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, August 31, 2011

Is Monroe County a hotbed for homophobia in Tennessee?

In September of 2010, Carol Ann and Laura Stutte returned home to Vonore in Monroe County, Tennessee to find their home burned to the ground in an apparent act of arson motivated by anti-gay bias. In early 2011, the Sweetwater Housing Authority Executive Director just a few miles down the road compared gay people with "drug users and sellers, gang members, prostitutes, cults, and murderers" in a letter to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Now LGBT students are looking for support at Sequoyah High School which is one of twelve schools in the the Monroe County School District. The students say that school officials will not allow them to form a Gay-Straight Alliance to confront years of unaddressed anti-LGBT bullying they have experienced in public school.

That's an awful lot of homophobia and transphobia for one year's time in a county of less than 45,000 people.   

TEP PAC Meet & Greet and Straw Poll a success!

A C Wharton won last night's TEP PAC Straw Poll

I wish you could have all been there.  We had a great happy hour meeting new advocates as well as the candidates running for Memphis City Council in the upcoming election.  It was a relaxing atmosphere in which to discuss equality issues, our concerns, and our hopes with people who will have the power to make a difference.  TEP PAC endorsed candidates attending last evening's soiree included Councilman Myron Lowery, Councilman Jim Strickland, Councilwoman Janis Fullilove, and candidates Paul Shaffer, Lee Harris, and Sylvia Cox.  Getting to talk to these candidates in this informal setting was a unique opportunity, and we appreciate their attendance.

Mayor AC Wharton won the straw poll in a landslide.  In fact, the only vote cast other than for Mayor Wharton went to Prince Mongo, the perennial mayoral candidate.  We congratulate Mayor Wharton, and we thank those who cast their vote in the poll.

The election is already upon us.  Early voting begins September 16 and election day on October 6.  Make your plans to vote and let your voice be heard.  For your benefit,  I've reposted the PAC's election guide.

Thanks to everyone who helped last night, and thank you especially to the Hi-Tone Café for hosting the event.

-          Anne Gullick, TEP Board member and Shelby County Committee Co-Chair

Sunday, August 28, 2011

No retreat, no surrender

Today a big chunk of Tennesseans woke up to Sunday papers covering the resilience of Tennessee's gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community. Both pieces show why we're here to stay and why we will ultimately prevail in spite of a hostile political climate.

Thriving beyond discrimination: Tennessean readers couldn't avoid the extensive piece about former Belmont University soccer coach Lisa Howe and how she has become a catalyst and fighter for a new phase in the equal rights movement in Tennessee. Her experience led to the Metro Contract Accountability Non-Discrimination Ordinance, which was nullified by HB600, setting off a statewide conversation. The story hits a lot of the biggies--job discrimination, marriage, and family life.

Rep. Glen Casada, the sponsor of the infamous HB600, rehashed his talking points for the piece:

“Cities just need to abide by the state law when it comes to discrimination,” he said. “We don’t want the government telling every business what they can and cannot do. We want a uniform set of rules, and that’s what this law is attempting to do.”
Can the story of a life that is emblematic of the ways people have been touched by discrimination be buried by the imagined need for uniform business standards masking bigoted motives? No. The story simply will not die. In fact, it continues to gain traction months after Governor Bill Haslam signed the bill. The story lives because Lisa and others continue to fight.

We're popping up everywhere, even in Red Bank: Times Free Press readers must be pausing today as they find out that the Southeast TN community of Red Bank has a high concentration of same-sex couples. Hamilton County as a whole saw a 58% increase in same-sex couples over the last ten years. The piece indicates what those of us inside the community know--not only is the community growing, but we're more out and visible than ever before. If discriminatory laws are designed to drive us out of state or underground, they're not working.

The fight goes on: As Obi-Wan said, "If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you could possibly imagine." Lisa Howe and those couples living in Red Bank may not be conventional activists, but they will show us the way. To those opposed to equality, Tennessee's gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community in solidarity with our allies says, "We will come out. We will live our lives. We will out-lobby you (even if it takes years). We will take you to court. We will out-media you. We will resist you with everything we have because our lives and the lives of those we love depend on it. And we will be equal."

-Chris Sanders

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Census shows significant increase in TN same-sex couples

The most recent round of data from the Census reveals a significant increase in the number of same-sex couples in Tennessee. This post is just a quick look. Number crunchers will dig deeper over the next few weeks, and we'll try to make any analysis available when we receive it.

The numbers: A Williams Institute "Census Snapshot" for Tennessee notes 16,322 same-sex couples in the state based on the 2010 data. Williams Institute analysis of the 2000 census showed 10,189 same-sex couples in 2000 and 13,570 in 2005. County-by-county information is not yet included in the 2010 snapshot, but we can compare a few numbers. 1659 same-sex couples lived in Davidson County in 2000, but the number had almost doubled to 3038 by 2010. The increase was also significant for Knox County with 857 in 2000 rising to 1420 in 2010. Rutherford County's numbers more than doubled from 305 in 2000 to 710 in 2010.

Reason for increase: It's hard to know precisely why the numbers increased. Part of the reason is clearly the rise in Tennessee's population in general. Another reason is, no doubt, the fact that couples feel more comfortable revealing their relationships to government data collectors.

Discrimination: It's interesting that the numbers increased at these levels considering the setbacks that the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community has faced in Tennessee over the last ten years. In 2003 Metro Nashville failed to pass a proposed non-discrimination ordinance, a deficit that wasn't remedied until 2009. Other cities such as Memphis have faced similar struggles in passing protective ordinances. In 2006 voters passed a state constitutional amendment defining marriage as only the union of one man and one woman with an 81% majority. But GLBT people are like everyone else in the sense that jobs, family ties, and networks of friends draw them to or keep them in certain areas regardless of the legal climate.

Policy implications: I've said it before, but Tennessee's demographics and lack of inclusive laws are on a collision course. Tennessee is increasingly home to many same-sex couples who live in every county despite the fact that state government and no local government in the state recognizes their relationships. Some couples are fortunate that both partners are afforded health insurance by their jobs or that one partner works for a private employer such as Vanderbilt University or AT&T providing partner benefits. Marriage equality, the real, lasting solution for couples who would like to take advantage of it, is probably a long way off in Tennessee and dependent upon future court challenges. In the mean time, measures that may have a chance of advancing in some local governments and public universities include partner health insurance benefits for their own employees. Currently no public entity in Tennessee provides partner health insurances benefits for its employees. And that is to say nothing of the hundreds of other benefits and responsibilities that come automatically with marriage.

The years ahead will be rough as this tension plays out. Our hope is that the numbers will help generate more movement on relationship recognition in Tennessee.

-Chris Sanders

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Volunteers needed for study of gay black and white men in the South

Dominique White, graduate student of Sociology at Arkansas State University in Jonesboro, Arkansas is conducting a comparison study of the lives of gay black and white men living in the South, particularly Arkansas and Tennessee.   She is currently trying to find black male participants to partake in one focus group in Nashville and/or Memphis.  The focus group will consist of 10-15 gay black males.  The comparable focus group will consist of 10-15 white gay males.
The criteria for participation is as follows:

1. Participants must be 18 and older
2. Participants must live in Tennessee
3. Participants must be openly gay

If interested, please contact Dominique White at for more information.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

GLAAD Media Essentials Workshop a Success!

Media workshop attendees came from Memphis, Collierville, Jackson, Clarkesville, Nashville,
Cookeville, Hendersonville, Murfreesboro, Woodbury, Knoxville, Maryville, and Johnson City.

Nearly 50 advocates from each Grand Division of the state attended GLAAD's (Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) Media Essentials Training on Aug. 20 in Nashville at St. Anne's Episcopal Church. Tennessee Equality Project thanks GLAAD's Daryl Hannah for coming to Tennessee to provide this workshop.

Anne Gullick, TEP Board member and Shelby County Committee Co-Chair had this to say about the training:

"I attended GLAAD Media Essentials training yesterday in Nashville sponsored by TEP and attended by equality advocates from Johnson City to Memphis and points in between. These advocates represented numerous GLBT interest groups, and they are movers and shakers in their home communities. It was a thrill just to hear about what is happening on the local level. We then were treated to the force of nature that is Daryl Hannah (his name is a conversation starter), and he was so informative, inspiring, thought provoking, and entertaining. He invited input from the activists, and the passion in the room was evident. He sent those activists out with a plan and tools to better spread a positive message. Daryl then spent some time with TEP leaders giving us a plan for action on what we have branded as the "Don't Say Gay" bill. A daunting task in front of us, but he gave us valuable tools and a new mind set. 
This was world class training from one of the best. I am better prepared, and I am inspired. I am fortunate to have been included in this day, and I am looking forward to implementing all that I learned. Watch out, Shelby County and Tennessee. 'We are ready to be the change we want to see' - Mahatma Ghandi"

If you missed the training or you'd like to review the material again, we encourage you to download this PDF. GLAAD also offers a printable manual on Media Essentials on their website.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Day the Tide Turned: August 18, 2009

Two years ago on August 18, things changed in Tennessee. Two years ago on that night, I knew the movement for equality was finally going somewhere.

Two years ago on August 18, a non-discrimination ordinance that included both sexual orientation and gender identity passed a critical second reading in Nashville's Metro Council. And it was the first time that ever happened in our state. Introduced by Councilwoman At-Large Megan Barry (pictured right the night it passed on third reading) and several other sponsors, the bill went through with a few bumps but relatively unscathed. But by the end of the night we knew we were close to victory. That night set the stage for so many things to come well beyond September 25 when Mayor Karl Dean signed the NDO into law.

Realizing the NDO's Potential: Fast forward to late November/early December 2010. We began hearing reports that Belmont University was, to put it mildly, having difficulties dealing with their lesbian soccer coach,Lisa Howe, who had announced that she and her partner were having a baby. Given Metro's relationship with Belmont and some of with its key leaders a period of anguished public soul-searching began in Nashville that resulted in Council Members Jamie Hollin, Erica Gilmore, and Mike Jameson filing the Contract Accountability Non-Discrimination Ordinance that finally passed on April 5 of this year. Along the way Mayor Karl Dean instructed Metro's boards and commissions to update their non-discrimination policies to include sexual orientation and gender identity. But both developments were predicated on the principle enunciated in the 2009 non-discrimination ordinance for Metro government employees. It was the foundation of both advances.

Gathering Storm: More ominous developments were brewing, too, which promised to take the debate statewide. Fast on the heels of the CAN DO bill's introduction, Family Action Council of Tennessee, Rep. Glen Casada, and some Evangelical members of the business community gathered at LifeWay to develop strategies to undo CAN DO. Rep. Casada proposed three bills, but ended up running the infamous HB600 that eventually passed and was signed by Governor Bill Haslam. But that would not be the whole story. In the process, Tennessee's four largest cities for the first time actively lobbied against an anti-equality bill. The Tennessee Chamber of Commerce was forced to reverse its position on the bill because of a national outcry assisted considerably by the work of Garden State Equality and Americablog. The Shelby County Commission and several local lawmakers from around the state also opposed the bill. People across the state, across the country took sides on the issue of job discrimination in Tennessee.

Going to Court: Informal discussions of a court challenge emerged in January when the HB600 was introduced. In June Abby Rubenfeld filed suit on behalf of several plaintiffs including Lisa Howe and three members of the Metro Council. But the question of how involved Metro would be in an official capacity lingered. Now we have the answer. This week the Metro Council passed Councilwoman Kristine LaLonde's non-binding resolution asking the Metro Law Department to file an amicus brief in support of the lawsuit. The following day, the City Paper's Joey Garrison reported that the Metro Law Department will file such a brief putting the Metropolitan Government squarely in the fight against the discriminatory state law.

What's Next?: We couldn't have predicted all the potential, both good and bad, that warm August night held two years ago. The passage of HB600 was definitely a low point in the battle for equality in Tennessee. But it's only a pause on the journey that started with Metro BL2009-502. The power of what started with the NDO is not nearly spent. The coalition that came together to pass that ordinance has grown stronger and the conversation continues to expand throughout Tennessee.

-Chris Sanders

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Memphis City Council Election Guide from TEP PAC

TEP PAC is pleased to announce endorsements in every competitive race for Memphis City Council elections scheduled for October 6, 2011

We urge you to support the following candidates to create a pro-equality consensus on the Memphis City Council.
You can help make Memphis more LGBT-inclusive by contributing your time and donations to these candidates to ensure passage of pro-equality legislation in the next term.


2. Sylvia Cox
4. Wanda Halbert
5. Jim Strickland NEW!
6. Edmund Ford, Jr.


8-1. Tammy Warren
8-2. Janis Fullilove
8-3. Myron Lowery NEW!
9-2. Shea Flinn

All of the above candidates in italics are incumbents and they voted pro-equality in the last term. Council members Harold Collins (3), Jim Strickland (5), Myron Lowery (8-3) and Reid Hedgepeth (9-3) face no opponents in the October 6 election.

Additionally, TEP PAC recognizes the follow candidates as equality advocates: Scott Banbury (7), David Vinciarelli (7) and Rosalyn Nichols (8-2).

Make our Candidates Visible

You can play a key role in helping elect pro-equality candidates by taking a yard sign for them, canvassing or phone banking for them or making a donation to their campaigns. If you are interested in helping, contact us at or Also contact us if you'd like to help distribute TEP PAC endorsement flyers at the September 17 Cooper Young Festival and other community events during the campaign season.

Early voting begins on September 16.

TEP PAC is a state political action committee registered in Tennessee, Joyce Peacock, treasurer. The endorsements of TEP PAC do not necessarily represent the views of the board of the Tennessee Equality Project. 

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Rebuff of Legislature on the Agenda of Council Meeting

The 2007-2011 term of the Metropolitan Council could end with a bang, specifically a bang directed at the 107th General Assembly. The agenda contains two resolutions aimed squarely at two anti-equality bills that were prominent in this year's coverage of the Legislature.

RS2011-1810 by Councilwoman Kristine LaLonde urges the Metro Law Department to file an amicus brief in the court challenge to HB600, the Special Access to Discriminate law that nullified the Metro Contract Accountability Non-Discrimination Ordinance.

by Councilman Jamie Hollin honors the Nashville high school students who protested against the Don't Say Gay bill.

These resolutions, while non-binding, highlight two approaches to fighting back against a Legislature that has clearly shifted too far to the Right and meddled in the prerogatives of local government. They also represent a fitting end to the term of a Council that has led the way for the cause of equality in Tennessee.

Clerk controversies will also take up a good chunk of the Council's business on Tuesday. A resolution calling for the resignation of County Clerk John Arriola and the selection of the new Criminal Court Clerk are also on the agenda. TEP PAC has endorsed Steven Murff for Criminal Court Clerk.

To contact the Council about these resolutions and the selection of the Criminal Court Clerk, go to this page. Remember that everyone in Davidson County has one district Council Member and you are also represented by all 5 Council Members At-Large. The form at the link allows you to contact all 40 Council Members about any of these matters, if you prefer. Please, make sure to include your home address when contacting the Council and be polite!

-Chris Sanders

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The unfinished business of equality in the Bluff City - Part 2

Members of the Memphis City Council in 2011
In Part 1 of this blog series, I briefly reviewed the workplace equality legislation on the Memphis City Council's agenda in 2010 and the restrictions imposed by the Tennessee General Assembly on local governments in the form of the Special Access to Discriminate Act. In Part 2 we'll explore who on the Memphis City Council and in the Mayor's office stayed true to their pledge to support LGBT-inclusive workplace protections in the City of Memphis and where we can find votes for equality on the Memphis City Council in the next term. Let's remember where we've been before moving forward with this year's election.

In his 2007 TEP PAC Survey, District 1 Councilman Bill Morrison expressed support for an LGBT-inclusive employment non-discrimination ordinance.  But in 2010, Morrison failed to follow through on his pledge. When the Memphis City Council first attempted to enact the ENDO in the summer of 2010, Morrison tried to substitute weaker legislation that provided no specific protections for LGBT employees. In the fall of 2010, Morrison abstained on the first reading and voted against the ENDO on second reading. Morrison's 2007 campaign for City Council benefited from the support of many LGBT advocates who believed in him. He will likely gain little traction among LGBT voters and their allies in 2011.

Councilman Bill Boyd of District 2 has never sought the endorsement of TEP PAC. Boyd was one of the most vocal opponents of the ENDO in 2010 - voting no on first and second reading in the fall of that year. He spoke disparagingly about LGBT people and their families when interviewed by the Commercial Appeal last summer saying "I'm opposed to anything that would advance the notion of people with that lifestyle."

Councilman Harold Collins of District 3 did not seek the endorsement of TEP PAC in 2007. Collins served as Chairman of the Memphis City Council when the ENDO was introduced in the summer and fall of 2010. In the fall, Collins voted in favor of the ENDO on first reading. However, he withdrew his support on second reading. Collins has no opponent in 2011. His constituents will play a key part in persuading him to vote for equality in his second term. No surveys from TEP PAC were sent to candidates running for re-election without opposition in 2011.

Councilwoman Wanda Halbert of District 4 won the endorsement of TEP PAC in 2007. When the ENDO was introduced in the summer and fall of 2010, she voted in favor of the legislation at every opportunity. Her pledge and her votes are consistent.

Councilman Jim Strickland of District 5 won the endorsement of TEP PAC in 2007. Strickland served as Chair of the Personnel and Intergovernmental Affairs Committee when the ENDO was introduced in the summer and fall of 2010. He voted in favor of the legislation at every opportunity. Strickland faces no opposition to re-election in 2011.

Councilman Edmund Ford, Jr. of District 6 did not seek the endorsement of TEP PAC in 2007, but Ford consistently voted in favor of the ENDO at every opportunity in 2010.

Former Councilwoman Barbara Swearengen Ware of District 7 did not seek any support from the LGBT community in her 2007 campaign for Memphis City Council. Ware was a vocal opponent of the ENDO in the summer of 2010. She took the extraordinary step of requesting that the Memphis City Council vote on the ENDO separately from the Consent Agenda on first reading in an attempt to defeat the legislation. Ware was indicted and suspended before the ENDO was introduced in October of 2010. Ware resigned her seat in the Spring of 2011 and the Council appointed Berlin Boyd to finish the current term in District 7. LGBT advocates who want to see an equality advocate elected in District 7 will pay close attention to the candidate's positions in this race.

Councilman Joe Brown of Superdistrict 8, Position 1 has never sought support from TEP PAC or the LGBT community in previous City Council elections. Brown did not say much about the ENDO when proposed in the summer and fall of 2010, but he voted against it at every opportunity.

Councilwoman Janis Fullilove of Superdistrict 8, Position 2 won TEP PAC's endorsement for City Council in 2007. Fullilove has passionately fought for LGBT-inclusive workplace protections as a sponsor of the employment non-discrimination ordinance in the summer of 2007. Fullilove endured death threats and vandals leaving a dead cat on the doorstep of her home when the legislation was introduced - proving that straight allies can become victims of hate crimes based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Fullilove talks the talk and walks the walk on LGBT equality.

Councilman Myron Lowery of Superdistrict 8, Position 3 won TEP PAC's endorsement for City Council in 2007. At every opportunity in 2010, Lowery voted in favor of the ENDO while serving on the Memphis City Council. Lowery faces no opposition in the 2011 election.

Councilman Kemp Conrad of Superdistrict 9, Position 1 did not ask for TEP PAC's endorsement in his 2008 special election. When the ENDO was introduced in the summer of 2010, Conrad worked with Councilman Morrison to substitute a weaker ordinance with no protections for LGBT employees. Conrad consistently voted against the ENDO in the summer and fall of 2010. He was the only council member to vote against a resolution to study discrimination against LGBT employees in City government.

Councilman Shea Flinn of Superdistrict 9, Position 2 won TEP PAC's endorsement when he was elected to the Memphis City Council in 2007. While Flinn did not support an employment non-discrimination resolution affecting private employers, he has consistently voted in favor of protecting employees of the City of Memphis from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Flinn sponsored the second version of the ENDO introduced in the fall of 2010.

Councilman Reid Hedgepeth of Superdistrict 9, Position 3 did not seek TEP PAC support in his 2007 election to the Memphis City Council. Hedgepeth was absent on the first reading of the ENDO in the fall of 2010, but voted against the legislation on second reading. Hedgepeth faces no opponent in his re-election to the council in 2011.

This post would not be complete without some discussion of Memphis Mayor AC Wharton. When he served as Mayor of Shelby County, Wharton pledged support for Commissioner Steve Mulroy's employment non-discrimination ordinance. When he ran for Mayor of Memphis, Wharton stated in a debate that he would support similar protections for Memphis. When the legislation was first introduced to the Memphis City Council in the summer of 2010, Wharton's administration suddenly adopted a neutral stance on the issue. After TEP worked for weeks with Wharton's City Attorney office on legislation he could support, the Mayor abandoned his position. He issued a statement that read:
I have stated that I believe governments should focus on merit and merit alone in their hiring and purchasing policies. My beliefs or views on the subject have been clear and consistent throughout my entire life. I will not permit them to be mischaracterized by any group, individual or elected body who seek a convenient excuse to avoid the issue now that it is at hand.
Wharton also told the Council that he would support any version of the legislation the body was willing to enact. Translated, he would support legislation that did not contain any explicit protections for LGBT employees. While Wharton is not an entrenched opponent of equality, his neutrality disappointed LGBT advocates in the Bluff City. Since that time, Mayor Wharton responded attentively to the recent incident involving allegations of  harassment of Kiare Newsom by Memphis Police. Wharton attended a meeting with members of Tennessee Equality Project, Police Director Toney Armstrong and his staff and offered approaches to ensure the safety of transgender members of the community. For its size, Memphis falls behind many other cities in the United States that already protect LGBT citizens from discrimination and harassment. Mayor Wharton could do more to bring Memphis into the 21st Century.

- Jonathan Cole

Monday, August 8, 2011

The unfinished business of equality in the Bluff City - Part 1

In 2010, the Memphis City Council failed to enact employment non-discrimination legislation that would provide LGBT-inclusive workplace protections to employees of Memphis City government and employees of city contractors. A resolution protecting contract employees never made it out of committee and the employment non-discrimination ordinance (ENDO) failed by one vote on second reading.

Since that time, the legal frame work for extending workplace protections to employees was narrowed by the Tennessee General Assembly with the "Special Access to Discriminate" Act (HB600/SB632). In the State of Tennessee, local governments are prohibited from protecting the employees of private employers from unfair discrimination if state law does not already protect those employees - even when those private employees are paid with your tax dollars. Tennessee Equality Project has joined other plaintiffs in a court challenge of the SAD Act. 

While the SAD Act hinders efforts in the private sector to protect employees, the City of Memphis can protect government employees from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. City of Memphis elections on October 6 present a new opportunity to advance workplace equality in Memphis for city employees. 

Within days, TEP PAC will announce endorsements for Memphis City Council. When this happens, we hope that you'll make a commitment to support these endorsed candidates as a volunteer for their campaigns, with contributions to fund their campaigns, and - most important - with your vote. Early voting begins Sep. 16, so there are only 5 weeks to educate voters about the equality advocates running for office. 

What will you do to help resolve the unfinished business of equality in the Bluff City?

- Jonathan Cole

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Ambulances and Elections: Which way are we going, Nashville?

It has taken me about 36 hours to process what has happened on Thursday, but I believe Nashville is still headed in the right direction for those of us who care about equality.

Ambulances: On Thursday, as I was heading to the Madison Library to hold a sign for Nancy VanReece's Metro Council campaign, I got a call from Jerry Jones of Out & About Newspaper about a Nashville Fire Department paramedic who posted anti-gay comments in a Facebook group, some of them specifically about co-workers. The story has also been covered by WSMV and WTVF. The Fire Department is handling the incident responsibly; the coverage even indicates the paradmedic's co-workers gave him Hell about his comments. And no one should be surprised because this is exactly what we've been working for since 2007 when our election involvement was based on passing the 2009 Metro non-discrimination ordinance that protects government employees from job discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. I should also point out that the Nashville Firefighters' union endorsed that ordinance, so it doesn't shock me that they're serious about good working conditions for all their members. Still, it's a nice confirmation that the workplace is changing for the better in Metro.

Elections: Election night was more of a mixed bag in terms of what we hoped for, but the results still bode well for advancing good public policy when the new Metro Government takes office.

*Overall: Mayor Karl Dean, the most pro-equality executive in the history of Tennessee, won easy re-election as did Vice Mayor Diane Neighbors, who has always been clearly on the side of fairness for the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community. Three of our five TEP PAC-endorsed Council At-Large candidates (Megan Barry, Ronnie Steine, and Jerry Maynard) won their spots outright and will not face a runoff, with Barry and Steine as the top vote recipients. And even though they didn't make the cut, Vivian Wilhoite and Sam Coleman came in 7th and 8th in a crowded field and it has been great working with them both. A total of 18 of our endorsed Council candidates won outright on Election Day and we're particularly happy about the outcome for Fabian Bedne, the first Hispanic person elected in Nashville. Four of our endorsed candidates are in a runoff, including Peter Westerholm, TEP's former public policy chair. Additionally, Bo Mitchell, who has a perfect voting record on equality bills, won outright as did others candidates with whom we can work. So we should have a pro-equality majority in the new Metro Government.

*Departing Foes: Eric Crafton and Jim Hodge, two vocal opponents of equality measures, will not be returning when the new Council is sworn in. I won't miss the sneering from one or the comparison of homosexuality to smoking from the other.

*Hard Losses: The hardest losses were in districts 16, 8, and 18. Councilwoman Anna Page has a perfect voting record on equality bills and it is very sad that she wasn't reelected. Districts 8 and 18 gave us hope for openly gay Council Members emerging victorious from competitive races, but we'll have to wait a little longer for that. First-time candidate Nancy VanReece ran a great race in a moderate to conservative district and I'd say she's competitive for the seat if she chooses to seek it in four years. David Glasgow came so close this time, but I know he will continue to find ways to serve Nashville and his neighbors in the 18th. They both make our city proud.

Nashville is still moving forward.

-Chris Sanders

Monday, August 1, 2011

The real historic opportunity in Metro elections: Government that reflects Nashville

This year's Metro Nashville elections offer the opportunity to make history, and the media have picked up on that theme a bit. But they usually focus on the possibility of a challenger candidate taking an at-large Council seat from one of the incumbents or something about the Fairgrounds.

While accurate enough, that's not very meaningful history.

The real historical opportunity this year is to elect a Metro Government that more closely reflects the city we live in.

Identity politics and single-issue organizations get a lot of eye rolls from the commenting classes (and some of those eye rolls are deserved). And then there's the common sense question: What does it matter what gender, what race, what ethnicity, what sexual orientation or gender identity marks someone; shouldn't we just vote for the best candidate?

Well, sure. I'm not suggesting that anyone vote for a bad candidate. But let's not pretend that it's irrelevant who has the ability to deliberate and vote on legislation that affects our city.

Let's take a few examples:

*Earlier this year the all-male Hamilton County Commission almost wiped out a contraceptive program that they didn't understand. Are men capable of understanding contraception? Yes, of course. But it's pretty clear that the gender composition of the body made a difference in their consideration of the issue.

*Metro Council deliberates aspects of the 287(g) program. And yet not one member of the Council is an immigrant. Does that matter? Does it affect the tone of the debate? Without a doubt!

*Metro Council has considered two non-discrimination bills without one gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender person on the floor participating in the debate or the vote. Horrible things have been said about our community during these public discussions and CAN DO barely passed. How might things have been different with some representation?

So, as Joey Garrison has pointed out in the City Paper, we have the opportunity to elect more women to Metro Council, but we also may elect an immigrant, more African-American Council Members At-Large, and viable, qualified gay candidates in competitive races in districts 8 and 18!

These markers don't completely define these candidates any more than being white or male or straight or being born in America defines the majority of current Council. But given the issues we face as a city, they are ONE piece of the puzzle. Diversity helps us deliberate better about how different parts of our community are affected by legislation.

Is Nashville really for all of us? This election will be a barometer.

-Chris Sanders