Victory for now in Blount County, but the organizing continues


(photo by Matthew Hardenbergh used with permission)

Maryville, TN--The army in red scored an important upset victory on Tuesday as the Blount County Commission failed to take up a resolution asking to be spared God's wrath and asking Tennessee leaders to defend "natural marriage." 

Over 200 marriage equality advocates showed up to protest the resolution.  They never had to say a word, though, because after failing to adopt the agenda, which included the anti-marriage equality resolution, the commission abruptly adjourned the meeting. 

TEP Knox, Anderson, and Blount Counties Committee Chair (and TEP Foundation Chair) Gwen Schablik told the Knoxville News Sentinel, "But for now, we’re definitely organizing and continuing and watching, watching to see what they do. And we’re not going to give up.” 

The sponsor, Commissioner, Karen Miller, vows to bring the resolution back.  TEP and our allies such as PFLAG Maryville will also be back to fight the measure that garnered significant national attention. 

Continuing the Fight:  Immediately upon learning about the resolution, TEP leaders sprang into action and organized people to attend the meeting, engaged media outlets, helped citizens contact members of the County Commission, and prepared remarks to be used at the Commission meeting.

YOUR tax deductible contribution to the TEP Foundation makes it possible to teach organizing skills to the LGBT and ally community throughout the state and it helps us advance the values of equality and inclusion in the media.  Click here to make your contribution NOW.

More Coverage:  For a sampling of other coverage of the historic Blount County Commission meeting, go to these links:  WBIRChattanooga Times Free Press/AP, Reuters, The Daily Times (Maryville), and WATE.

TEP responds to Southern Baptist Theological Seminary's hateful conference on transgender people

I have to thank Vickie Davis for bringing to my attention the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary's October 5 event called "Transgender Confusion and Transformational Christianity."  You can find the link here

The event takes place in Louisville, but I feel the need to write about it since the Southern Baptist presence is so strong in Tennessee in terms of numbers of congregations and official organs of the denomination.  I will also note that some of my response is accessible to any person who follows these issues, but that some of it is a response from within Christianity.  I do not think it necessary for one to be religious to produce a strong response.  I simply note that it provides an angle for my response, given my own theological background.

I'll tip by hand.  Based on what I can tell, the confusion referenced in the title is evident among those putting on the conference, not transgender people.  I'll go out on a limb and predict it will not be transformational because those in power at the seminary and in the denomination are not allowing themselves to be transformed or changed.  And I have a hard time recognizing it as Christianity even though they use lots of Christian words.

And before I get further into the content of the conference, I just have to note that their use of the colors of the transgender pride flag is completely shameful.

Impetus of the conference:  So what do they say?  According to the text of their video on the page: 

Our culture is flooded with transgender confusion.  Parents delay the announcement of their infant's gender until the child makes an independent choice.  Laws are passed allowing persons to choose which public restrooms they would use.  Surgery attempts to erase the obvious physical indicators of manhood and womanhood.  The Christian Gospel speaks into this confusion with revolutionary clarity.  God sovereignly assigns a gender to people created in His image.  The powerful grace of Jesus Christ redeems and restores to sanity our thinking which has been corrupted by sin.  The Church must speak with biblical conviction into this chaos with the clarity and love of Jesus.

This is an utter disaster in the making.  When disasters happen, you have to sort through the wreckage.  So here we go.

Imagined harms:  The first four sentences are the supposed religious and societal harms that come from so-called transgender confusion.  Did you notice something?  Not one of these harms has anything to do with someone who is not transgender.  In other words, the conference organizers don't and can't show how anyone's gender transition/confirmation/identity affects anyone else in a negative way. Let's take them one-by-one.  

1. Confusion:  The transgender confusion they speak of, though they won't admit it, is actually a wider hostility to transgender people, despite growing acceptance.  It manifests itself in job discrimination, homelessness, suicide attempts, etc. among transgender people.  But let's get at the root of things here.  These conference speakers are confused, but they can't admit that because they're credentialed so they project their confusion onto transgender people. 

2. Parents and gender:  So what if parents won't tell you the gender of their child?  There's no evidence that this practice is truly widespread, by the way.  But isn't it worth asking why we care so much?  Is it because we are so eager to start putting our gender expectations on children? Probably so.  But if the practice of not announcing their child's gender does become more common among parents in the U.S., I think our culture can stretch to handle it without descending into anarchy.  It might even lead to conversations about gender-based violence and pay differentials.  Wouldn't that be welcome!

3. Restrooms:  There it is.  You knew they'd say it.  I'm surprised it wasn't listed first.  The conference is trying to scare you with fantasies about who is in the restroom with you.  It's been said thousands of times, but let's say it again.  Transgender people are in the restroom to use the restroom like everyone else.  Restroom choice is a safety issue, which OSHA now recognizes

4. Surgery:  First, not all transgender people have it.  Many can't afford it because of economic struggles and others have no interest in it.  Again, I'd have to note that whether someone has gender confirmation/transition surgery primarily affects the transgender person and not others.  Perhaps the clue comes with the conference's phrase "erase the obvious physical indicators of manhood and womanhood."  What's at stake here?  Are the conference leaders suggesting they want to treat men and women differently and if they can't tell who's who, they won't know how to act?  I think that's what they're stuck on instead of asking why they're treating people differently based on gender in the first place. 

Twisting the Gospel as the solution:  The remaining sentences in the video give us the proposed solution--the Gospel.  But for the life of me I can't remember any classical Protestant reformer intimately linking gender to phrases like justification by faith.  The Gospel pertains to the doctrine of redemption in Christianity.  But what the conference verbiage actually does, despite using redemption-like words, is skip back to the doctrine of creation when it says, "God sovereignly assigns a gender to people created in His image." 

This is breathtaking in its audacity.  Harking back to Calvinism, which is a growing influence in Southern Baptist circles, but twisting it...God's eternal election of human souls is less about salvation and more about micro-managing the gender of each individual human being who has ever lived and will live in history.  That's apparently the good news they have in mind for transgender people.

And guess what else they changed about the Gospel?  Apparently the Gospel "redeems and restores to sanity our thinking" about transgender issues.  Yes, conference organizers are all but telling you that Jesus came preaching and died on the cross to change people's minds about gender. 

The strange departures from traditional doctrinal understandings of Christianity at work in this conference are sad enough in themselves, but the real issue is the ongoing persecution of transgender people that the perspective enables.  If Southern Baptist leaders wanted to "speak with biblical conviction into this chaos with the clarity and love of Jesus," as they say they want to, they would explore the concrete harms transgender people endure, the connection between hateful forms of religion and those harms, and how they can begin working for inclusive congregations. 

And they have every reason to do so if they put down their strange interpretation of Calvin and pick up Galatians 3:28, which says among other things, that "nor is there male or female."  When the leaders of this important faith community lead their congregations into a welcoming posture, we will know that real transformation is taking place.

-Chris Sanders, M.Div.


TEP welcomes Joe Davis, husband of Rowan County, Kentucky Clerk Kim Davis, to Nashville

The Tennessee Equality Project extends our welcome to Joe Davis, husband of Rowan County, Kentucky Clerk Kim Davis, to Nashville on Thursday.

Joining an august body of divines known as the Tennessee Pastors Network, Davis will speak at a rally at the Capitol whose topics include "gay marriage, terrorism, education, health care and religious liberty," according to the Associated Press.  Speakers at the rally will reveal whether they support or oppose the items on this list.

When he crosses into Tennessee, Mr. Davis will find a state where all the county clerks are in compliance with the Supreme Court's marriage ruling and have been for several weeks.  And when he enters Nashville he will be in a city whose current mayor and mayor-elect are strong allies of the LGBT community and whose county clerk was among the first in Tennessee to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. 

Nashville has a long history of performers heading downtown and trying to make it big and we wish Mr. Davis luck.  Our advice--connect with a better songwriter and work on harmonizing.  A recent poll says most Americans aren't singing your tune. 

As Minnie Pearl used to say, "HOWDY!"

Greene County Commissioner urges state to fight Supreme Court marriage ruling

Greene County, Tennessee Commissioner Jason Cobble is urging the full county commission to pass a resolution urging the State of Tennessee to resist the Supreme Court's recent marriage ruling.  WATE and WJHL have the story at this link.  It is up for a vote on Monday.

I spoke with Commissioner Cobble today.  It was a pleasant conversation just to try to find out the Commissioner's goals.  He wanted to talk about the Supreme Court redefining marriage, which is a common misunderstanding.  What they actually did was strike down a part of the Tennessee definition of marriage that conflicts with the 14th Amendment.  He said that his goal is nullification.  In other words, he wants the State to resist and ignore the Supreme Court ruling.  I do believe the State will continue to complain, but I don't see any viable way forward for the State to resist the Supreme Court ruling.

We are fortunate that people from Greene County have reached out and are fighting the resolution.  While the resolution would have almost no practical effect, I think it is unfortunate that LGBT adults and youth will have to have the merits of their lives attacked and debated by a local government.  And that is reason enough to stand against it.

TAKE ACTION:  If you wish to contact the members of the Greene County Commission and calmly urge them to vote NO on Commissioner Cobble's marriage resolution, we are providing their contact information below.  We ask that you not fight with these commissioners who need thoughtful discussion and reasons to oppose the resolution.  But a high volume of constructive contact may help them stand against it. 


17th West Pines, 11th Baileyton, Baileyton Corporation, Woodlawn, 16th Lost Mountain, Union Temple, 12th Hardins, 21st Cross Anchor

595 Charlie Doty Rd.
Greeneville, TN 37745



3835 Horton Hwy
Greeneville, TN 37745



3010 Whitehouse Rd.
Greeneville, TN 37745




1st Forest Hills, 15th Chuckey, Jockey, 20th Newmansville, 14th Chuckey Doak


265 Milligan Rd
Afton, TN  37616



5905 Erwin Hwy
Chuckey, TN  37641



1935 Earnest Rd
Chuckey, TN 37641




13th Tusculum North, Tusculum South, Tusculum Corp., 10-1 Tusculum View, East View


95 Naples Lane
Greeneville, TN 37745



2325 Fairview Rd
Afton, TN 37616



3270 Snapps Ferry Rd
Afton, TN 37616



10-2 Courthouse, 24th Sunnyside, 2nd Flag Branch, 22nd Greystone


110 Sunnydale Rd
Greeneville, TN 37743



1301 Pisgah Rd
Greeneville, TN 37743



10665 107-Cutoff
Greeneville, TN 37743




9th Debusk, 3rd Caney Branch, 10-2 Middle School, 18th South Greene


625 Cedar Creek Cave Rd
Greeneville, TN 37743



3425 Kentucky Rd. S.
Greeneville, TN  37743



120 Little Brook Lane
Greeneville, TN  37743



23rd Mosheim, Mosheim Corp., 7th Mt. Carmel, 19th Midway, 4th McDonald, Warrenburg, 6th Mohawk


1390 Little Chuckey Rd
Midway, TN  37809



105 Main St
Mosheim, TN  37818




1105 Wilkerson Rd. PO Box 7

Mosheim, TN 37818




High School, Highland Roby, 5th Orebank, 10-2 Andrew Johnson, 25th Glenwood, 8thMt. Pleasant


102 Alderman Dr
Greeneville, TN  37745



68 Lancer Lane
Greeneville, TN 37743



2516 Old Kentucky Rd., W.,
Mosheim, TN 37818


Nashville voters elect third consecutive pro-equality Metro Government

Last night, Nashville voters completed the process of electing another pro-equality majority in Metro Government, the 3rd time that has happened now, vindicating the progress that has been made in the city over the last 8 years.

Megan Barry's victory as mayor was the most visible manifestation of that result. But in this election cycle voters also elected a pro-equality Vice Mayor, David Briley, and a pro-equality majority on the Council including one gay man (Brett Withers) and one lesbian (Nancy VanReece). Nancy is not only a former TEP Foundation board member, but she is the first out lesbian elected to a legislative body in Tennessee.

Family Action of Tennessee attacked Mayor-elect Barry on LGBT and choice issues and those attacks failed.  Nashville voters sent a message that equality is one of the values of our city and there is no turning back.

Now the task before us over the next four years in Nashville and other cities and counties is to pursue the local government advocacy agenda--transitional housing for LGBT youth, affordable, inclusive housing for LGBT seniors, transgender-inclusive health benefits for city employees, LGBT competency training for health-related divisions in city government, and much more.

The work will always be hard, but it becomes possible and considerably easier given the results of last night's election.

I commend TEP PAC on their work and the whole TEP family thanks you for your support of some great candidates in this election.  And we offer our congratulations to our new elected officials!

Gratefully yours,

Chris Sanders
Executive Director

Legislature bullies UT-K into submission, plans additional anti-LGBT attacks

If you want a lesson in power, just look at how the Legislature beat the University of Tennessee-Knoxville without even being in session.  UT-K is removing its suggested practices concerning gender-neutral pronouns (which were never a policy) from its website after legislative pressure.  And as we've said many times, the Legislature is going to look at unnecessary bills to try to allow businesses, clergy, and county clerks to opt out of serving the LGBT community.  The Knoxville News Sentinel's Tom Humphrey nails the power/ideology issue with his discussion of the real political correctness in Tennessee.

Loud, but not as big as they think:  The loudest element in our socially conservative state is demanding that any advance for LGBT equality be met with resistance and reversal, if possible.

But despite the fact the state is socially conservative, we don't believe it's the policy focus for the majority of our fellow citizens.  So we're going to resist.  We're going to undertake an unprecedented effort to identify fairness-leaning voters in key conservative districts and secondarily to persuade some.  This is not about candidates.  It's about changing the number of people supporting our issues in places no one expects and it's about changing the perception of those issues.  

POWER Teams:  POWER Team training sessions, as promised, begin in September around the state this month.  You'll get a discussion of the plan and some training on how you can help execute it.  Please, join us for one of these sessions.  If you don't see yours listed yet, sign up at the volunteer form here for the city nearest you and we'll schedule a city near you soon!

Nashville:  September 21

Murfreesboro:  September 22

Memphis:  September 23

Knoxville:  September 24

As always you can support our legislative efforts to fight back at the link.

Family Action attacks Megan Barry

This morning I got word that Family Action of Tennessee had started an attack on Megan Barry's campaign for mayor.  You can read it here

Their argument:  The piece says that Barry wants to "exclude those whose Orthodox Christian beliefs inform their public lives."  And as evidence, Family Action cites the 2011 Metro contractor non-discrimination ordinance, of which Barry was a sponsor.  They further bolster their point by including a clip of former Councilman Phil Claiborne who just basically says that orthodox believers of many religions oppose LGBT people.

Disclosures:  Before I get into the refutation, let's have all the disclosures.  TEP PAC endorsed Megan Barry for Mayor.  I personally voted for her on the first day of early voting.  And I don't speak for her or her campaign.  There.  That's all on the table.

Here's another disclosure.  I have an M.Div. and studied the history of the Church for years.  I completed all the coursework for a Ph.D. in the history of Christian thought at Vanderbilt, even took some of my qualifying exams in the area, but I never could settle on a final dissertation area so I pursued other things.  But I did pretty darned well in my coursework and my exams. 

So I know a thing or two about "Orthodox Christian beliefs."  And since I was involved in the Metro contractor ordinance, I know a few things about that, too. 

Doctrines of sex and gender:  First, beliefs about sexuality and gender, while debated and important, have not in the long sweep of Christian history been the defining test of orthodoxy.  What Family Action is asking people to buy is that there are orthodox beliefs about sex and gender on par with the Nicene Creed.  And there's just no evidence for that.  In fact, the evidence points to variability of belief and practice among Christians who otherwise held in common certain core beliefs like the Trinity, the two natures of Christ, etc.

Why the contractor ordinance proves nothing:  Second, Family Action's argument that by supporting the contractor ordinance, Barry excludes people with Orthodox Christian beliefs is blatantly false.  People can believe whatever they want, but to contract with Metro government, the bill said that they had to affirm that they would not use tax dollars to discriminate against their employees on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.  And guess what, lots of people were OK with that, including people with Orthodox Christian beliefs.  Some congregations even endorsed the bill!

What looks like orthodoxy is actually heresy:  Really to take the point further, what Family Action is asking people to believe is that there is an Orthodox Christian doctrine that supervisors should be able to fire LGBT people or not hire them in the first place.  This is what the old theologians and bishops used to call an "innovation," and they weren't using that word in a positive light.  In other words, it's a new doctrine, or I would add a heresy.  Not only that, but it's bad public policy. 

Nashville needs neither this kind of heresy nor bad public policy. 



TAKE ACTION: Contact legislative committees to defend UT against Family Action attacks

BackgroundWe recently told you in this blog post about all the horrible media distortions of the University of Tennessee-Knoxville's efforts to encourage the campus to learn about gender neutral pronouns to make the community more welcoming for transgender and gender-non-conforming people.  Now Family Action of Tennessee is urging its members to contact state legislators to get them to "neuter" UT's program.  This offensive, violent image that likens transgender people to pets is how the organization is trying to get the Legislature to interfere in UT's programming. 

FIGHT BACK:  Use this petition to generate emails to the State Senate Education Committee and to the State House Education Administration and Planning Committee so that they will have accurate information and so that they know you want UT to make its own decisions about programming to make transgender and gender non-conforming people welcome!  You can find the petition at this link

College students, faculty asked to learn new words, use them in conversation: Media explodes

The media coverage of the University of Tennessee-Knoxville's request that their community learn gender neutral pronouns and consider using them in actual conversations has been a fiasco.

There were reports of "ditching" he and she.  A Fox News piece went so far as to say, "Lots of folks in Big Orange Country are turning blood red."  We'll bracket the question of whether Fox was trying to manufacture the very outrage they were reporting as fact.  Unfortunately, Tennessee media outlets played along with the tone set by Fox.  A Facebook post by WKRN that was later changed indicated that UT-K had lost its mind, while WSMV's 10:00 p.m. report on Friday night treated the matter as a joke.

University officials facing massive misunderstanding in the media have clarified again and again that gender neutral pronouns are NOT a policy. 

Guess what!  Colleges have been known to roll out educational programs to make their community life better.  It should not be surprising at all that an institution of higher learning should ask members of its community to learn new words and use them.  That used to be called education.  At a time when Mx as a gender neutral alternative to Ms, Mr., and Mrs is entering dictionaries, it seems as if any university that prepares its community for a changing world is doing its job.  So we'll have to say "Well done" to the folks at UT-K!

But the general context of higher education is only one piece that should have taken most of the bluster out of the unfortunate coverage of this development.  The other piece that didn't really emerge in the media coverage is the emergency situation of transgender murders in this country

Basically, media outlets were sensationalizing, mocking, and dismissing a practice that is designed to make transgender and gender non-conforming people safer.  There was a lost opportunity for media outlets to connect what is going on at UT-K to the lives of transgender people and the dangers they face. 

Why did it occur to no one to ask, "What if thousands of people learned an easy way to affirm transgender people and making them safer in the face of an often hostile world?" 

The upside of the sensationalized coverage is two-fold.  First, lots of people around the country who had never heard of gender neutral pronouns have now been exposed to them.  Second, lots of people around the country learned that the University of Tennessee-Knoxville is trying to make a difference for transgender and gender non-conforming people. 

Let's hope that's the direction the discussion keeps heading!

What's going on with parenting forms and the Tennessee courts?

Yesterday Fox 17 in Nashville reported that the Administrative Office of the Courts in Tennessee was changing parenting forms from "mother" and "father" to "parent 1" and "parent 2."  The change would have put Tennessee more in line with the Supreme Court marriage decision.

After the Fox 17 story ran, we began hearing that the AOC had reversed themselves and reverted back to the old forms for now.

So we contacted the AOC and here's what the Director of Communications said today:

Mr. Sanders,
The parenting plan forms were changed from mother and father to parent 1 and part 2.
After receiving feedback regarding a recent change made to the permanent parenting plan form, the AOC has reviewed the procedures and determined that, before making any changes to the form, the AOC should consult with the Domestic Relations Committee of the Tennessee Judicial Conference.
We have reverted to the previous form and the Committee has been notified.
Here are things to note:
1.  It is encouraging that the courts in Tennessee realized that their forms needed to reflect the realities of the families involved in parenting.
2.  It is discouraging that the courts bent to the pressure of Right wing legislators.
3.  But it's not the end of the process.  The courts will look at the issue closely and there is still an opportunity to provide inclusive forms. 
TEP will monitor the process and keep you updated.

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