill

We just got word about an hour ago that some members of the business community are having a meeting at LifeWay tomorrow (Wednesday) from 7:00 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. to discuss their opposition to the Metro Nashville Contract Accountability Non-Discrimination Ordinance.

Their guest speakers reportedly include a representative from the Family Action Council of Tennessee, Metro Councilman and State Representative Jim Gotto and State Representative Glen Casada, who will discuss state legislation to stop the ordinance.

So much for local control and smaller government!

-Chris Sanders

Could Nashville's contract ordinance advance equality throughout TN?

No doubt many equality advocates throughout Tennessee look at the CAN DO campaign to advance Metro Nashville's Contract Accountability Non-Discrimination Ordinance as a Nashville only kind of thing.

It's not. If it passed, it would have benefits for the movement for equality throughout Tennessee.


Well, while it's true that many of the companies that contract with Metro Government are based in Nashville, many are not.

A review of recent Metro vendors shows that they come from all over including White Bluff, Springfield, Columbia, Lebanon, Spring Hill, Dickson, Franklin, Memphis, Knoxville, Parsons, and Brentwood. The ordinance would provide an incentive for businesses all over the state to update their policies to be competitive for Metro business.

And that's a good thing! When you support TEP and the CAN DO campaign, you're helping advance equality throughout Tennessee.

-Chris Sanders

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Knoxville News Sentinel looks at local perspectives on marriage with a glaring omission

In response to a Pew Research Center and TIME study called "The Decline in Marriage and Rise of New Families," the Knoxville News Sentinel talked to eight couples or singles to get their views of marriage.

But they didn't include a same-sex couple in their set of reactions. Since marriage equality or so-called "gay marriage" is such a big topic today, it clearly should have been included. Readers would have learned what it's like to be in a committed relationship without any legal options to protect one's partner.

Unfortunately such erasure is far too common in the pages of this paper. If you'd like to contact the Knoxville News Sentinel, you can write to them at .

-Chris Sanders

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Business doesn't really have a problem with Metro Contract Accountability Non-Discrimination Ordinance

This piece in today's Tennessean indicates that some people THINK business will have a problem with the Contract Accountability Non-Discrimination Ordinance, but it's pretty clear that business really doesn't. Some business advocates perceive a problem, though.

*The piece quotes a representative of the Nashville Chamber who says that the bill would add cost to business. Why? It didn't cost Metro anything to update its policy in 2009. Is the cost printing new employee handbooks? There's no reason given.

*One pro-business Council Member is concerned about the bill's effect on small business' ability to compete if the provision is added to Metro contracting. But as our list of supportive organizations shows, many in Nashville's business community like the bill.

*Look at what actual businesses quoted in the piece say and you'll see they don't have a problem with the bill. They'll adapt:

Some major Metro contractors already have their own nondiscrimination policies in place. The Nashville Predators, which contract with the Metro Sports Authority to operate Bridgestone Arena, have a policy that forbids discrimination for any reason, according to Chief Operating Officer Sean Henry.

An executive for Messer Construction, which built the new Howard School Building office complex on Second Avenue South, said the company would not have an issue with adding protections on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

"We wouldn't have a problem amending ours to agree with what the city would want," Messer Vice President Dan France said.

A spokeswoman for Bell/Clark Construction, which is building the new convention center, said the company takes its cues from the council and Dean and would review its policies if the legislation were to pass.

-Chris Sanders

Monday, January 3, 2011

"I don't mean to impose..." Contract Accountability Non-Discrimination Ordinance as carrot, not stick

Some people have the jitters about the proposed Contract Accountability Non-Discrimination Ordinance coming before Nashville's Metro Council on January 18 for first reading. The bill would require future vendors doing business with Metro Government to update their non-discrimination policies to include sexual orientation and gender identity to match Metro's own policy for its employees.

Maybe it's all the Tea Party rhetoric in the air or something because a few people seem to be laboring under the assumption that this bill is an effort to IMPOSE something on the private sector. But if we are to speak truthfully about the bill, there is no imposition.


It's simple. No one is required to apply to be a vendor for Metro Government.

It's simple. Metro already has some existing contract standards for vendors. Are those impositions?

It's simple. Specifically Metro requires its vendors to agree to a "covenant of nondiscrimination" related to existing categories protected by federal, state, and local law.

Adding sexual orientation and gender identity to the contract requirements amounts to a carrot, not a stick, to induce (or "incentivize" to use an awful word) companies who want to do business with Metro to make their work places more inclusive. That's all.

You might even call it one of those "market forces." Metro has a demand for something and certain businesses will choose to try to supply it and some won't. Everyone's free!

Incentive, not imposition. That's all we're talking about here. So don't let people opposed to the bill steal the message and IMPOSE their meaning on the debate.

If you want to support the CAN DO campaign to pass the bill, contact us at .

-Chris Sanders

Saturday, January 1, 2011

TEP launches CAN DO campaign to support Contract Accountability Non-Discrimination Ordinance in Nashville

Tomorrow TEP will launch CAN DO, a campaign to support the Contract Accountability Non-Discrimination Ordinance expected to have its first reading in the Metro Nashville Council on January 18. The ordinance would require vendors doing business with Metro Nashville to include sexual orientation and gender identity in their non-discrimination policies.

The bill comes in the wake of reports of discrimination at Belmont University and the controversy over Metro's Rose Park lease with Belmont.

Appropriate Next Step: The Contract Accountability Non-Discrimination Ordinance is a good next step after Metro's successful 2009 non-discrimination ordinance protecting city employees. It is a logical extension of the principle to examine how the city's contracting process can further the goal of equal opportunity and avoid entangling the city in discrimination. Austin, Louisville, Atlanta, Houston, and Tucson already require vendors doing business with those cities to include sexual orientation and gender identity in their non-discrimination policies. New Orleans requires that vendors doing business with the city to include sexual orientation. Furthermore, many large employers in Nashville already include both sexual orientation and gender identity in their non-discrimination policies on a voluntary basis. So this legislation really isn't a big philosophical leap, although passage will be difficult.

How you can help: If you live in Metro Nashville and would like to help advance the ordinance, here's what you can do:

1. Support the campaign financially by making a contribution at this link.

2. Learn more about the bill. On January 15, Councilman Mike Jameson, a supporter of the ordinance, will speak about it at a Lobbying 101 session at First Church Unity from 1:00 to 3:00.

3. Let us know your Metro Council district. You can find it on your voter registration card or at this link. Then email us the information at .This will help us build a list of supporters in each Council District who can work for the bill.

4. Build the army. If your club, organization, business, or congregation would like to endorse the Contract Accountability Non-Discrimination Ordinance, email us . All your organization has to do is be willing to be listed as a supporter.

Together we CAN DO it!

-Chris Sanders