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, June 26, 2013

What DOMA going DOA means to Tennesseans

(No straight marriages have been harmed in the making of this blog post.)

As your TEP Public Policy Chair, I want to send a huge hug of congratulations to all of the couples here in Tennessee and around the country that have had legal marriage ceremonies performed in states that recognize marriage equality.  These couples are now recognized as “spouses” for purposes of federal law.  All 1138 rights that were denied to them under the Defense of Marriage Act of 1996 are now available to them, just as they are to straight married spouses.  It is a victory for LGBT Americans and a victory for LGBT Tennesseans…at least some of them.

I’d like to tell you that this means marriage equality for all LGBT Tennesseans, but I can’t do that.  The Supreme Court did not decide that states couldn’t deny marriage to same sex couples.  The decision says that the federal government has to recognize marriages that are legally valid in the eyes of the state that issued the marriage certificate. Tennessee does not issue valid marriage licenses to same sex couples.  We have what is called a “miniDOMA”, an amendment to our state constitution, which states: 
“The historical institution and legal contract solemnizing the relationship of one man and one woman shall be the only legally recognized marital contract in this state. Any policy or law or judicial interpretation, purporting to define marriage as anything other than the historical institution and legal contract between one man and one woman is contrary to the public policy of this state and shall be void and unenforceable in Tennessee. If another state or foreign jurisdiction issues a license for persons to marry and if such marriage is prohibited in this state by the provisions of this section, then the marriage shall be void and unenforceable in this state.”

In US v. Windsor, the Court looked at DOMA and noted that a decision about marriage was a state issue all the way back to the founding of the country.  It was DOMA that turned this idea on its head.  As the Court put it on page 3 of the decision:
“The State’s decision to give this class of persons the right to marry conferred upon them a dignity and status of immense import. But the Federal Government uses the state-defined class for the opposite purpose—to impose restrictions and disabilities.” 
“Its unusual deviation from the tradition of recognizing and accepting state definitions of marriage operates to deprive same-sex couples of the benefits and responsibilities that come with federal recognition of their marriages. This is strong evidence of a law having the purpose and effect of disapproval of a class recognized and protected by state law”

To sum it up, if a state believes you have the right to marry and issues you a valid marriage certificate, it is not the place of the federal government to deny you the status of marriage and deny you the benefits of marriage under federal law. 

So what does this mean for those LGBT Tennesseans who are legally married in other states but live here?  Well, Tennessee does not have a state income tax, so that is not an issue for us.  For your federal income tax, you may now file “Married, Filing Jointly”.  Next April, we will see the largest number of US citizens that will be ecstatic to file income taxes in the history of tax filing.  Besides income taxes though, what else will this affect?

Social Security, Disability, Medicare, Medicaid, Family Medical Leave, and a host of other federal benefits and privileges associated with marriage will be available to all spouses.  That will not depend on whether or not you and your spouse live in a state with marriage equality.  That is federal, and follows you and your spouse regardless of domicile.  If you or your spouse is a veteran, you will be treated just like any other married military family for federal benefits.  By the way, while hopefully you will never have to use it, you are also now entitled to spousal privilege in federal court, and cannot be compelled to testify against your spouse.

So how do we bring marriage equality to Tennessee?  That is a great question.  Unfortunately, the answer is not an easy one.  The earliest we could get the Tennessee miniDOMA repealed would likely be 2018, given the long process we have in this state to get an amendment passed or repealed.  That will take a great deal of time and effort, and the chances of success, while growing every year as more people show support in this state for LGBT equality, are still about 50-50. 

This is not the only battle we are fighting in Tennessee, though.  This state is a battleground for many issues affecting LGBT Tennesseans that are unrelated to marriage equality.  It is still legal to be fired from your job on the basis of sexual orientation in this state unless your employer has a policy forbidding discrimination on that basis.  It is still legal to be denied housing unless the property falls under the jurisdiction of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), a federal agency.  Bullying is still a HUGE problem in our schools, as is harassment in our workplaces.  In some parts of Tennessee, local law enforcement and the local judicial system still have an antagonistic relationship with the LGBT citizens in their jurisdiction, making it harder to get crimes against our community investigated, solved, and reported.

These are the battles we fight every single day here in Tennessee.   But the work is worth it.  Every member of the LGBT community deserves the same rights and privileges as their straight counterparts in the state.  That is what the Tennessee Equality Project is fighting for, and we could use your help.  As wonderful as it is that the federal government now recognizes all legal marriages, the daily life of most LGBT Tennesseans is still a battle against prejudice and discrimination.

Today was a good day.  It really was a good day.  Enjoy it.  Celebrate it.  Tomorrow your Tennessee Equality Project folks will be back at work protecting your rights at the state and local level, albeit with smiles on their faces and a spring in their step that will last quite a while. 

*If I could just add a personal note, I am a bisexual woman married to a wonderful man who supports the work I do for equality without reservation.  I called my husband as I began writing this post and said, “So, are we still married?”  He snarkily replied, “Oh so THAT’S what’s wrong, I KNEW something was different!” 
DOMA never defended our marriage; DOMA attacked the marriages of our LGBT friends.  DOMA never defended anyone’s marriage, it just denied the benefits and privileges of marriage to LBGT Americans.  If DOMA defended marriage, then someone please explain to me why the divorce rate has not fallen since the act was passed in 1996? 

And again, No straight marriages have been harmed in the making of this blog post.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Tennesseans share the impact of partner benefits in their lives

We've been surveying our members about the importance of partner benefits.  Despite the fact that a Vanderbilt poll shows that 62% of Tennesseans support partner health insurance benefits, not every employer offers them and NO public employers in the state offer them.

Here are some of the responses we received.  They make it clear that if you do the same work, you deserve the same benefits:

J in Nashville:  “My partner is self employed, health insurance would be much more expensive if not available through my employer and would likely provide sub-standard benefits.”

E in Memphis:  “It has made life better. My partner has been uninsured for long periods of time, during which we have dealt with some expensive health issues and both gone without lots of routine and needed healthcare.  Pretty ironic to work in hospital and not be able to use their services.   I would look for another job if mine did not offer DP benefits, especially since many of our competitors offer them.”

A in Nashville:  “My employer does offer health insurance benefits for same sex domestic partners. However, my partner has top-notch health insurance coverage (he works for the state of TN), so his policy is significantly better than what my employer could offer. Thus, we have separate policies from each of our employers.

This situation has affected our family negatively. The state of TN does not offer domestic partner benefits so I am unfairly kept from choosing the better policy; unlike opposite sex couples, I'm forced to settle for the lesser of the two. My policy has a deductible of $4,000; my partner's has no deductible. To make matters worse, of the two, I'm the one with the most medical needs. My co-pays and deductibles and out of pocket expenses exceed over $8,000 a year. If I was covered under his policy, our household's expenses would be reduced to aproximately less than $1,000 a year (a difference of aprox. $7,000).

I would not work for an employeer that would not offer same sex partner benefits. Same-sex couples are not treated equally at the state of TN.This kind of inequality is actually encouraging us to move to a different state.”

P in Memphis:  “Both of us are HIV+ which means we have some medications that are very expensive. Even with insurance our medical costs are sometimes challenging but I don't know how people without medical insurance survive. If my employer wasn't able to include my partner under my health insurance I would have to seek a different job.”

T in Nashville:  “I am legally married in New York. I served in the military and one year in AmeriCorps. Because I cannot access her benefits at work, we are forced to pay hundreds of dollars a month for a private plan for me. This is money that is not going into our economy. I am lucky however. I am young and healthy enough to be able to purchase health insurance. I don't know what we would do if this were not the case obviously we knew this when we decided to make our partnership it did not deter us from getting married, it is certainly a bitter pill to swallow when one thinks that a straight couple could meet and marry each other in a matter of hours or days and access these benefits which are denied to us for an educated person, this is very difficult to wrap my head around.”

D in Chattanooga:  “My company has offered DP benefits for as long as I have worked there (almost 4 years now). My partner recently lost his job and I was able to put him and our daughter on my insurance. Had my company not offered DP benefits they both would have lost their coverage.”

D in Cookeville:  “My wife is an adjunct professor at a University. Since it is considered a part-time job health insurance is not offered to her. She has a life-long illness that requires medication. Before working for _______ we had to try to manage to pay for her medication out of pocket and sometimes she went without often to the detriment of her health. I commute to Nashville from Cookeville to work and will continue to do so to make sure I can provide health coverage for my entire family. “

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

TEP elects new boards at annual meeting

Members of the 2013-2014 Tennessee Equality Project (501c4/lobbying) board of directors are the following:  Robin Alberts-Marigza, Drew Baker, Michelle Bliss, Jonathan Cole, Toby Compton, Bleu Copas, David Glasgow, Anne Gullick, Yeshua Holiday, Ashford Hughes, Jeff Kirwan, Harry (Skip) Ledbetter, Mary Littleton, Becky Lucas, Linda McFadyen-Ketchum, Felicia Oglesby, Chris Sanders, Tommy Schlindwein, and Herb Zeman.

Officers are Chris Sanders, chairman of the board/president; Bleu Copas, vice president; Jeff Kirwan,
treasurer; Robin Alberts-Marigza, secretary; Michelle Bliss, executive committee member at-large.

Members of the the 2013-2014 Tennessee Equality Project Foundation (501c3/education) board of directors are the following:  Wes Aull, Susan Compton, Bleu Copas, Jonathan Cole, Brian Copeland, Ryan Ellis, Anne Gullick, Ellyahnna Hall, Erin Hughes, Becky Lucas, De’Andre T. Jones, Travis Parman, Tommy Schlindwein, H.G. Stovall.

Officers are H.G. Stovall, chairman of the board/president; Anne Gullick, vice president; Wes Aull, treasurer; Ellyahnna Hall, secretary; Becky Lucas, executive committee member at-large.

Biographies of the New Tennessee Equality Project board members follow:

Toby Compton:  Toby Compton is a fourth generation Nashvillian who was recently chosen to lead the Nashville Sports Authority.  He previously served as the Director of Strategy for the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development and as Mayor Karl Dean’s Senior Advisor specializing in policy and legislation.

Toby holds an undergraduate degree in political science from Lipscomb University and a master’s degree from Cumberland University in public administration.  He has previously served on several boards and is currently on the board at Dismas, Inc. Last year, he was chosen as one of “40 People Under 40” to watch by the Nashville Business Journal.

Robin Alberts-Marigza: Robin currently serves as the Campaign Manager for Jim Cooper for Congress, where she is responsible for developing and implementing a winning campaign strategy for one of the lone congressional Democrats in the South, including messaging, communications, fundraising, and political outreach. She has served as a key operative and chief adviser to Congressman Cooper’s successful congressional campaign during two challenging electoral cycles. 

As the campaign’s Finance Director, she has created a modern campaign that fundraises year-round, increases low-dollar, grassroots donations, attracts first-time donors, and implements new technologies with data-driven results, raising over $1.5 million during her tenure. 

With Congressman Cooper, Robin is currently working on a party-building project in collaboration with 50 state Democratic leaders and stakeholders to implement a year-by-year path to statewide victory by 2018.
Prior to her current position, she worked as the Campaign Manager for Jeff Yarbro for State Senate, coming within 17 votes of unseating a 40-year incumbent in a Democratic primary election. With her leadership, the campaign set a new standard of organization and fundraising for state-level races by executing a campaign focused on infrastructure and integrating fundraising, voter outreach and volunteer efforts.

In her efforts to raise money, coordinate volunteers, and contact voters, Robin has developed strong coalitions and working partnerships in the Nashville community. Throughout her campaign work, she has been committed to building an electoral infrastructure that supports progress, and electing leaders that share her vision for an equitable, inclusive Tennessee. 

Robin double majored in Sociology and Psychology at Tufts University in Boston, Massachusetts, where her studies focused on the intersection of social media and social theory. She is a native of Nashville, Tennessee—attending East Literature Magnet middle and high schools—and currently lives in East Nashville. In her free time, she enjoys gardening, cooking, and training to compete in her first triathlon.

Linda McFadyen-Ketchum:  Linda McFadyen-Ketchum is a political consultant who specializes in Davidson County races.  She worked on the campaigns of former Mayor Bill Purcell and Mayor Karl Dean, and managed campaigns for Vice-Mayor Diane Neighbors, Chancellor Claudia Bonnyman, Chancellor Richard Dinkins (now Appeals Court Judge Dinkins), Circuit Court Judge Amanda McClendon,  School Board Member Kathleen Harkey, and Metro Council candidate Nancy VanReece.  Linda has a special interest in identifying, encouraging, and electing talented women to public office.

Though her primary focus is on local races, Linda also believes that statewide and national races matter deeply to the people of Davidson County. Accordingly she was the Front Desk Manager for the Gore-Lieberman Campaign in 2000, worked on Phil Bredesen’s campaign for Governor in 2002, managed the Davidson County canvassing operation for Harold Ford, Jr.’s Senate race in 2006, and was particularly proud to work in Texas, Pennsylvania, and Montana as a Field Organizer for Hillary Clinton in her 2008 presidential campaign.  After Barack Obama won the Democratic nomination in 2008, Linda managed the phone-bank at the Nashville Obama Headquarters and operated a state-wide absentee voting initiative for the Tennessee Democratic Party.  In 2012 Linda worked for the Tennessee House Democratic Caucus, coordinating polling and mail programs for several targeted races.

A native of North Carolina, Linda holds Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in special education from Peabody College of Vanderbilt University.  She taught Davidson County children and young people with severe behavioral disorders and autism for twenty-five years.  She also served in supervisory/administrative positions and trained new staff and student teachers.  During her teaching years Linda was awarded two HCA Teacher Awards for independent summer study and won Channel 5’s Golden Apple teaching award and cash prize in 1994. 

Linda represented District 24 on the Davidson County Democratic Executive Committee for six years, and served as Treasurer for three years.  In 2006 she was honored as county Volunteer of the Year at the 2nd Annual Gore Family Dinner.

Currently Linda works on gun violence issues as a member of the steering committee for the Nashville/TN chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America.  

Linda and her husband, Dr. Steve McFadyen-Ketchum, have been married for 39 years.  They have two adult children and two granddaughters.  In her spare time, Linda enjoys hiking, identifying wild flowers, and choral music. 

David Glasgow:  David serves as Communications Director for the state field office of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Rural Development. He is responsible for internal, community and legislative outreach for an agency that delivers and manages an active portfolio of $4.3 billion in financial resources for job development, community infrastructure and affordable housing in rural Tennessee.

David's work with USDA on national initiatives has been recognized with the agency’s High Mark Award. He has twice been awarded Presidential Volunteer Service Awards in recognition of more than 500 hours of local community service in a year.
David currently serves as vice chair of the Metro Property Standards and Appeals Board and as Vice Chair for Tennessee Conservation Voters 501c3 Board. He has previously served on the Metro Nashville Tourism and Convention Commission, Convention and Visitors Bureau Strategic Planning Committee, Metro Environment and Beautification Commission, and as Chair of the Metro Tree Advisory Committee. David also serves as head coach of the Nashville Grizzlies Rugby Football Team.
An advocate of healthy public green space, David has helped raise money and coordinate more than 400 volunteers who together have planted more than 3,500 trees and saplings in parks, green spaces in Hillsboro Village, several Nashville Neighborhoods, Beaman Park at Bells Bend and communities across Tennessee.
David earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from Birmingham-Southern College and a Juris Doctor from the University of Alabama, School of Law. He successfully completed the Program for Senior Executives in State and Local Government at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government.
David and partner Van Pond, Jr support numerous community organizations including Nashville CARES, The Belcourt Theater, Tennessee Conservation Voters, Greenways for Nashville, Conexión Américas and many others. In 2010 they were honored by the Nashville GLBT Chamber with the Mark Lee Taylor award for Community Service.
Ashford HughesAshford Hughes is a native son of Knoxville, TN. He holds a B.S Degree in Political Science from Tennessee State University. While at Tennessee State University, Ashford served as the V.P of the Africana Studies Society and well as being a founding member and reestablishing the T.S.U College Democrats.
After graduating from Tennessee State, Ashford worked as African American Outreach Coordinator for the Harold Ford for U.S Senate Campaign in 2005-2006.  Since then Ashford has gone on to both manage and work as senior staff on various issue based and candidate driven political campaigns in Tennessee, South Carolina, Virginia and Mississippi. His main focus has been political strategy and organization building.
Ashford recently served as the Political Director at the Tennessee Democratic Party. He is currently the Assistant Business Manager for the Southeast Laborers’ District Council. (LIUNA) Ashford is one of the founding members of the Nashville affiliate of the national New Leaders Council, where he serves as Chapter Co-Director. This is an organization that seeks to train, educate and empower the next generation of progressive political and professional industry leaders.

Ashford aspires to empower the community he grew up in through political engagement and economic empowerment.  He serves on the Board of Directors for the Martha O’Bryan Center, Fifty Forward and is a current fellow with the Truman National Security Project. 

Yeshua Holiday:  Yeshua A. Holiday aka Joshua, has volunteered and worked for non profit organizations such as Housing Works, Inc, the Sylvia Rivera Law Project, New York Harm Reduction Educators and the National Black Justice Coalition and others. He has advocated for public policy in NYC, Louisville, KY, Atlanta, Ga and recently in Memphis and Nashville, TN. Yeshua's passion, as a trans person, is the trans community and the issues that they are faced with on a daily basis.

Skip Ledbetter:  Bio for Harry (Skip) Ledbetter:
Former Eagle Scout , who as the adult Eagle Scout Coordinator helped 123 Boy Scouts achieve the Eagle Scout Award. Was awarded the Congressional Gold Award by the US Congress in 1997.I served as the Emergency Operation Coordinator during Hurricane Georges.  I served as the corporate coordinator for the American Red Cross and the March of Dimes on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Between 2004 and 2011 I served 47 months of deployment with the US Army, most of that in Southwest Asia. Since returning from deployment I have volunteered  with the Shelby County Democratic Party, registering voters, raising funds, developed strategy and administered polling places. I have been Host Committee with MidSouth Aids fund. My work with TEP has been as fulfilling as any of the work mentioned up to this time and I'm honored to continue this partnership for years to come. 

*Note:  We will add bios of new Foundation board members as we get them.