The Legislature is back in session.

The 109th General Assembly of the State of Tennessee just reconvened and discrimination is on the agenda. 

The Tennessee Natural Marriage Defense Act has already been filed.  One representative discussed filing a bill that would prohibit transgender students from using restrooms and changing rooms that correspond with their gender identity.  Legislators are going to investigate diversity programming at our public colleges and universities.  And they're not looking to celebrate diversity, but to control the promotion of it.

Meanwhile in local government, county commissions around the state are considering anti-marriage equality resolutions in hopes that the Legislature will take us back to the days before marriage equality.  Rutherford County's is up this week and a large group in red is gathering to show support for marriage equality.

What can you do?

1. If your county is considering an anti-marriage equality resolution, show up in red to oppose it.  Here's a list of upcoming county commission meetings and other events.  

2. Tell the members of the State Senate not to file or sponsor a companion bill to the anti-transgender bathroom legislation at this link.

3. RSVP for TEP's 12th annual Advancing Equality Day on the Hill on March 8.

4. Consider supporting all our work of fighting back against discriminatory legislation with a monthly investment or a one-time contribution.

Together we can raise our voices for a more inclusive, equitable Tennessee.

Champions of Equality will be recognized at TEP Gumbo Contest

Whoarethechampions.jpgTennessee Equality Project will recognize two Champions of Equality from Shelby County at the TEP Gumbo Contest and Mardi Gras Party on January 24, 2016 at the Bridges Center in Downtown Memphis. These champions effected positive policy changes to bring equality and fairness to their communities in Tennessee. 

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Why showing up matters: Reminders from Dickson County

Some lessons are tough.  On Monday in Dickson County we were reminded of why showing up matters . 

The Dickson dicksoncountygroup.jpgCounty Commission unanimously voted to put an anti-marriage equality resolution on their agenda at the January 19 meeting.

As the picture shows, we had a good crowd of equality advocates in red, but the other side had 4 times our numbers AND they showed up early and took up all the seats.

The night wasn't a total loss.  I believe that was the largest gathering of equality advocates at a public meeting in Dickson County history and it was great for the public to see representatives of our perspective.  Despite the fact that we lost and were outnumbered, we are now visible in Dickson County, and LGBT people and allies are fired up to be a presence at the January 19 meeting.

Just like in voting, turnout in advocacy is key.  Win or lose, we're going to keep turning out.

Here are opportunities for you to be a visible presence for equality:

January 14--Rutherford County.

January 19--Dickson County.

January 19--Carter County.

January 25--Hawkins County.

January 25--Unicoi County.

See you there.

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 .

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. 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 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!

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