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.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Welcoming Family Action to Nashville

Dear Members of the Family Action Council of Tennessee:

On behalf of equality loving citizens throughout Nashville, I want to welcome you to Music City today for your Stand for Truth event. 

I think you’ll find Nashville a welcoming city for everyone.  In case you forgot just how welcoming we are, I’d like to take a moment to remind you: 

  • In 2008 the Metropolitan Board of Public Education unanimously adopted non-discrimination policies for teachers and students protecting them from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
  • Voters overwhelmingly rejected an English Only charter amendment in 2009.
  • That same year the Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County adopted a non-discrimination ordinance protecting government employees from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
  • This year, with the support of over 70 congregations, businesses, and community and labor organizations, the Metropolitan Government adopted another non-discrimination ordinance protecting employees of government contractors from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
  • In August the Council passed a resolution honoring high school students protesting the Don’t Say Gay bill.
  • When the Council overwhelmingly passed a resolution urging them to do so, the Metropolitan Law Department announced that it will file an amicus brief in the court challenge to HB600, the Special Access to Discriminate law, that nullified our contractor non-discrimination ordinance.

I know that your events end on Saturday afternoon, but I invite you to stay longer and join us for some pre-Halloween bar hopping on Church Street tonight. The costumes are going to be FABULOUS!  And if you’ve got a little more time, visit one of our many affirming congregations for worship on Sunday morning.  


-Chris Sanders

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Family Action non sequitur of the day: School sex ed leads to funding for HIV+ prisoners?

The notion of cause and effect has fallen on hard times over at the Family Action Council. 

Can someone help our friends over at FACT with this?
In a recent blog post, they're trying to make a point that social issues translate into fiscal issues, which in turn affects the economy.   But the connection they attempt to make can only be linked if one chooses to indulge in magical thinking.

They discuss the rise in HIV among young people in Middle Tennessee and say that we shouldn't be surprised because of condom instruction that has taken place in Metro Nashville schools.  I'm not making this up.  Go to their post and read it.  

But then the connection completely collapses when they shift from young people in Middle TN (which includes more than Davidson County, by the way) to the cost of the federal government funding three positions to coordinate the treatment of HIV+ prisoners when they are released, as reported in a Tennessean article.

They conclude by asking coyly:  "Still want to say that divisive social issues like sex education in our schools has no fiscal effect?  Hope not."

What on earth does sex education in schools have to do with the treatment of HIV+ prisoners?

It's no wonder they want to quash the subpoenas in the court challenge to HB600.  I wouldn't want to answer direct questions if I thought that's how the world worked either.

-Chris Sanders

Monday, October 17, 2011

Using small business to shield discrimination

Photo from Out & About Newspaper
Friday's Human Rights Campaign / Tennessee Equality Project press conference with state and local lawmakers resulted in a couple of quick gains for the cause of equality in Tennessee.

First, State Representative Brenda Gilmore announced that she would be a House sponsor of SB2121, the bill filed by Sen. Jim Kyle to repeal HB600, which nullified the Metro Nashville Contract Accountability Non-Discrimination Ordinance.  If passed, it would give us the status quo ante.   Any sober observer realizes that the effort to pass SB2121 faces an uphill climb.  Nevertheless the development represents progress because before Friday there was no House sponsor.  Whether you look at it as a one yard gain or a first down, it's an advance.

Second, it put the opposition on the defensive and caused them to show a few of their cards.  They have now backtracked from a general pro-business argument to a defense of small business argument.  In light of the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce's reversal on HB600, the right wing has lost half its shield.  They have retreated to hiding behind only one segment of the business community.  As WSMV's Cara Kumari reported on Friday:

"It just creates an environment for businessmen. So, no, it passed with bipartisan support and in this environment I just don't see it getting out of subcommittee," Rep. Glen Casada said.
Casada says this bill isn't for the Fortune 500 companies, it was passed for the small businesses. 

The problems with this line of defense are numerous, however.

*The history is inaccurate.  Supporters of HB600 did not make just a small business argument when they were advancing the bill.  They made a general business argument.  I can understand why they would want to hide their retreat, but the support of the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce, several of whose board members come from Fortune 500 companies, was trumpeted on the House floor.

*The Metro ordinance had a small business exemption.

*47 businesses (most of them small) supported the Metro ordinance, and they even supported it before the small business exemption was put into the bill.

*NFIB surveys of small business owners consistently reveal that poor or low sales are their number one concern with regulation registering lower.  And by the way, when these business owners do indicate that regulation is a problem, they are typically talking about federal health and safety regulations, not local non-discrimination ordinances.

*Austin example disproves the negative effect on business, small and large.  I've said it many times before, but Austin has a non-discrimination ordinance even stronger than the one Nashville passed and its economy is poised better than just about any other in the South to weather our current conditions.  

HB600 never had any credible business rationale.  It was always about preventing local governments from protecting gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people from job discrimination.  Hiding behind small businesses won't cut it.

-Chris Sanders

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Zombie Walk for Equality seeks to reanimate government

In just three days, zombies shall descend upon historic Beale Street in Memphis in search of tasty brains.

At first glance, this might appear to be an apocalypse of the undead, but it's really a protest of the lack of delicious brains in those elected to govern the State of Tennessee, Shelby County and the City of Memphis. With the passage of the Special Access to Discriminate Act (HB600/SB632) and the advance of the Don’t Say Gay bill (SB049) in 2011, there is little evidence of intelligent governance at the state level. At the local level, Memphis and Shelby County governments can’t seem to understand the importance of enacting ordinances that offer simple workplace protections for government employees. 

Will the Tennessee General Assembly continue to take away the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and their families in 2012? Will Memphis or Shelby County ever pass ordinances that prohibit discrimination against government employees based on sexual orientation and gender identity?

Tennessee Equality Project calls on all zombies to join our search for intelligent brains in state and local government. Help us call attention to the fact that brains that value inclusion, diversity and equality not only taste better, but improve the lives of all people in our community. 

Join TEP’s Zombie Walk for Equality in the Midsouth Pride Parade on October 15, 2011. Dress up like a zombie and make a clever sign. The lineup for the walking dead starts at 1 PM at 4th and Beale Street. Step off is a 2 PM. This peaceful walking group in the pride parade is designed to be fun and find some humor in the tragedy of bad governance.

To join TEP's Zombie Walk for Equality in the Midsouth Pride Parade on October 15, 2011, here's what you need to do:
  1. Tell us you plan to attend the Zombie Walk for Equality at this link.
  2. Invite your friends and family to participate by sharing this post with your friends.
  3. Make a clever sign with a zombie and equality theme (Keep it civil - this is a family-friendly event).
  4. Dress up like a zombie (see below).
  5. Line up with the other walking dead at 1 PM at 4th and Beale Street on Oct. 15. Step off is a 2 PM.
Need some help on Zombie makeup?
During the Midsouth Pride Festival which begins at 10 AM at Robert Church Park, the Haus of Masquerade will be painting zombie makeup from 10 AM until 1:45 PM for $20 a head (with $5 going to TEP. This is a great option for folks without makeup experience who would like to participate.

YouTube offers a number of video tutorials to help you create the perfect zombie look for those who want to create their own look. Party City at Poplar Plaza Shopping Mall has great makeup supplies for would-be zombies. Take a look at these creative examples for makeup ideas or search for your own on YouTube:

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Give Hate a Holiday - the event that almost wasn't.

Yesterday, hate crime became real for me. First, you should know the City of Tupelo witnessed an extraordinary affair. "Give Hate a Holiday" helped "raise visibility and public awareness about the lives and concerns of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people in Mississippi and throughout the South, and [helped] build support for ongoing local, state, and regional efforts to make our communities more just, inclusive, humane, and safe for LGBT [people] . . ." TEP co-sponsored the event with a coalition of groups including the Link Centre of Tupelo (former home of Harrisburg Baptist Church), the Unitarian Universal Congregation of Tupelo, PFLAG of Tupelo, PFLAG Oxford/University, PFLAG Gulf Region, and the Universal Unitarian Association of Congregations "Standing on the Side of Love" campaign. Tupelo served as the point location because it is the home of the notoriously anti-gay and Southern Poverty Law Center [SPLC] designated hate group, American Family Association. The Link Centre which occupies the former Harrisburg Baptist Church building hosted the event.

We began the day with a well attended news conference covered by WCBI out of Columbus. Neither WTVA of Tupelo nor the local paper the Daily Journal made an appearance. The paper clearly had notice of the event as Tim Wildmon, president of AFA, had written a letter to the editor the day before. Nevertheless, Bob Spencer, a lay minister with the Universal Unitarian Church, opened with a statement that his personal campaign for equality had become a crusade. Tim Jordan, a former member and youth pastor at Harrisburg Baptist Church, followed. Tim told his story of being gay and being afraid that God did not love him for that reason. Yesterday, he stood on the very spot where he gave a sermon in 1979 about God's love for all and reclaimed that sermon after a life time journey as a gay man away from and back to faith. Representatives from Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays [PFLAG] from Oxford and the Gulf Region offered their support while Amanda Todd told of her efforts to bring a PFLAG chapter to Tupelo. Jaribu Hill with Mississippi Worker's Center for Human Rights spoke of its support for all human rights and her ongoing efforts to see justice done in the James Anderson murder in Jackson, Mississippi. Representatives of Americans Civil Liberties Union [ACLU] of Mississippi spoke of their action on behalf of Constance McMillan and their involvement in two current school bullying cases in Mississippi. I represented TEP and assured the GLBT citizens of North Mississippi that equality knew no state boundaries and that we supported their efforts to live fully realized lives. I also called upon the straight allies in North Mississippi to respond to National Coming Out Day and come out in support of the GLBT population. Mark Potoc, Director of the Intelligence Project for SPLC explained why the American Family Association is a SPLC designated hate group, and he rendered the attendees speechless with quotations from AFA's spokesperson Bryan Fischer.

The press conference dismissed to a colorful and enthusiastic demonstration along West Main street where the attendees waved banners and signs and proclaimed yesterday as a holiday from hate. Many passing motorists thrilled the numerous demonstrators with honks of support. However, the hate came in through the back door. While we were demonstrating, Tupelo City Police responded to an anonymous bomb threat and swept the Link Centre during our outdoor event. After the building was cleared, we breathed a sigh of relief and rejoined the day's planned festivities.

At 2:00 Joe Wilson and his partner in life and filmmaking Dean Hamer presented Out in the Silence, a film telling of the AFA's destructive interference in Mr. Wilson's life and in the lives of GLBT citizens in Oil City, Pennsylvania. The powerful film documented the far reaching impact of Tupelo's AFA and its often devastating effects on ordinary people's lives. The movie was, however, in the end, uplifting, moving, and inspiring, and the misters Wilson and Hamer distinguished themselves with the telling of the story. After the presentation, the filmmakers encouraged audience participants to tell their stories, and what emerged was an unexpected outpouring of support from the "straight" community of North Mississippi. A group of concerned citizens in Tupelo have informally joined to start challenging the status quo, and they identified themselves by website as They indicated that the GLBT community had a place at their round table and invited them to participate in the dialogue encouraged there. Another woman promoted the facebook page, It's Not Easy Leaning Left in Mississippi, which deals with progressive issues in the state. She invited the GLBT citizens to friend the page and participate in the conversation. Aleigh Farris, the daughter of lesbian parents, told of her life growing up in Tupelo, and Rick Davis reported the story of an attempt to establish a GSA at Tupelo High School which was derailed after the principal allegedly threatened the job of at least one of the only two teachers who agreed to sponsor the group. PFLAG Tupelo invited all to attend their new meeting on the last Tuesdays of the month at All Saints Episcopal Church, and Dr. Latoya Brock, a professor of social work at the University of Mississippi Tupelo campus, indicated she had invited her social work class to attend the film, but that none had been there. She was disappointed, but she hoped to see some present at the evening showing.

The takeaway from this day? The people of Mississippi are ready for equality, and they are incredibly courageous. I met my facebook friends Brandon Lacey and Cody Bruff, young partners who are ready to become activists. Benson Hill and his mother Mikrah are working with PFLAG and are making a change in Tupelo. Bob Spencer, a retired lay minister, seeks equality in his lifetime. I heard an African American Baptist minister who just wants to love everyone as he believes Christ intended everyone to be loved. I met a woman from my home town who knew my parents, and we were both so gratified to see Myrtle girls working for equality. Misty Waldrop attended, and she works in central Mississippi with GLBT youth. Lyrik, a very outspoken lesbian leader @thatdamnlyrik, entertained us all with her enthusiasm. I talked with Dale Merkle, PFLAG regional director, Gulf region, the Southern father of two gay sons. I spoke with Mr. Potoc and told him that his boss Morris Dees is my legal hero. I talked to two lovely performers from Tremont and Fulton, of all places. And I spent time with Casey who has been an out transgirl/woman since high school. A bomb threat did nothing to discourage these people from standing up to the AFA and to their own fears.

At the end of the day, I was the beneficiary of this outpouring in small town Mississippi. I saw a man reclaim his faith heritage. I saw an older generation reach out to a different generation and uplift them. I saw drag queens holding signs of encouragement. I was in a bomb threat situation. I met a transwoman who is seeking understanding and encouragement. I had dinner with this lovely couple who wants to change North Mississippi. I saw a film about empowerment and joy and commitment and the defeat of forces of destruction. I helped challenge the AFA on its home turf. I cried, I laughed, I gasped, and I cheered.

I am renewed and invigorated. I want to change my world, but if I cannot change it, I want to at least, irk it a little.

Anne Gullick

co-chair TEP Shelby County Committee

board member, TEP

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Your Moment of Zen or What's Wrong with this Picture?

When I saw this picture over at Family Action's blog, I just about howled.  It's a photo in the current issue of Focus on the Family's Citizen magazine that goes with a story about Family Action's antics in Tennessee.

The first thing I saw was the word "Zen" in big letters next to David Fowler's head and thought, "Surely not."  But then when I saw the words "Finding Harmony in Nashville," I said, "Well, you know, maybe they're going to feng shui their activism."  But then I realized it was just Mr. Fowler's head hiding the other letters in the word "citizen," and I was a bit let down.

But then I looked at the picture on the left (if there is any left in such a publication) and I noticed Mr. Fowler with Sen. Beavers and Rep. Casada.  That's when my mind turned from thoughts of wonder to irony.  What do two people who live in Williamson County and one person who lives in Wilson County have to do with "Finding Harmony in Nashville?"  Um, nothing.

Sen. Beavers and Rep. Casada were the sponsors of the bill pushed by Mr. Fowler to overturn Metro Nashville's contractor non-discrimination ordinance. 

So maybe the subtitle of the article is missing.  I'll help fill it in.  "Finding Harmony in Nashville:  Then Trampling on It."  

-Chris Sanders

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Memphis radio host resorts to anti-gay bias

Thaddeus Matthews demonstrates how
anti-gay bias hurts all people in Memphis.
A local radio personality in Memphis recently launched a series of personal attacks against one of TEP PAC's endorsed candidates: Lee Harris who is running for Memphis City Council District 7.  Harris is a law professor at the University of Memphis, a product of the Memphis City Schools system, and a family man with children who have lived in District 7 for eight years. He is committed to making Memphis and his community a better place to live for all people. Harris finished first in last Thursday's election in a crowded race for the only council seat where an incumbent was not running for re-election. He will face Kemba Ford in the runoff election scheduled for Nov. 10.

Thaddeus Matthews hosts a talk radio program on the AM dial. He claims to offer "exclusive news that no other media will release" on his blog and radio program. 

Matthews is currently featuring a link on his website to a recorded interview of Lee Harris conducted by Michael Hildebrand of Memphis Loves Gays. Matthews posts the question  "Is Lee Harris gay?" on his website and asked "Lee Harris, are you a faggot?" on his radio program on Friday. Matthews alleges that Harris must have something to hide since Harris's wife did not take his last name when they were married. 

When Michael Hildebrand learned that Thaddeus Matthews was using his interview link to slander Lee Harris on his program, he decided to approach him at his office to discuss the issue directly with Matthews at his place of business:
I walked over and attempted to discuss the issue with hope he would take off the misleading link... well, being white was an issue, plus me being gay, then I mentioned that I would like him to remove the link. He went mad....Luckily the guys I work with were watching from the balcony of Harvest [Creative] otherwise I fear it would have gotten violent. He threatened me as he got in my face. Told me to leave his property, which I did promptly. He followed me out, continuing to threaten me. I am still just amazed. He is a very overweight man and full of anger. I am more than certain it would have gotten bad if I wouldn't have crossed the street.
After Hildebrand left, Matthews turned his attention to him on his radio program, calling him a "white sissy" and a "flaming sissy" and that he was "pink phone carrying." Matthews continued to threaten physical violence against Hildebrand on the air. 

Matthews will say and do anything for attention and to create controversy - his business model for boosting ratings and attracting listeners for his program. Matthews' behavior demonstrates for all how anti-gay bias hurts our community. Engaging in gay-baiting distracts from the important issues in the District 7 election and the problems that Memphis must confront. The people of District 7 deserve better than a radio host more interested in attention seeking antics than finding the best candidate for Memphis City Council. Matthews has resorted to such behavior because he has no other tools in his toolbox for reasonable debate. I am confident that the people of District 7 in particular will see through Matthews' vulgar attacks and ignore them.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Memphis election results favor incumbents and equality

The results are in and all 12 incumbents won re-election in their districts for Memphis City Council last night. What does that mean for the advancement of equality in the Bluff City? The results provide encouraging signs:
  • Both sponsors of the Memphis Employment Non-Discrimination Ordinance (ENDO), Janis Fullilove (8-2) and Shea Flinn (9-2) were re-elected in landslides by a 2 to 1 and 4 to 1 margins, respectively. At the very least, these results demonstrate that the elected officials do not suffer at the polls for voting pro-equality. They may have even benefited because of their convictions.
  • All six council members who voted for 2010's ENDO were re-elected: Wanda Halbert (4), Jim Strickland (5), Edmund Ford, Jr. (6), Janis Fullilove (8-2), Myron Lowery (8-3) and Shea Flinn (9-2). Strickland and Lowery were unopposed and the others won with very comfortable margins. Voting pro-equality proved to be no barrier to their successful re-elections. 
  • Yesterday's election results demonstrate missed opportunities for Mayor AC Wharton and members of the council who voted against the ENDO to be on the right side of history. Mayor Wharton pledged support for an ENDO when he ran for Memphis Mayor. His administration worked closely with Tennessee Equality Project on acceptable language for the ENDO to present to the Memphis City Council in 2010. But when he was asked his position on the legislation, Wharton backed away.  The Mayor declared that he would support any version of the legislation the Council sent to his desk. Mayor Wharton could have sided firmly with equality and suffered no loss of political capital or support for re-election. Close observers of the council will recall that Bill Morrison had pledged his support for an ENDO when he won his first term to represent District 1 in 2007. He later voted against the ENDO in 2010. Had he stayed true to his convictions, voting pro-equality on the ENDO in 2010 would not have hurt him in 2011. Let's hope for more courage from Mayor Wharton and  Councilman Morrison in the new term. 
  • Finally, Lee Harris who was endorsed in District 7 by TEP PAC finished ahead by 4 votes against Kemba Ford in yesterday's only race that has no incumbent running. Ford will face Harris in a runoff election on Thursday, November 10
The end result of yesterday's election favors the formation of a majority equality consensus on the Memphis City Council in the new term. TEP PAC will be calling on equality advocates to help confirm that result as the campaign for District 7 continues until November 10. If you care about advancing equality in Memphis, help TEP PAC carry Lee Harris to the finish line. Visit his website to make a donation or to find contact information to volunteer for his campaign.

For all the election results visit the Shelby County Election Commission website. With 100% of precincts reporting, here are the results for Memphis Mayor and City Council:


Wharton 48,635 or 65.3%
Ford 20,907 or 28%
James Harvey 2,053 or 2.7%
Kenneth Robinson 774 or 1%
Robert ‘Prince Mongo’ Hodges 750 or 1%
Marty Merriweather 441 or 0.5%
James Barbee 310 or 0.42%
Carlos Boyland 169 or 0.2%
Write In Votes 160 or 0.2%
Leo Awgowhat 141 or 0.1%
DeWayne Jones 79 or 0.1%

Memphis City Council

District 1
Bill Morrison 4,905 or 64.8%
Kendrick Sneed 2,637 or 34.8%

District 2
Bill Boyd 7,170 or 74.7%
Sylvia Cox 2,391 or 24.9%

District 3
Harold Collins 6720 or 98%
Write-In 86 or 1%

District 4
Halbert 6,243 or 64.8%
Michelle Smith 1,897 or 19.7%
Louis Morganfield 767 or 7.9%
George Walker 692 or 7.1%

District 5
Jim Strickland 10,187 or 99%
Write-In 91 or 0%

District 6
Edmund Ford, Jr 8,606 or 63.8%
Sharon Webb 2,070 or 15.3%
Clara Ford 1,658 or 12.3%
Rhoda Stigall 1,123 or 8.3%
Write-In 24 or 0%

District 7
Lee Harris 1,983 or 24.1%
Kemba Ford 1,979 or 24%
Coby Smith 957 or 11.6%
Michael Steven Moore 562 or 6.8%
Erskine Gillespie 493 of 6%
Jesse Jeff 367 or 4.4%
Scott Banbury 358 or 4.3%
David Vinciarelli 351 or 4.2%
Raymond Bursi 284 or 3.4%
Darrell Wright 215 or 2.6%
Julie Ray 211 or 2.5%
Evelyn Fields 197 or 2.3%
LeAndrea Taylor 137 or 1.6%
Artie Smith 101 or 0.4%
Write-In 31 or 0%

Superdistrict 8, Position 1
Joe Brown 27,571 or 77%
Mark Coleman 4,358 or 12%
Tammy Warren 3,743 or 10.4%
Write-In 107 or 0%

Superdistrict 8, Position 2
Janis Fullilove 21,701 or 57.8%
Rosalyn R. Nichols 9,954 or 26.5%
Isaac Wright 2,978 or 7.9%
Mario Dennis 2,836 or 0.1%
Write-In 59 or 0%

Superdistrict 8, Position 3
Myron Lowery 31,553 or 98%
Write-In 436 or 1%

Superdistrict 9, Position 1
Kemp Conrad 19,919 or 64%
Paul Shaffer 11,313 or 36%
Write-In 87 or 0%

Superdistrict 9, Position 2
Shea Flinn 24,210 or 80.7%
James Sdoia 5,668 or 18.9%
Write-In 92 or 0%

Superdistrict 9, Position 3
Reid Hedgepeth 23,447 or 98%
Write-In 306 or 1%

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Memphis City Council Election Guide for Oct. 6, 2011

Today is election day in Memphis. TEP PAC is proud to endorse in every competitive race for Memphis City Council elections

We urge you to support the following candidates to create a pro-equality consensus on the Memphis City Council.
 Pools are open until 7 PM today.


2. Sylvia Cox
3. No endorsement
4. Wanda Halbert
5. Jim Strickland
6. Edmund Ford, Jr.


8-1. Tammy Warren
8-2. Janis Fullilove
8-3. Myron Lowery
9-2. Shea Flinn
9-3. No endorsement

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).

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. 

Monday, October 3, 2011

What happened to "Love thy neighbor"?

Homophobia leads to violence in Gibson County, Tennessee (in red)

Last week, Jerry Pittman, Jr. and his boyfriend Dustin Lee were brutally attacked on the grounds of Grace Fellowship Church in Fruitland, Gibson County. According to reports, Jerry's uncle and two church deacons to beat the two young men while yelling homophobic slurs at the direction of Jerry's father, the pastor of the church.

Tennessee Equality Project's Madison County Committee assisted the young men in making contact with local media at WBBJ to tell their story. The news has spread to local and national news outlets and blogs such as Joe.My.God, Towleroad, LGBTQNation, and the Advocate. TEP supports the following statement from its Madison County Committee leaders in response to the incident:
Tennessee Equality Project's Madison County Committee and leaders statewide stand firmly behind Jerry Pittman, Jr.  and Dustin Lee as the facts of their case continue to emerge. Those facts as reported to us thusfar can only lead to one conclusion: the assault suffered by Mr. Pittman, Jr. and Mr. Lee were motivated by nothing more than hatred, homophobia, intolerance, and a lack of understanding. Particularly disturbing is the fact that Mr. Pittman, Jr. and Mr. Lee had been welcomed to worship services as a couple numerous times in the past. Equally disturbing is that Mr. Pittman's family members (who are leaders of this congregation) initiated, instigated, and carried out this assault. 
The Tennessee Equality Project and its local committees across the state stand ready to assist and advocate for persons who find themselves the victim of discrimination.  
- Drew Baker, Madison County Committee Chair and Tommy Schlindwein & Erin Bumpas Brine, Madison County Committee Vice Chairs
Stay tuned as more information becomes available on this developing story.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Newspapers: Our last line of defense in Tennessee?

Tennessee newspapers have been full of stories and comment on equality issues lately.  Today's Tennessean devotes its editorial section to Vanderbilt University applying its non-discrimination policy to all student clubs and organizations.  Yesterday's Knoxville News Sentinel contains a column about civility in public discourse with a slap at the Don't Say Gay bill.  The day before the paper featured a story on East Tennessee native Bleu Copas considering rejoining the Army in the wake of Don't Ask, Don't Tell's repeal. And the day before that, the Tennessean took a look at the statistics and stories of the growth in the number of same-sex couples in Tennessee. 

That level of coverage and positive editorial comment has become business as usual for Tennessee's four largest newspapers for 2011. 

Why?  For a few years now the editorial perspective of these papers has been supportive of equality for the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community. It seems that the state's four big dailies are doing their best to keep up with the public policy and cultural debates on equality that are heating up in Tennessee.  That level of coverage is welcome.  At a time when the Legislature has gone on the attack against equality, the four dailies are one of the last lines of defense against a crushing socially conservative agenda. It may be that their advocacy mirrors one of the most important developments in coalition-building our community has seen this year, namely, Tennessee's four largest cities taking a stand against HB600.  Of course, one could argue that the city governments are just beginning to catch up to their newspapers in this respect.

Their readership may be falling off and they are going through tough times financially, but we can't ignore the fact that despite these challenges Tennessee's big newspapers continue to step up and defend our community.

County newspapers:  Not all is well in journalism land with respect to equality issues.  County newspapers around the state continue to ignore equality issues for the most part while publishing the socially conservative line in the form of weekly Bible columns and the like.  I've noted many times the complete failure of the Lebanon Democrat to cover the role that Sen. Beavers played in passing SB632/HB600 that nullified Metro Nashville's contractor non-discrimination ordinance.  More recently the Shelbyville Times-Gazette ignored a request to cover the census data that indicates a significant increase in same-sex couples in that Middle Tennessee town.  Still, there are bright spots like the Crossville Chronicle that publishes letters to the editor and stories on the GLBT community without bias.  But there's a lot of work to do in getting many county newspapers up to speed.  It's a critical need because a significant portion of the state's population looks to these papers for news and perspective to shape or reflect its views. 

We can't advance equality in Tennessee if the rural/urban divide persists.  We also can't leave rural and suburban gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people defenseless in their own communities.  It's a strong challenge for our commitments as activists.

-Chris Sanders

John Ashbery - Poet

One of the most successful poets, Ashbery has won almost every major literary award, 
including the Pulitzer Prize.