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, February 27, 2011

Memphis to celebrate Women's History Month by remembering Freda Ward & Alice Mitchell

Why would we want to remember two teens at the center of a lesbian murder/love tryst during Women’s History Month? 

At 12:30 PM on Saturday, March 5,  Meristem Book Club will sponsor a commemoration of Memphians Freda Ward and Alice Michell at Elmwood Cemetery, where both are buried.  March 5 will be the 137th anniversary of Freda’s birth.  

Freda Ward and Alice Mitchell were at the center of one of the most infamous trials of the nineteenth century.  Their tragic story has relevance for us today in light of bullying of LGBT teens and the continuing controversy over gay marriage

Freda and Alice were high school sweethearts who  planned to run away to St. Louis and be married.  Their plans were discovered by family who separated them until, in January of 1892, Alice killed Freda at the riverfront.   The resulting insanity trial made newspaper headlines across the country, and was written up in numerous psychological journals.  Plays and a song were written about the duo - but few Memphians have heard of them today.    

Alice was found guilty of insanity, in part because she believed that she and another young woman could marry and live independent lives as man and wife.  She was committed to the Western State Hospital for the Insane at Bolivar, where she died several years later.  

Meet at the Cottage in Elmwood
Cemetery in Memphis
The public is invited to join members of the Meristem Book Club to commemorate the tragedy of Freda and Alice and reflect on how their lives inform our own choices today.  The commemorative group will meet at the Cottage at Elmwood Cemetery  at 12:30 pm and proceed to Freda Ward’s burial site for a brief program.  Elmwood  is located at 824 South Dudley.

For questions about the Meristem Book Club commemorative event, contact Audrey May at 662-202-7757.  Meristem Book Club is a women’s book club which meets regularly at the Memphis Gay and Lesbian Community Center to discuss books by women and LGBT writers.  Recently, the group has added events of relevance to women’s history and culture..  For more information about the Meristem Book Club see

For information about or directions to Elmwood Cemetery, see .

For more information contact:

Audrey May
Meristem Book Club
662-202-7757 cell phone

TAKE ACTION against bad legislation to be heard in the Tennessee Legislature this Week!

Use your voice to fight against legislation which negatively impacts lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and their families in Tennessee. Participate in each of these petitions to send a message to members of legislative committees hearing legislation this week to protect the equality of LGBT people.

On March 1, the Senate State & Local Government Committee will hear legislation (SB 0630) that will take away the right of local communities to improve the lives of their citizens and give contractors special rights to discriminate against their workers.  On March 2, the House General Subcommittee of Commerce will hear the house version of this legislation (HB0598). As introduced, the “Special Access to Discriminate Act” will prohibit local governments from enacting non-discrimination provisions for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender employees of government contractors. SB 0630 will also prohibit local governments from enacting fair wage laws for employees of government contractors. 
Learn more and click through the next two petitions to send messages to committees of both chambers of the Tennessee General Assembly:

Petitions by|Start a Petition »

Petitions by|Start a Petition »

On Wednesday, March 2, the House General Sub-committee of State and Local Government will hear legislation that will suppress voting in Tennessee. HB0007 & HB0402 will require Tennessee citizens to present photo identification before voting in elections. Each proposed law will create extra hassles for many citizens without a photo ID when voting, including people who are poor, elderly, transgender or those who have religious objections to being photographed. HB0007 & HB0402 may force some citizens to complete extra paperwork not currently required and raises the risk of harassment and disenfranchisement of such voters.

Click through this petition to send a message to members of the House General Sub-Committee of State & Local Government to vote against HB0007 and HB0402:

Petitions by|Start a Petition »

Advancing Equality Day on the Hill on is just two days away. If you'll be with us on March 1, be sure to attend the Senate State and Local Government Committee hearing on SB0630 at 10:30 AM in Room 12 LP of Legislative Plaza.

If you cannot be with us on the Hill to advocate for the advancement and protections of equality, encourage your friends and family in Tennessee to participate in the above message campaigns. We must all do our part to ensure equality is protected.

You can help TEP advance and protect equality in this 107th Tennessee General Assembly by making a contribution today. Click here to make a financial commitment to the cause. 

- Jonathan Cole

TN General Assembly offers good and bad legislation for LGBT people

Tennessee Equality Project is actively monitoring the following bills in the 107th General Assembly of the State of Tennessee. While not exhaustive, this list contains legislation in this session that may advance or threaten the equality of LGBT people and their families. Click the bill number links for the most current status of legislation and learn more about these bills and their potential impact on Advancing Equality Day on the Hill on March 1. - Jonathan Cole

Sentence enhancements when gender identity motivates crime. (SB0314/ HB0188). Includes "gender identity or expression", rather than gender alone, on the list of motivations behind committing a crime that may be considered for sentence enhancement. (S: Marrero; H: Richardson).

“Abstinence-Centered” Sex Education (
SB 1305/ HB 1352). As introduced, implements an integrated sex education program in place of the family life curriculum and authorizes parents to maintain an action against an outside instructor or organization for teaching students about material prohibited by the curriculum guidelines. - Amends TCA Title 37; Title 49 and Title 68. (S: Johnson J.; H: Dunn).

Teaching of sexuality in elementary and middle schools (SB0049/
HB0229). Prohibits a public elementary school or middle school from the teaching of or furnishing of materials on human sexuality other than heterosexuality. (S: Campfield; H: Dunn).

Student participation in extracurricular activities (SB0426/
HB0432). Requires schools to notify parents or legal guardians of all clubs and organizations available to students attending such school by displaying such information in the student handbooks or policy guidebooks. Prohibits a school from allowing a student to become a member or participate in any activities of a club or organization if the parent or legal guardian of such student has tendered a written communication prohibiting such student from such membership or participation. (S: Campfield; H: Hill).
Schools must create policies to discourage cyber-bullying (SB0488/ HB0301). Defines cyber-bullying. Requires each school to implement policies against cyber-bullying and send a copy of the policy to the commissioner of education. Encourages school employees, students, and volunteers to report cyber-bullying, in addition to other forms of intimidation. (S: Ketron; H: Curtiss).

Policies regarding harassment, intimidation and bullying (SB0760/ HB1153). Clarifies terms and policies associated with harassment, intimidation and bullying. Adds that the policy prohibiting bullying shall not be interpreted to infringe upon the First Amendment rights of students and shall not prohibit their expression of religious, philosophical, or political views; as long as such expression does not include a threat of physical harm to a student or damage to a student's property. (S:Tracy; H: Dennis).
Policies on harassment and bullying (SB1923/ HB1105). As introduced, requires an LEA revising its policy prohibiting harassment, intimidation, or bullying, which was filed with the commissioner of education, to transmit the revised policy to the commissioner. - Amends TCA Title 49. (S: Woodson; H: Montgomery).


Birth certificate changes upon sworn statement (SB0313/ HB0187).
Allows a person's birth certificate to be changed to reflect a change of that person's gender upon a sworn statement by a certain medical or mental health professional. (S: Marrero; H: Richardson).


Photo ID required to vote (SB 0016/ HB 0007).
As introduced, requires a voter to present qualified photographic identification before voting; voters without proper identification shall be allowed to cast provisional ballots. (S: Ketron; H: Maggart).

Photo ID required to vote (SB 0375/ HB 0402). As introduced, requires a voter to present qualified photographic identification before voting; voters without proper identification shall be allowed to cast provisional ballots. (S: Bell; H: Watson).

Board of medical examiners to regulate genetic counselors (SB 0791/ HB0344). Recognizes that the board of medical examiners has the power to promulgate rules and regulations to administer the Genetic Counselors Licensing Act. (S: Overbey; H: Ramsey B.)

“Equal Access” to Intrastate Commerce Act (SB 0630/HB0598). Enacts the "Equal Access to Intrastate Commerce Act." Prohibits a local government from imposing an anti-discrimination standard that deviates or supplements the definition of "discriminatory practices" already existing in Tennessee Code Annotated. Prohibits any local government from imposing on any person health insurance benefits, minimum wage, or family leave requirements that deviates from state or federal statutorily recognized requirements. (S: Ketron; H: Casada)

"Equal Access" to Intrastate Commerce Act (
SB0631/ HB0601). Enacts the "Equal Access to Intrastate Commerce Act." Prohibits a local government from imposing an anti-discrimination standard that deviates or supplements the definition of "discriminatory practices" already existing in Tennessee Code Annotated. Establishes that the only anti-discrimination employment practices or standards that may be legally enacted by a local government with respect to any person must be limited to race, creed, color, religion, sex, age, or national origin. Prohibits any local government from imposing on any person health insurance benefits, minimum wage, or family leave requirements that deviates from state or federal statutorily recognized requirements. (S:Ketron; H: Casada)
“Equal Access” to Intrastate Commerce Act (SB0632/ HB0600). Enacts the "Equal Access to Intrastate Commerce Act." Prohibits a local government from imposing an anti-discrimination standard that deviates or supplements the definition of "discriminatory practices" already existing in Tennessee Code Annotated. (S:Ketron; H: Casada).


Prohibition of discrimination based on sexual orientation (
SB 1132/ HB 1317). As introduced, adds sexual orientation to the list of characteristics on which discrimination is prohibited in employment, public accommodations, and housing and financing. - Amends TCA Title 4, Chapter 21; Title 8 and Title 50. (S: Marrero; H: Jones S.)

Saturday, February 26, 2011

TN legislation designed to thwart Metro CAN DO bill imported from Colorado

The Colorado Independent reports on Focus on the Family's role in drafting state legislation across the country designed to undercut municipal non-discrimination ordinances, including the Tennessee legislation meant to stop the Metro Nashville Contract Accountability Non-Discrimination Ordinance. In Tennessee, Focus on the Family is active through the Family Action Council of Tennessee.

And that should answer the question of who's responsible for HB0598, HB0600, and HB0601. They are part of a national agenda directed at undoing the gains for equality achieved in American cities. That's where the discussion of who caused what ought to end.

Unfortunately, it's not the whole story. Throughout the debate on the Metro CAN DO bill, there has been an undercurrent that either Tennessee's GLBT community or Nashville Metro Council Members have brought this bad state legislation upon ourselves. If we hadn't "overreached" then we wouldn't be facing it. We acted out and drew fire that we should have seen coming. The old blame the victim game gets played out again!

In response: First, we did see it coming. We've been talking about the possibility of such legislation since 2009 when the Metro non-discrimination ordinance passed. Second, why on earth would we blame ourselves for trying to expand job opportunities for our community and fighting discrimination? Isn't the answer to stand together to defeat bad legislation and advance good bills? Third, non-discrimination ordinances expanded to include contractors have been tried in Shelby County and Memphis before. So to argue that Metro Nashville ordinance uniquely triggered the state legislation is to miss recent history. Family Action has been working on ways to fight back for months. Fourth, you can do nothing and bad legislation will still get filed. Our community never took any positive legislative steps to secure marriage or adoption rights in Tennessee and still legislators have worked to restrict those rights. The lesson is clear. It's better to go on the offensive when you can because the other side will always try to make you play defense.

Progressives can't afford to waste the time and energy blaming ourselves for the bad legislation that others are trying to advance. We know where these bills come from. Our job is to unite and fight back!

-Chris Sanders

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Gumbo as metaphor

On Sunday, February 20, Tennessee Equality Project will host its third Mardi Gras Party and its first Gumbo Tasting Competition in Memphis. During this highly political season with an ordinance expanding LGBT-inclusive workplace protections in Nashville and several bills affecting LGBT people and their families filed in the General Assembly, it's nice to take a break - if only for an afternoon.

I've learned to appreciate gumbo in profound ways.  Good gumbo takes time to make. My partner and I enjoy cooking gumbo together, and it can take all day. Years ago, we learned the basics: making a rich stock, choosing tasty combinations of seafood, vegetables and spices, and gradually heating the right ratio of flour and fat to make roux. Over time, we've experimented with different ingredients. But even when we don't vary much from our favorite recipe, our gumbo is always a little different each time.

Making gumbo is a lot like the struggle for equality. To advance equality, you need the right combination of ingredients prepared in just the right way. You start with your base of supporters (your stock). Then you add allies to join the cause (a diverse mix of ingredients). When it's time to advance your cause, you engage in the struggle. To me, the struggle is a lot like making roux over a hot stove. If you're not careful you can burn your roux - or yourself! But with patience, constant stirring and a watchful eye, the results can be so satisfying. When done right, gumbo is a labor of love.

I hope you're as hungry for equality as you are for gumbo. Join us this Sunday from 4:30-7 PM at the Hi-Tone Cafe at 1913 Poplar Avenue. The $10 admission benefits the work of Tennessee Equality Project. Learn more about the event on Facebook.

Laissez les bons temps rouler!

- Jonathan Cole

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

CAN DO bill passes 2nd reading 21-16

The Metropolitan Council of Nashville and Davidson County passed on second reading BL2011-838, the Contract Accountability Non-Discrimination Ordinance, by a vote of 21 to 16 with 3 abstentions.

TEP is grateful to the bill sponsors, Mayor Karl Dean, all the Council Members voting YES, and the 69 Nashville businesses and organizations (including 7 congregations) supporting the bill. Hundreds of citizens from Nashville wrote to the Council in support of the bill. Hundreds of citizens from outside Davidson County wrote to Council Members in opposition to the bill. The ordinance returns for third reading on March 15.

The bill overcame three objections raised in the debate--State Rep. Glen Casada's state legislation (3 bills) designed to undo the ordinance, concerns of the small business community, and prejudice from some quarters of the religious right. Councilman Mike Jameson spoke eloquently against bowing to the pressures of the state bill asserting a proper place for the work of local government, which allowed the Council to table Councilman Ryman's motion to defer the bill until June. Councilman Jamie Hollin neutralized the "it's bad for business argument" by running an amendment to exempt businesses with fewer than 15 employees, a smart move! Council Members Erica Gilmore, Buddy Baker, and Lonnell Matthews spoke from the heart about the image of our city, their personal commitment to the issue, and the wrongs of discrimination as an antidote to the comments of Councilmen Hodge and Claiborne.

Here's how they voted:

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

NO: Garrett, Tygard, Craddock, Bennett, Forkum, Ryman, Gotto, Burch, Stanley, Claiborne, Crafton, Dominy, Hodge, Toler, Duvall, and Todd.

ABSTAIN: Hunt, Adkins, Foster

-Chris Sanders

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Response to Nashville Chamber's letter to Metro Council on CAN DO bill

Yesterday the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce sent a letter to the Metropolitan Council about BL2011-838, the Contract Accountability Non-Discrimination Ordinance, in which they called for deferral and listed some of their questions and concerns about the bill.

Deferral: The question of deferral is a matter for the judgment of the bill sponsors. It appears, however, that the window for that opportunity is closing fast if it hasn't already. We are also working against the clock on advancing the legislation ahead of Rep. Glen Casada's bills that would prevent cities from enacting such ordinances. Regardless, it is worth noting that there would be over a month between second and third reading of the bill (if the bill advances) in which to get answers under the current calendar. So I hope we can continue the education process throughout the bill's discussion.

Members of the Chamber board can get the answers the Chamber requests: It should be pointed out that regardless of when or whether the bill moves forward, there are ample resources for answering the Chamber's questions. Since there are members of the Chamber's board from AT&T, Loews Vanderbilt Plaza Hotel, Deloitte, Bank of America, and Vanderbilt University (employers that already have inclusive job protections), the Chamber can consult their human resources departments. If the issues that the Chamber raises are difficult or insurmountable issues for business, it seems that their own leadership would be able to address them.

Looking at the questions: The Chamber asks 9 broad questions about the bill. But one thing that should be pointed out is that many cities and many Fortune 500 employers have already adopted these policies. Metro Councilman Jamie Hollin notes this in his open letter to the Chamber. For those unfamiliar with the ordinance, the Chamber's letter might lead some readers to believe we are, to use an overwrought phrase, reinventing the wheel with this legislation, but we have abundant experience with this legislation across the United States to know that it does not have a negative impact on business. As an addendum, I would like to see the Chamber ask some questions about the potential benefits for attracting talent to our city that the legislation provides. The work of Richard Florida is a touchstone on this point. But here are the Chamber's questions and observations.

1. The first question deals with complaints of discrimination in the procurement process. The question seems to be that since sexual orientation and gender identity are not federally protected classes (they are in hate crimes legislation in federal government employment, but not in private employment) that some new structure would be needed. And then they ask whether there would be safeguards from frivolous complaints. Our answer is that the existing process would work just fine. The legislation only adds two categories. It doesn't alter the process for assessing procurement. If a vendor is found to have discriminated, then the question is whether the contract with Metro continues, not whether the employee of the vendor needs a new structure to address a complaint. The ordinance is not blanket non-discrimination ordinance for the entire city and all its private employers; it is only another set of factors in determining which ones may bid for Metro contracts.

2. The Chamber observes that sexual orientation and gender identity are not defined in the ordinance. Race, sex, religion, etc. are also not defined in many Metro ordinances. Sexual orientation means whether one is heterosexual, homosexual, or bisexual. Gender identity means the gender with which you identity. Some people identity as male and some identity as female, regardless of the gender they were assigned at birth. Again, I would note that this is how the companies that make up the Chamber's leadership would use the terms. The answers are readily at hand. What ought to be important is that people are sometimes discriminated against on these grounds and that vendors doing business with Metro tax dollars should not be using these categories as a basis to discriminate.

3. The Chamber addresses the issue of communication about the ordinance and the need for community education. They request data about other cities and what resources exist in Nashville. First, I would say that community education can continue if the ordinance passes. Some community education has been going on for quite some time now. The city had a vigorous discussion of some of these issues in 2009 when the non-discrimination ordinance was passed. And since the Belmont University story broke in December, these issues have been in the media every week. And finally I would say that gathering the information for this education is not difficult. As we have noted, the Chamber has the resources of its board members whose companies have these policies and do business in jurisdictions where such ordinances exist. Furthermore, one can look at the experience of Metro Louisville, a city that has a comprehensive non-discrimination ordinance that applies to the private sector. That city's most recent Human Relations Commission (the entity that helps certify city vendors) report indicates that there were few complaints based on sexual orientation and gender and almost no complaints in any category including race, religion, etc. that escalated to litigation. The research burden is not difficult given so much experience across the country.

4. The next question deals with "disruption" in the workplace and costs, although no specific instances from any other jurisdiction that has the policy are cited. Again we would say that the Chamber can ask its board members whether there is a cost and whether disruptions result. And again, we would ask whether small disruptions and costs are worse than the practice of discrimination? Then further down in this section they ask some more specific questions related to implementation:

*What do smaller companies do that have fewer than 25 employees but no dedicated HR person? I believe there is willingness among the sponsors to look at an exemption for smaller companies. But even if the bill is not amended to exempt smaller companies, the bill does not require companies to change their written policies. It only asks them to sign an affidavit saying they don't and won't discriminate based on sexual orientation and gender identity. It doesn't require a "sophisticated human resource staff" to comply.

*How do companies balance religious beliefs with the issue of sexual orientation and gender identity? First, there is an exemption for religious organizations in the text of the ordinance. Second, employees have first amendment rights to express their religious beliefs as long as they don't disrupt the workplace, and reasonable accommodations must still be made for them. They just can't take sexual orientation and gender identity into account when they hire, fire, promote, or discipline while they're using taxpayer money to do work for Metro.

*What physical workplace changes are needed for transgender employees? None. Transgender people use the bathroom just like everyone else. Metro government did not add or alter restrooms when the 2009 non-discrimination ordinance was adopted.

*Will employers need to offer partner benefits? No, Metro doesn't do that now and there is nothing in the ordinance requiring partner benefits.

5. The proposed ordinance will continue to expand Metro policies beyond what is currently required under state and federal law which could introduce many situations where the effect of the policy will overlap with actionable claims, albeit under different legal causes of action. The point is not clear. The ordinance does go beyond the state and federal procurement process and beyond state and federal law in terms of defining protected classes in employment. But the ordinance does not create a new cause of action. The issue for the employer and Metro (if the employer discriminates) is whether the contract continues. Furthermore, it is possible to have overlap with actionable claims under state and federal law and Metro law now since all three include sex, race, religion, etc.

6. Is there a minimum number of employees a vendor must have in order to fall within the scope of the ordinance? The ordinance can be amended to set a minimum, but even if that doesn't happen, an employer doesn't have to change his or her written policies. All that is required is signing an affidavit saying that the employer will not discriminate in hiring, firing, etc. based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

7. It's not "readily apparent" that someone is gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender so it could be disputed whether an employer knew or suspected someone is "homosexual." That's true. It's also true for religion and national origin and in some cases race. The question is not what characteristics a victim of discrimination has. The question is whether the employer made hiring, firing, promotion, or discipline decisions based on sexual orientation or gender identity. In other words, I may not know someone's sexual orientation, but if I believe someone is a lesbian and I use that as the basis for firing her, then there's a problem. But the upside for employers on this point is that if they don't know someone's sexual orientation or gender identity, it may give them an additional defense in a dispute.

8. "It will be difficult for employers to determine whether it [sic] is meeting Metro's standard of providing equal employment opportunities for all sexual preferences [sic]. The ordinance covers sexual orientation, not sexual preferences. Furthermore, the ordinance is not a quota system. A company, particularly a small one, could end up not having any gay employees and still be in compliance as long as hiring decisions were not based on sexual orientation. Nothing in the text of the ordinance even hints at affirmative action benchmarks for gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender employees.

9. "Vague or impractical legislation could increases [sic] the cost of litigation. What is the exposure of business?" Fortunately, the legislation is neither vague nor impractical since many other cities have adopted such policies and thousands of companies have complied with such ordinances. As we have noted, the experience of Metro Louisville shows that the exposure of business to such lawsuits in all protected classes is minimal. Councilman Hollin's blog post cited earlier also demonstrates this point.

Finally, the Chamber adds points that it lists as "input from business." Here they are:

*"The legislation will inhibit the free flow of instrastate commerce of Tennessee. Metro does not need to dictate personnel policies to businesses from outside counties or encourage others to leave Nashville." First, many existing vendors already prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Second, given the size of Metro contracts, businesses will adapt to ensure their profitability. That is the experience of Louisville, Austin and many other cities that have these policies. There is no empirical indication that such policies drive businesses away. Furthermore, our city has the right to determine how its taxpayer dollars are used, regardless of where the vendor is headquartered.

*"At a time when Metro needs to get the best price for taxpayers in the provision of goods and services by its vendors and contractors, the new requirement will reduce the number of companies willing to bid, thus increasing costs to taxpayers." The answer is the same as above. Many vendors already have inclusive non-discrimination policies. Profit is a strong motivator and vendors will certainly continue to step up and bid for Metro contracts. And the experience of other cities shows that you can demand that your tax dollars not fund discrimination and still get a good deal for the taxpayers.

I hope that these answers are helpful in the ongoing discussions of this legislation.

-Chris Sanders

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Senator Campfield targets LGBT youth with potentially anti-GSA bill

Sen. Stacey Campfield of Knoxville appears obsessed with LGBT people in Tennessee. Early in the session, he filed the "Don't Say Gay in School" bill that would prohibit discussion or instruction in grades K-8 about homosexuality in the classroom. Now, the Senator and Rep. Matthew Hill of Jonesborough have introduced a bill that may discourage student participation in Gay Straight Alliances in Tennessee schools. The bill specifies that:

Each school shall notify the parents or legal guardians of all clubs and organizations available to students attending such school by prominently displaying the information in the school's student handbook, or other standard or policy guidebook that contains the policies and procedures of the school and is distributed annually.
Without directly saying so, this bill potentially targets lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning students looking for support, information and resources. The bill goes on to require that:
No school shall permit a student to become a member or participate in any activities of a club or organization if the parent or legal guardian of such student has tendered a written communication prohibiting such student from such membership or participation. In order to be valid, the written communication shall be signed and dated by the parent or legal guardian.
What does this mean? If a parent reviews published information about clubs and organizations from their child's school , it's up to the parent to express to the school in writing that they don't want their child to participate in certain clubs and organizations. The legislation does not require students to obtain a permission slip signed by the parent in order to participate in school clubs and organizations.

However, there is a risk that school administrators could interpret this law to mean that permission slips are a preferred avenue to adhere to this proposed law.

Imagine, if you will, a young gay student whose parents have expressed hostility toward LGBT people going to those same parents to ask them to sign a permission slip to join his school's Gay Straight Alliance. A permission slip system for school clubs could increase the isolation that many LGBT students experience.

Students who are LGBT or questioning may need a safe space in a school-sponsored Gay Straight Alliance to ask questions about human sexuality. It would be wrong to create unnecessary road blocks for students seeking information and resources. The proposed legislation could be strengthened with language explicitly stating that students are not required to obtain prior parental permission to participate in student clubs and organizations.
A permission slip system for school clubs and organizations could create an atmosphere of hostility in schools and in our community. With all the completed suicides among LGBT youth we heard about in 2010, we don't want this legislation to become life-threatening to the young people of Tennessee.

It's vital that each of us make a commitment to encourage our legislators to make schools safer for all students on March 1 during Advancing Equality Day on the Hill. Follow these easy steps to participate:

  1. Call your legislators' offices to schedule your appointment (Find contact information here). Your legislator may not know his or her schedule when you call, so keep calling for an appointment up until the week before March 1.
  2. When your appointment is made, enter your appointment details at Tennessee Equality Project's Legislator Appointment Tracker. Contact Michelle Bliss at with questions.

- Jonathan Cole

This post was edited after its original posting.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Casada's anti-anti-discrimination bill filed, attack on local government begins!

Rep. Glen Casada, as promised though late, has filed the ironically named Equal Access to Local Government Contracts and Services Act or HB0331. The bill is aimed at stopping the proposed Metro Nashville Contract Accountability Non-Discrimination Ordinance and all future local ordinances like it across Tennessee.

From the bill text:

(1) The only anti-discrimination employment practices or
standards that may be legally enacted or enforced by ordinance,
resolution or any other means by a local government with respect to any
person contracting or doing business with the local government shall be
limited to:
(A) Race, creed, color, religion, sex, age or national origin
as such terms are used and defined in § 7-51-1702 as
“discriminatory practices”; or
(B) Other types of discrimination recognized as
discrimination by state law but only to the extent recognized by the
(2) With respect to any person contracting or doing business with
a local government, no local government shall by ordinance, resolution or
any other means impose on or make applicable an anti-discrimination
employment practice, standard, definition or provision that deviates from,
modifies, supplements, changes or varies any term used in the definition
of “discriminatory practices” in § 7-51-1702 or any term used in such
definition as such terms are further defined in such section.
(3) Any such anti-discrimination practice, standard, definition, or
provision imposed or made applicable by a local government with respect
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to any person contracting or doing business with such local government
prior to the effective date of this act shall be null and void.

-Chris Sanders

Sunday, February 6, 2011

CAP report on faith and the politics of equality in Tennessee

Last week the Center for American Progress came out with a report that has so far been little noticed in Tennessee called Keeping the Faith: Faith Organizing for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Moral and Civil Rights in a Southern State. Written by Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite and Marta Cook, the document examines the ways in which faith communities play a role in the debates over equality for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people in Tennessee.

What they found might surprise you:

  • LGBT activists and faith allies in Tennessee have attained a remarkable level of success in a state with a high level of religious affiliation. Despite faith-based opposition that is well-organized and well funded, LGBT advocates have devel- oped creative strategies and messages regarding LGBT equality rooted in faith.
  • Tennessee exhibits less of a religious/secular divide between faith groups and LGBT activists than exists in other states. Many LGBT advocates are themselves faith leaders, and many LGBT organizations recognize that effective faith alliances and targeted faith messaging are critical to success.
  • Despite these efforts, serious challenges remain within key faith communities, including white evangelicals, Catholics, and African-American churches. Key to increasing the success of LGBT organizing work in Tennessee is expanding faith alliances. In some cases that means crafting outreach strategies and collaborative efforts to meet communities where they are.
  • LGBT policy activism has been remarkably effective in the state, securing state- wide hate crimes legislation that includes sexual orientation as a protected cat- egory, and in securing the passage of three local non-discrimination ordinances that address employment issues.
  • While certain African-American faith allies are doing brave and significant work in Tennessee to support LGBT moral and civil equality, most do not come from historic African-American churches. African-American and white faith allies agree on the need for more reciprocity in raising issues of social and economic justice for African Americans alongside issues of equal legal rights for LGBT citizens of Tennessee. They see this as indispensible to having more African Americans become a part of the LGBT movement in the state.
  • HIV awareness/prevention campaigns have provided critical opportunities for concrete work between LGBT groups and African-American churches. This work tends to be below the radar and involves broader issues of health and sexuality education. Some African-American faith allies, white faith allies, and LGBT activists, however, see this issue area as a way for collaborative work to go forward between these communities.
  • Creative faith collaborations, targeted faith messaging, and efforts to expand faith support for equality should not obscure the enormous obstacles that LGBT advocates and allies face in Tennessee. Opposition from religious and political conservatives has increased political support for intolerance and pro- duced negative effects within the LGBT community, where some distrust the validity of any faith activism.
  • In addition to cultivating faith allies and making a faith case for equality in Tennessee, growing the organizational and technological sophistication of the LGBT movement in Tennessee is essential to more effectively compete with well-funded and organized opposition.
-Chris Sanders