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.

Tennessee's week in faith and equality: Fragile fundamentalism and our opportunities to respond

The last week or so, the news about the engagement between faith and equality in Tennessee presents rich opportunities for reflection and action.

McMinnville stoning story:  The most notable example has been the ongoing discussion of a McMinnville minister's use of the TEFaith.pngpassage in Leviticus about stoning LGBT people.  What did we learn?  Responding to hateful rhetoric CAN transform the situation.  It doesn't always, but in this case it did.  The national and local media spotlight resulted in something closer to a real conversation than the various sides in the culture war usually have.  I admit I was surprised and pleased when the minister called me.  We knew the minute the conversation began that we wouldn't achieve full agreement, but we ended at a different place.  And one of those places was the minister admitting that hateful rhetoric is connected to violence. 

The example points to a variety of approaches for addressing anti-equality religious rhetoric.  Media engagement plays a role.  Theological reflection plays a role.  Highlighting the violence experienced by LGBT people plays a role.  But what are we missing?

Tennessee, a laboratory of religion and equality issues:  Given the persistence of fundamentalism and anti-equality religious rhetoric in states like Tennessee and the influence of that rhetoric on politics, we are a living lab and we need to be conducting experiments to transform the situation.  And when you experiment, you won't always get it right. 

What we can't do is rely on some magic set of talking points generated at the national level and plop them down here.  We need messages and action that fit particular situations in Tennessee communities. 

We need ideas:  So we need to open the lab.  We need some trial and error, observation and adaptation.  And we need to be open to outrageous ideas and small, steady plans alike.  Whether it be equality tent revivals or tracts at truck stops, we need to look at a diversity of solutions because no one approach is likely to do it all.

But it is an imperative because we have to address this critical piece in our safety and well being in Tennessee.  What are your ideas?

TEP to honor Wynn, Rubenfeld as Champions of Equality at annual Olympus gala

August 18, 2015

For immediate release

Contact:  Chris Sanders, (615) 390-5252 or chris@tnequalityproject.com

TEP to honor Wynn, Rubenfeld as Champions of Equality at annual Olympus gala

Nashville, TN:  The Tennessee Equality Project (TEP) will honor Davidson County Clerk Brenda Wynn and attorney Abby Rubenfeld as Champions of Equality at their annual Olympus gala at the Parthenon on November 14.

As Davidson County Clerk, Brenda Wynn was among the first clerks in the state to begin providing marriage licenses to same-sex couples after the June 26 Supreme Court decision striking down Tennessee's ban on same-sex marriage.  Wynn worked with equality advocates prior to the ruling to provide an orderly transition to marriage equality in the Nashville area.  Attorney Abby Rubenfeld has led historic legal challenges to discriminatory state laws in Tennessee for many years including a challenge to Tennessee's sodomy law, the Legislature's nullification of Metro Nashville's contractor non-discrimination ordinance, and most recently a successful challenge to the state's same-sex marriage ban. 

"We will look back on 2015 as a turning point for Tennessee's gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community," notes TEP executive director Chris Sanders.  "Celebrating the roles played by Brenda Wynn and Abby Rubenfeld inspires us to continue working for the full legal and lived equality of all members of our community."

The celebration begins at 7:00 p.m. at the Parthenon in Nashville on November 14.  Tickets are available at the linkRSVP at the Facebook page for updates

The Tennessee Equality Project was founded in 2004 to work for the civil rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people in Tennessee.


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