Why Madison County?

I noted in the previous post that TEP is going to make a more intensive focus on Wilson, Madison, and Blount Counties in 2016.  Last time, we took a look at Wilson County.  Today we're talking about Madison County.

With a population of just over 98,000 people, according to the 2010 Census, Madison County(the City of Jackson particularly)  is a regional center for West Tennessee.  Because it is located between Nashville and Memphis on I-40 and because seven West Tennessee counties share its border, Madison County could be an important refuge for LGBT people in the area.

The area is heavily contested politically and culturally--with Democrats struggling to hold on in the face of a rising Republican tide.  Talk radio in the area is laced with negative references to abortion and LGBT people.  Over 32% of the population is African-American.  A significant higher education presence in the area creates opportunities and challenges.  Groups like Jackson State Community College's strong GSA are a source of strength and yet institutions like Union University have made more socially conservative pronouncements on marriage in recent months.

Measuring existing attitudes about LGBT people and attempting to improve them will be an important task if we want to help West Tennessee LGBT people make a better life for themselves.


Why Wilson County?

New Project:  In the new year, the TEP Foundation is going to undertake a new project with a particular focus on three counties in Tennessee--Madison, Wilson, and Blount.  And we're going to try to see what the existing attitudes toward LGBT people are and figure out what might increase acceptance of LGBT people in these areas.

Why Wilson County?

Wilson County is in Middle Tennessee, just to the East of Metropolitan Nashville and Davidson County.  It's an area of rapid growth while still retaining a significant rural character.  The population is around 114,000, as of the 2010 Census.  Significant industry is taking note of the area.  Under Armour's massive facility in Mt. Juliet is evidence of that trend.

Bad Legislation:  Unfortunately Wilson County has been the source of significant anti-equality legislation in the Tennessee General Assembly.  In 2011, Sen. Mae Beavers sponsored the bill that nullified Metro Nashville's contractor non-discrimination ordinance.  She and Rep. Mark Pody have tried to advance bills to undo Vanderbilt's all-comers non-discrimination policy for student clubs.  And the duo have gotten back together to sponsor the Tennessee Natural Marriage Defense Act up for consideration in 2016.

So it seems pretty important to figure why such discriminatory bills are originating in Wilson County and whether anything can be done to shift the culture of acceptance.  If we can learn anything in Wilson County, the lessons might be applicable throughout the state.

Get Involved:  If you would like to volunteer for our Wilson County team, click here and select the appropriate option.  You don't have to live in Wilson County to do so.

If you would like to be part of a phone bank on Feb. 15 when we do our survey of Wilson County voters on LGBT issues, RSVP here

I hope you will join us for this exciting project.  For more information, contact us at chris@tnequalityproject.com .

Knox County Commission did not take up the anti-marriage equality resolution tonight

The Knox County Commission did not take up an anti-marriage equality resolution tonight.  Commissioners had been urged to do so by a man identified as Mark Rivera.  But when he was called on speak on Monday night, he failed to show up.

In contrast, many in red were in the chamber to show their opposition to any anti-marriage equality resolution.  6 people spoke against such a measure including Gwen Schablik, David Payne, and former State Rep. Gloria Johnson. 

TEP is grateful to all who showed up to oppose discrimination tonight and we are grateful to the Knox County Commission for not taking up the resolution. 

Here is an updated map on anti-marriage equality resolution battles in Tennessee

If you would like to support TEP's advocacy efforts, you can do so at the link.

Why we need to fight the county anti-marriage equality resolutions

Anti-marriage equality resolutions are popping up in county commissions around the state.  Here's a map where the battles have been fought.  The latest hot spot is Knox County where there may be an effort to introduce and pass such a resolution on Monday, December 21. 

Why do they matter and why should we fight them?

1. They are part of an effort to pass the Tennessee Natural Marriage Defense Act.  This state bill seeks to nullify the Supreme Court's marriage ruling.  If counties pass resolutions in support of the bill, that encourages legislators from those counties to support the measure.  Defeating these resolutions helps undercut a talking point for the bill.

2. The resolutions are harmful to the LGBT community in those counties.  Even though the resolutions have no legal force and even if the Legislature passes its bill, it can only temporarily interrupt marriage equality, which is bad in itself.  BUT...it sends a terrible message to LGBT youth and adults if their county legislative body denounces their rights.  That is the kind of action that keeps people in the closet and contributes to higher suicide rates in our community.  It makes it harder to pass positive protections for LGBT people in these counties.

3. Cost to the state and the counties.  If the Legislature passes the Tennessee Natural Marriage Defense Act, it will immediately be challenged in court and the State of Tennessee will LOSE!  That will result in legal fees that are paid for by the tax payers.  We're already facing legal bills of $2.3 million for the first round.  It would not surprise me if the counties that passed resolutions urging the Legislature into this futile effort were sued too.  They would certainly deserve it. 

4. The resolutions represent bad governance by county legislative bodies.  Often there is little public discussion of these measures.  The Sullivan County Commission passed their resolution without it ever appearing on a county website in advance of the meetings where it was voted on.  There was no real assessment of the legal implications or implications for economic development for the area. 

The good news is that, with enough notice, the LGBT community and allies CAN defeat these resolutions, as the experience in Blount and Franklin Counties shows.  So stay alert and be ready to show up for equality in your county if it becomes necessary.

As always, your support of our advocacy efforts is welcome.  You fuel the fight!


Meet the Judges of the TEP Gumbo Contest

gumbo_spoon.jpgTennessee Equality Project is pleased to announce the official panel of five judges for the Jan. 24, 2016 TEP Gumbo Contest at the Bridges Center in Downtown Memphis. Each year, the panel is selected to include a mix of individuals who make or influence public policy or make or report on delicious food. The 2016 Judges Panel includes:

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TEP condemns Sullivan County Commission's swift passage of anti-marriage equality resolution

The Tennessee Equality Project condemns the Sullivan County Commission's swift passage of a resolution opposed to marriage equality this morning.  The resolution passed with 20 yes votes, 1 no vote and 2 abstentions.

The resolution had not been filed as of Friday afternoon.  It never appeared online in any Sullivan County Government documents posted on the County's website. 

In a questionable move, the rules were suspended at today's meeting so that a vote could take place with little public input.

We are grateful that Bristol resident and former TEP Tri-Cities Committee chair Joe Rhymer could be present to speak against the resolution.

That does not change the fact that the Sullivan County Commission has done a great disservice to the public in denying a full consideration of the issues presented in the resolution.  Instead the Commission has rushed the county into encouraging our State Legislature to engage in a lawless, expensive fool's errand of defying the Supreme Court of the United States.


For more information, contact Chris Sanders at chris@tnequalityproject.com or 615-390-5252.

Legislative preview: What does Tennessee's LGBT community face in January?

One month from today the Tennessee General Assembly reconvenes at "high Noon."  What lies ahead for the state's gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community?

Negative bills:  2016 could be one of the worst.  Here's what either is coming or could be coming.

*The Tennessee Natural Marriage Defense Act was filed in September.  It would attempt to nullify the Supreme Court's June marriage equality ruling.

*Various Turn the Gays Away/RFRA bills like those designed to "protect" clergy, businesses, and local officials from having to serve the LGBT community. 

*Anti-transgender bathroom bill.  It hasn't been filed yet, but it may be coming.  It is particularly troublesome because of the danger to which it exposes transgender and gender non-conforming youth.

*Counseling Discrimination.  The bill would allow students enrolled in counseling, psychology, and social work programs at public universities in Tennessee to turn away clients based on their religious beliefs.  The bill was sidelined earlier this year, but it could be back in 2016. 

*Defunding the University of Tennessee-Knoxville's Office of Diversity and Inclusion.  That has come up again just this week

*Local non-discrimination ordinances nullified.  In the unconfirmed rumors section, we would add that there is the possibility of bills being filed to nullify city or county ordinances that protect their own local government employees from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. 

The choice we have.  Given all the negative legislation coming and given how few resources there are in Tennessee, we have to ask ourselves whether it makes any sense spending time on legislation that is great in terms of its content but has no chance of passing.  In order responsibly to deal with the attacks, we have to spend our time there. 

At the State level, TEP will be focused on beating these negative bills. 

And we've already been working on just that. 

Efforts so far:  When the Tennessee Natural Marriage Defense Act was introduced, we began by defining the perception of it in the media.  We asked Professor Sherry of Vanderbilt Law to offer this op-ed and we contributed our own piece to Huffington Post.  We have canvassed voters in Dickson, Manchester, Maryville, and Bristol in order to find out if there is a message that works with moderate voters in conservative districts.  It turns out there is!

And we opened and have sustained the fight against the anti-transgender bathroom bill.  The TEP Rutherford County Chair, who happens to be from Rep. Hulsey's district, was scanning news coverage when he learned about the bill and helped us get the information out to you statewide.  Hundreds of our members have called and emailed Rep. Hulsey urging him to rethink the bill, which is what he is doing right now.  We also have preemptively generated over 1100 emails to all the members of the State Senate urging them NOT to sponsor a companion bill.  We were also pleased to support the recent rally in Johnson City by bringing up the idea with local organizers, publicizing it dozens of times, and providing media support.

And that is how we'll fight for you when the Legislature convenes in January.  We're going to be smart about how we use our time.  We're going to look at every tactic at our disposal, including some we've never considered before.  But our focus is defending you and defending you well.

I hope you'll consider supporting our legislative work with a contribution of $25 or more at this link.  If you prefer to give a little every month to keep us running strong, you can sign up at this link

Don't forget to RSVP for TEP's 12th annual Advancing Equality Day on the Hill at this link.

Thanks for all you do!

TN Rep Hulsey to introduce bathroom bill targeting transgender students

A week after the disaster with Houston's Equal Rights Ordinance, Rep. Bud Bud Hulsey of Kingsport has announced that he is going to introduce a bill preventing transgender students from using the changing rooms and restrooms that correspond to their gender, according to WCYB.  Ironically, he asserts that the bill is about student safety.

NOTHING COULD BE FURTHER FROM THE TRUTH.  Transgender students pose NO threat to other students because of their gender identity.  Indeed, it is their own safety that is in danger if the bill passes. 

Contact Rep. Hulsey and let him know he should not file this bill, which the Tennessee Equality Project condemns in the strongest way.

Demand that he not file the bill and that he should meet with members of the transgender community and learn about their real safety needs!

Leave a message for him at (615) 741-2886 .

Email him at rep.bud.hulsey@capitol.tn.gov .

Your voice makes a difference.  The last time a state representative introduced a "police the potty" style bill, the outcry was so great that the Senate sponsor dropped the bill and it failed. 

It's time to get loud NOW!

Canvassers tell all in new expose

One of the best projects we have worked on is canvassing middle-of-the-road voters in conservative districts on the Tennessee Natural Marriage Defense Act.  I think it's a project you should consider supporting with a contribution of $10 or more at the link.

We deliberately chose conservative districts and we avoided cherry-picking liberal voters because we wanted to get a real sense of whether our neighbors in Tennessee back this ridiculous bill.  So far, we are finding that more than half of the people we talk to in person are willing to sign a card to their legislator against it.  I think that's a great impact!

Canvassers have worked in Manchester, Maryville, and Dickson so far.  We are headed back to Maryville this Sunday, Bristol on November 7, back to Manchester on November 14, and back to Dickson on November 15.  If you can't contribute, please consider joining us in one of those locations.

Read what some of our canvassers have to say:

"While Canvassing in Manchester, I realized that we were in a very RED city. Most of our voters we went door to door to were non-Democratic or Republican. I was amazed by the end that more than half of those voters actually said YES they would sign our cards in support of our cause." -Caleb Banks

-"The people I talked to that took the survey and signed the postcard were thankful that there was a group that is bringing awareness to this bill." -Gwen Schablik

Any anxiety that existed before knocking on the doors was eliminated once we realized how supportive the community was of our mission. There were also several people who didn't know about the bill, and they were surprised and frustrated that it wasn't getting more attention.  Being able to educate them on the issue, and allow them an opportunity to voice their concern was incredibly rewarding!" -Leslie Wilson-Charles

This project has clearly been a great way to engage volunteers while also making an impact against a destructive piece of legislation.  Help continue to take the message to every part of Tennessee, to the parts of Tennessee outside our larger cities where it matters.  Support the canvassing project with a contribution of $10 or more today.

Going door-to-door for equality in Tennessee: Why canvassing matters

If you've kept up with Tennessee Equality Project on Facebook, you know we've been going door-to-door in conservative parts of the state talking about the Tennessee Natural Marriage Defense Act

Here's why.  We wanted to know where the people of Tennessee stand on the bill.  It's not a comprehensive poll, but it still gives us important data.  Second, it gives us the chance to find supporters who will contact their own legislators in areas where we might have few members of our own.  Third, it gives our members another political skill.

Data:  Without canvassing, we are at the mercy of polling organizations or guesswork when it comes to the question of whether Tennesseans support discriminatory bills.  We can't guarantee polls will be conducted on the issue or that they'll be accurate.  Canvassing gives us real data to develop a real sense of people's views.   I should note that we picked conservative districts and middle-of-the-road voters deliberately to get out of our progressive bubbles and echo chambers.

Finding supporters:  We hoped, but didn't know for sure, that we would find supporters of our position on the bill when we began.  It's important that legislators in conservative districts hear from their own constituents.  So we started in Manchester and Maryville this past weekend and were pleasantly surprised that most of the people we talked to are opposed to the bill.  Yes, opposed.  We definitely found people who support it, but most people we've talked to in person so far think it's a futile and expensive effort.  AND they were willing to tell their legislators just that!

Gaining skills:  Most of our canvassers so far had never gone door-to-door for politics before this weekend.  Many were nervous and I'm sure they had their doubts.  I think they found that it was easy and they were also encouraged by the response.  They will now be ready to canvass voters on other issues and for political candidates.  When our movement has more skilled canvassers, we're obviously stronger. 

Get involved:  We have two more canvassing events coming up.  Dickson is this SaturdayBristol is November 7.  I hope you'll join us.  Let's fight this bill and change Tennessee!

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