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.

Monday, October 29, 2012

How Chik-fil-A Day helped Tennessee Equality Project win LGBT-inclusive workplace protections in Memphis

Quite a headline, right? Leaves you scratching your head and reading further to see how contributions to Tennessee Equality Project make a difference right here at home in Tennessee.

Union Ave. Kiss-In at Chik-fil-A
I don't have to retell the story that was Chik-fil-A founder Dan Cathy's funding of anti-gay initiatives. I don't even have to remind you of the details of former Governor Mike Huckabee's “Chik-fil-A Day” in support of the antigay teaching and philosophy now associated with Chik-fil-A. We all remember the hurt we felt when we saw family members, friends, co-workers, colleagues, and associates stand in line or wait at a drive-through to give money to that anti-GLBT organization. In spite of the negativity about Chik-fil-A, the GLBT community met the challenge with grace and gumption, determination and spirit, fun and fabulousness, and humor and gravitas. In Memphis, there was a lovely kiss-in that represented nothing but the love and self respect that is winning the day in this country.

But there is more. I issued a call to our TEP supporters and friends asking them to react positively to the negativity. Simply put, TEP leaders challenged supporters donate the price of a chicken sandwich to TEP to further the work of equality in Tennessee. And, wow, did you ever! More than $1700 in response! So on that day filled with gloom and doom, many of you soothed your hurt with the salve of activism. For that, TEP thanks you all and hopes that you found some measure of peace from having participated in this sweet little moment of giving.

Making new history in Memphis
But wait! There's even more. Sometimes people donate money to a cause and never know if that money is put to good use. So, I wanted to share with you how TEP’s Chik-fil-A fundraising helped change Tennessee. On September 16, 2012, the TEP Shelby County Committee held a kick-off rally at the National Civil Rights Museum to announce our support for an amendment to the pending nondiscrimination ordinance. The amendment would prohibit unfavorable employment decisions based upon sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression. The rally occurred in the courtyard of the National Civil Rights Museum, but that privilege was not free. In fact, there was a substantial cost involved in renting the space, and I am proud to announce that cost was underwritten by the Chik-fil-A Day donations to TEP. Your donations to TEP in protest of the Chik-fil-A Day directly contributed to a wonderful rally which energized the community for equality.

Virginia Awkward, Minister Davin Clemmons
and Father Joseph Wallace-Williams at the
Equal Protection for All Rally
By now you know what happened on October 16, 2012. Memphis entered the 21st century by passing a fully inclusive employee nondiscrimination ordinance by a vote of 9 to 4. The ordinance passed despite robocalls from the opposition and despite Family Action Council of Tennessee's heavy presence. The ordinance won bipartisan support because one person rethought his opinion, reformed it, and shared his private deliberation and change of vote. It passed with a combination of seasoned and freshman leadership. It passed because of the support of straight allies and employee organizations across the city working with the visible support of hearing attendees identifying themselves with the cause of equality. But Chik-fil-A helped too. While so many people and so many events came together to make the perfect storm for passage of Memphis' NDO this time, I wanted to tell you that your contributions actually started the ball rolling. Chik-fil-A funds helped pave the way, and Memphis is a stronger, more vibrant, more welcoming city than it has ever been thanks to you and Dan Cathy.

Now what do we do with the challenge that appeared in Sunday’s Memphis Commercial Appeal?   To build on the success of TEP and counter the ill-advised works and words of others, I invite you to become a sustaining donor at 

- Anne Gullick

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Anti-gay group pays top dollar to be heard, but is anyone listening?

Today's Commercial Appeal features a column written by Councilman Lee Harris about the Memphis Employment Non-Discrimination Ordinance (ENDO) he sponsored which added workplace protections for age, disability, national origin, ethnicity, gender identity, and sexual orientation.

"The ordinance forces the City of Memphis to focus on talent, ability and merit. This idea is hardly controversial" writes Harris.

The councilman goes on to explain the mainstream support for the LGBT-inclusive protections in the ordinance:
But, the ordinance also generated support from all corners of our community, from the clergy to congregants, from firefighters to police officers, from gay to straight.

The NAACP supports the ordinance. Its local head nicely crystallized the issue, saying, "Every American must be allowed to contribute to society without facing unfair discrimination on account of race, sex, religion, age, disability, sexual orientation or gender identity. Our fight for social justice will continue until all can be protected in the work place."

Mid-South Peace and Justice Center supports the ordinance. The Shelby County Democratic Party supports the ordinance.

The ordinance received support from many city employees. AFSCME, one of the largest public unions in town, supports the ordinance. The Memphis Police Association supports the ordinance. The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers supports the ordinance. This isn't the radical element of our community. The city employees, our city unions that support the ordinance are not controversial.
Memphis is in good company in adopting LGBT-inclusive workplace protections when compared to other local employers:
According to the Human Rights Campaign, many Memphians work for employers who have workplace policies in place similar to this one, including First Tennessee; State Farm; SunTrust Banks; AT&T; University of Memphis; Memphis Urban League; Federal Express; Service Master; Hilton Hotels; Harrah's Entertainment; Baker, Donelson law firm; International Paper; Medtronic; Nike; Smith & Nephew and Pinnacle Airlines.  
These companies are hardly a redoubt for fringe liberalism. These companies are not the controversial type.
Despite the broad support for Councilman Harris's ordinance, anti-LGBT opponents of the ordinance are still grumbling that all City of Memphis workers will be treated with fairness and dignity. They are not going away quietly. They continue to believe that workers who want to earn a living, provide for their families and contribute to their community is a radical notion that contradicts G_d and nature. They will say anything to get that point across, and they are willing to pay any price to say it.

An anonymous organization named "Memphis City Churches" placed a full-page advertisement on page A10 in same edition of today's Commercial Appeal. Click here to see the full ad

Memphis City Churches must have paid around $4000* to place this ad in Sunday's newspaper. In fact, I recall them placing anti-gay ads in the Commercial Appeal several times over the years - usually during election season. I remember seeing them in 2004, 2006, 2008 and 2010.  That's at least $20,000 over 8 years. What a waste!

While the content of today's ad is deeply offensive to most people, I am a firm believer in the First Amendment right to free speech. I used to worry such speech might persuade those who didn't know any better. Not anymore. Most of the ads contain the same content each year. The group regurgitates Scripture onto the page to justify bias and prejudice and cites "prominent authors" without names or recognizable authority of public policy. This brand of patriarchy, misogyny, homophobia and heterosexism is losing its appeal. The 9 to 4 vote of the Memphis City Council approving the LGBT-inclusive workplace ordinance is the latest demonstration of where the mainstream is on this issue.

I don't worry about these ads anymore because they offend the common mainstream values that most people share: inclusion, fairness, decency, equality and diversity. The more vociferous they become, the more willing the mainstream is to accept and include lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and their families in society.

This anonymous group is so desperate to be heard they are willing to spend thousands of dollars to reach an audience - an audience who has stopped listening to them. I predict that in coming years, the governing boards of churches and other religious organizations will re-examine the wasteful spending of tithes and church offerings on hateful advertising and actually seek to benefit their church members or those living in poverty in our city. Let's hope they become better stewards of their resources.

- Jonathan Cole

UPDATE (10/30/2012): The same full-page advertisement from Memphis City Churches appeared again in the Oct. 30, 2012 edition of the Commercial Appeal. That's $8000 spent on anti-gay ads in less than a week. Imagine what could be done with the tithes and church offerings used to pay for both ads. How would you use $8000 in Memphis?

*Previous estimates of the ad ranged from $5000 to $15,000, but a better estimate from a knowledgeable source confirmed on 10/29/12 that $3800-4000 was the actual cost range for the ad.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Why LGBT involvement in election campaigns matters

I will never forget the date of November 23, 2010 ---  the day that the Memphis City Council failed to pass an employment non-discrimination ordinance by one vote.

I knew back then that we would have to wait until the next term of City Council before we could introduce an LGBT-inclusive non-discrimination ordinance again. We needed at least one more vote to ensure passage.

Memphis City Councilman
Lee Harris of District 7
The opportunity for that one vote came with the 2011 municipal election. Barbara Swearengen Ware of District 7 who voted against the ordinance declined to run again.  TEP PAC had a chance to support an equality advocate for the open seat. The field of candidates was large, but TEP PAC made the strategic decision to place our hopes in Lee Harris to represent the neighborhoods of North Memphis, Frayser, Uptown, and Mud Island.

TEP PAC's endorsement of Harris motivated LGBT people and their allies to contribute their time, talent and treasure to Harris's campaign. We made phone calls, canvassed neighborhoods, and held fundraising drives to support Lee's election. While many other groups and organizations supported his candidacy, TEP PAC and volunteers helped make a difference in his campaign. Lee won a majority in the first election and then won the runoff election.

Fast forward to the summer of 2012. President Obama and the Shelby County Democratic Party announced their support for marriage equality and full equality for LGBT people. And freshman Councilman Lee Harris approached TEP about re-introducing a non-discrimination ordinance. The rest is history.

I share this story to emphasize the importance of supporting equality advocates running for elected office. One day that candidate will be the elected official who champions equality.

November 6 is a national election. More people turn out to vote for or support a candidate for President, US Congress or the US Senate. But I am here to argue that State and Local elections matter more than most people appreciate. It's hard for one person or a small group to make a noticeable difference in campaigns for President, Congress or Senate. But the example of our support for an equality advocate in a North Memphis City Council district proves that your voice, your volunteer hours, and your financial support make a huge impact in a local election.

Margaret Mead said it best: "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."

Are you ready to make an impact? TEP PAC will be engaged in a statewide Day of Action on Saturday, Oct. 27, 2012. We'll be supporting equality advocates for elected office knowing that our work is vital to promoting pro-equality public policy in State and local government. We invite you to join us! Visit TEP PAC's Facebook Fan Event Page for the opportunity closest to you. 

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Watch the Memphis City Council enact an LGBT-inclusive ordinance

Pro-equality advocates outnumbered opponents at the Oct. 16 meeting of the Memphis City Council when council members voted 9 to 4 in favor of an LGBT-inclusive non-discrimination ordinance for city employees. One month ago, the council approved an amendment adding sexual orientation but omitted gender identity. Amid questions over a potential charter conflict, the council voted to delay action on the amended ordinance for 30 days.

The extra 30 days gave Tennessee Equality Project time to ensure that gender identity was added to the ordinance. We organized our allies and recruited a panel of transgender members of the community to talk with key swing voters on the council. We wanted to make sure that the council understood why TEP and our allies could not leave anyone behind in enacting this ordinance. I am so proud of our efforts and the nine members of the Memphis City Council for hearing our case for full inclusion.

Last Tuesday's hearing on the ordinance was an historic day for Memphis. If you missed the meeting or simply want to hear the debate for a fully inclusive ordinance again, you can watch the following videos.

The non-discrimination ordinance was #12 on the council agenda. Council Chairman Bill Morrison invited public comment on the ordinance. The opposition spoke first. I should warn you that this video contains disturbing distortions and false claims about LGBT people from Family Action Council of Tennessee and others:

Get Microsoft Silverlight

Council members on both sides of the debate praised all of the speakers organized by Tennessee Equality Project for the Sep. 18 and Oct. 16 hearings on the NDO. I think you'll see a vast difference in the tone and tenor of pro-equality advocates when compared to opponents of equality:

Get Microsoft Silverlight

After public input, Councilwoman Janis Fullilove made a motion to add gender identity to the ordinance (Fullilove will be remembered as the first sponsor of the NDO in 2010 and the person who ensured that transgender workers would be protected in the 2012 ordinance). Councilman Lee Harris asked Political Science Professor of Rhodes College Steve Wirls to clarify for the council that the charter allowed them to pass an non-discrimination ordinance that includes non-merit factors like sexual orientation and gender identity. Council members then offered their comments on the proposal. I was particularly moved by Councilman Harold Collins's change of heart on the NDO. When he began reading from Dr. Martin Luther King's Letter from a Birmingham Jail, I knew that the ordinance would pass. Councilman Ford adeptly offered a friendly amendment to Fullilove's motion to define sexual orientation and gender identity to confront the distorted definitions presented by Family Action Council of Tennessee. And Councilman Reid Hedgepeth confronted the hateful ignorance of opponents of equality who threatened him and his family. He even promised to request an FCC investigation of Family Action Council of Tennessee for illegal robocalls which targeted his cell phone. Hedgepeth stands as a shining example of why equality is not partisan issue. Equality is not a value that belongs to Republicans, Democrats, conservatives or liberals. Equality is value cherished by all Americans. Watch these moving developments on the council and the vote to add gender identity to the ordinance:

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After the successful vote to add gender identity, Councilman Lee Harris made a moving speech about how the protections covered in the ordinance were supported by various organizations in the community and shared with many of the largest employers in the Memphis area. The council voted 9 to 4 in favor of the motion. The fully inclusive ordinance gained two new votes: Wanda Halbert and Harold Collins. Councilman Shea Flinn then offered a resolution requesting that the Director of Personnel write policy which reflects the scope of the ordinance to ensure airtight protections. Flinn's resolution passed. Councilman Lee Harris made a for same night minutes to expedite the effectiveness of the ordinance and resolution, but that measure failed.

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Tuesday, October 16, 2012

TEP applauds Memphis City Council support for inclusion and equality

Memphis, TN, October 16, 2012 — Tennessee Equality Project applauds the Memphis City Council for voting to amend the municipal non-discrimination ordinance to include age, disability, sexual orientation and gender identity as factors that may not be used in city employment decisions. Memphis now joins Nashville and Knoxville as Tennessee cities that officially recognize and practice the American values of inclusion, equality and fairness in employment.

On Wednesday morning, City of Memphis employees will wake up to the news that the Memphis City Council values their hard work and ability to do the job. City employees who protect our neighborhoods, fight our fires, remove and recycle our waste, and lend us library books are on their way to being solely judged by their job performance without harmful prejudice. TEP calls on Mayor AC Wharton to sign this ordinance and celebrate the council’s decision.

We thank Councilman Lee Harris for his leadership in sponsoring the non-discrimination ordinance. We are deeply grateful to the council members, community groups, city employees, leaders of the faith community, and the many other advocates who supported equality for City of Memphis employees. Their dream for equality and fairness is now realized in a more inclusive Memphis where workers may earn a living, provide for their families and contribute to their communities without fear of losing or never being hired for a job because of who they are.

We invite equality advocates to give thanks to Memphis City Council members who voted in favor of a fully inclusive ordinance. Copy and paste these email addresses into an email message:

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Knoxville City Attorney Ok’s Non-Discrimination Ordinance; Opinion Instructive for Memphis Non-Discrimination Ordinance

From the desk of Councilman Lee Harris:

"There is nothing in [the Knoxville] Charter
which we find to be a definitive and
exclusive list of discriminatory practices."
- Deputy Law Director Ronald E. Mills 
Other Tennessee cities have begun to voice opinions regarding Non-Discrimination. Specifically, in response to inquiry from elected officials in Memphis, the Knoxville City Attorney has opined that their city’s non-discrimination ordinance does not conflict with their Charter. According to the attorney’s opinion, “revisions to various sections of the Knoxville City Code regarding discrimination based on gender identity, sexual orientation and other factors…do not in any way violate the Knoxville City Charter”. The opinion goes on to say that “there is nothing in [the Knoxville] Charter which we find to be a definitive and exclusive list of discriminatory practices.” A copy of the Knoxville Opinion is attached to this release.

Said County Commissioner Steve Mulroy: “I thought it prudent to check with another big Tennessee city and see how they were able to do it.  Their opinion is instructive.  Their charter and ordinance are virtually identical.  Indeed, the argument that the City Council has authority under the charter is even stronger in Memphis."  Said Councilman Lee Harris: “Knoxville, which is hardly a redoubt of the liberal fringe, is way out in front of Memphis. This city has some serious catching up to do. The Knoxville opinion reminds us that there is nothing serious standing in our way. It’s hard to move city government.  But, other cities have done it and, with any luck, this opinion helps resolve that is no serious reason why we can’t.” Said Jonathan Cole, a leader of the Tennessee Equality Project: “Given the willingness of sister cities to go out a limb and get involved, I’m increasingly confident that nothing can stop us. I am increasingly confident that there are no barriers to adding non-merit factors to the City of Memphis non-discrimination ordinance.”

Councilman Lee Harris: "The Knoxville opinion reminds us
that there is nothing serious standing in our way."
For background, on Tuesday, September 18, Memphis City Councilmen Lee Harris and Shea Flinn sponsored a non-discrimination ordinance that would prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Discussion ensued over whether the ordinance was permissible under the City of Memphis Charter. Final approval of the ordinance was delayed until Oct. 16. The ordinance, if approved on Oct. 16, provides as follows: “There shall be no discrimination in city employment of personnel because of religion, race, sex, creed, political affiliation, national origin, ethnicity, age, disability, sexual orientation or other non-merit factors, nor shall there by any discrimination in the promotion or demotion of city employees because of religion, race, sex, creed, political affiliation, national origin, ethnicity, age, disability or other non-merit factors.” A copy of the Non-Discrimination Ordinance is attached. The Knoxville City Charter provides: “No elected official administrator, director, or employee of Knox County shall discriminate against any person in employment or provision of services based upon race, sex, religion, age or nationality without due process of law.” The Memphis City Charter provides: “[T]here shall be no discrimination in the city employment of personnel because of religion, race, sex, creed, political affiliation, or other non-merit factors, nor shall be there any discrimination in the promotion or demotion of city employees because of religion, race, sex creed, political affiliation, or other non-merit factors.” A copy of the relevant portions of the Knoxville Ordinance is attached to this release.

Councilman Lee Harris can be reached at 901-210-4429. Commissioner Steve Mulroy can be reached at 901-603-8779. TEP representative Jonathan Cole can be reached at 901-301-3306.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Including gender identity or expression in anti-discrimination policies is common among Memphis-area employers

FedEx is the largest employer in
Memphis to protect workers
from discrimination based
on gender identity.

Tennessee Equality Project and other allies in the community call on the Memphis City Council to amend the proposed non-discrimination ordinance one more time to add gender identity or expression. These additional non-merit factors are also included in the anti-discrimination policies of several Memphis-area employers. 

The number of Fortune 500 companies and other employers that include gender identity or expression in the anti-discrimination policies increases each year. 80% of CEI-rated employers provide employment protections on the basis of gender identity or expression — the highest figure to date. The proportion of employers offering these protections has increased dramatically since the first CEI 2002 when just 5 percent of rated businesses included gender identity in their non-discrimination policies. Now eight in ten rated businesses afford workplace protections on the basis of gender identity.

This list of employers comes from HRC's Corporate Equality Index (CEI), company websites, and reliable employees of  these companies. A large number of Memphis-area companies include gender identity or expression in employment non-discrimination policies (this list is not exhaustive): 

AFLAC; AT&T; Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz PC; Bank of America; Best Buy; Burger King; Caesar’s Entertainment; Cargill; Coca-Cola; Comcast; CostcoDelloitte & Touche; Delta Airlines; Ernst & Young; Family Dollar Store;  FedEx; First Horizon National; Harrah’s Entertainment; Hilton Hotel; Home Depot; Humana; Hyatt Hotels; J.C. Penny; Kellogg; Kroger; Macy’s; Marriott; Medtronic; Merck; Nike; Office Depot; OfficeMax; Pepsi Beverages Co.; PetSmart; Pfizer; Raymond James; Sears; ServiceMaster; Staples; Starbucks; State Farm; SunTrust Banks; Target; UnitedHealth Group; Wachovia Bank; Walgreens; Whole Foods Market; Wells Fargo Bank; Wal-Mart; Williams-Sonoma; and United Parcel Service.

In addition, most employees of Federal Government agencies are also protected from discrimination based on gender identity or expression. See for the U.S. Office of Personnel Management  policy guidance regarding the employment of transgender individuals in the Federal workplace. Some of the Federal Agencies that protect their transgender employees from discrimination in the workplace include the US Postal Service, the Social Security Administration, the IRS, Secret Service, the FBI, and the VA Hospital . 

It's hard to drive through any part of the City of Memphis without running across an employer that offers LGBT-inclusive workplace protections. The City of Memphis would be in good company to add these protections to its employment non-discrimination ordinance.

- Jonathan Cole

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Documentary on GLBT teens in TN is a powerful argument against the License to Bully bill

There's a new documentary coming out on the lives of gay and transgender teens in Tennessee

You don't have to wonder why they picked Tennessee.  We're clearly not coastal America, so there's the rhetoric of realness.  But there is also the matter of our struggles with anti-gay legislation targeting schools like the Don't Say Gay bill and the License to Bully bill. 

For me, this clip completely obliterates the License to Bully bill:

Joseph is 16 and lives in Oak Ridge.  He talks about being bullied and discusses the fact that he considered taking his own life.  It's moving to listen as he talks about how he emerged from these struggles.

But one thing he said is related directly to the License to Bully bill and it turns on a question that proponents have never to my knowledge answered in public, though we've asked them many times.

Joseph discussed the incident in which a fellow student came at him with the Bible and told him he is going to Hell. 

What TEP has consistently asked about the License to Bully bill is whether this is the kind of religious speech the bill is designed to protect.  Like I said, we've never received an answer on that one. 

It's one thing to protect people's religious perspectives in a civilized debate about an issue like marriage in a high school social studies class.  But there is clearly a problem if students are threatening each other with Hell at a public school. 

If more people heard Joseph's story, maybe we would have an easier time fighting these bills. 

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Do you work for a fully LGBT-inclusive employer in Memphis?

Send a message in support of
LGBT-inclusive workplace protections
to the Memphis City Council.
You may be able to advocate for a fully inclusive employment non-discrimination ordinance for City of Memphis employees

You may be working for an employer which fully protects lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people from discrimination on the job in Memphis?

Here's a partial list of companies in the Memphis area which offer anti-discrimination policies which provide equal opportunity in employment without regard to sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression: Best Buy; Costco; Comcast;  FedEx;  First Horizon;  Harrah’s Entertainment;  Hilton; J.C. Penny; Kroger; Macy’s; Medtronic; Merck;  Nike; Office Depot; Sears;  Starbucks; State Farm; SunTrust Banks; Target; United Parcel Service;  Wachovia Bank; Walgreens; Wal-Mart; and Williams-Sonoma.

If you work for any of the above companies, send the following message to the Memphis City Council at Copy and paste this message to "ALL" council members in the link provided and be sure to add your company name:

Dear Memphis City Council,

I am writing to thank the Memphis City Council for voting to add national origin, ethnicity, age, disability, sexual orientation to the Memphis employment non-discrimination ordinance on Tuesday, Sept. 18.

While I am grateful for the inclusion of the above non-merit factors, I am deeply concerned that gender identity and gender expression were omitted from this ordinance. I work for [insert company name], a company in the Memphis area, which offers LGBT-inclusive workplace protections in its anti-discrimination policy. In other words, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in my workplace are protected from discrimination in hiring, promotion or job retention.

Many large Memphis-area businesses like FedEx, Medtronic, Comcast, Harrah’s Entertainment, Hilton, Starbucks, First Horizon, Kroger, Delta, Nike and Merck also provide LGBT inclusive anti-discrimination policies. It’s simply good business to protect all employees on the job. While I can’t speak officially on behalf of my employer, I feel that my company has learned that fully inclusive employment policies help to recruit and retain the most talented and qualified people to the workforce.

Memphis would be in good company if city government were to follow the lead of these employers in providing these same protections. To ensure a fully inclusive ordinance, I urge you to vote to add gender identity and gender expression to the proposed ordinance on Oct. 16.


[Your Full Name]