A recent article making the rounds has led me to wonder whether there is a "Tennessee is hopeless" industry.
First, what does that even mean? And is there one?
Getting at a definition: What I mean by the "Tennessee is hopeless" industry is probably related to "the South is hopeless" industry problem. When bad things happen here they are attributable to a fate rooted in some supposedly inherent qualities about Tennessee that make the state impervious to progress. By industry, I mean a long series of news articles and blog posts, mostly coming from national LGBT media, that pounce immediately on any bad news coming from the state and try to connect it to any past bad news from the state. People write articles, publish "research," and generate clicks and comments mainly from people who don't live here. These articles are so pervasive that even those of us in Tennessee spread them around and begin to lose hope.
So maybe by answering the question of what the "Tennessee is hopeless" industry is, I've tipped my hand that I think it exists.
I don't think it's a centralized conspiracy. I think it's just a way of writing about the South and Tennessee that keeps occurring, a pattern of rhetoric, and I think it benefits someone. That someone is not Tennesseans.
Tough but not hopeless: I admit that it's really tough here for LGBT people. There's not a person on the TEP boards of directors who would say otherwise. We face the problem squarely every day. People living in Tennessee already know it's tough. So these articles aren't designed to inform us. They are designed to shape the views of outsiders about us. They bear some analogy to American writings about the rest of the world and its problems.
In the next piece on this topic, I'll take a look at what the effects of the "Tennessee is hopeless" industry are. We'll also talk about how we can overcome it, if that's possible.
We might have to part ways: To close this piece, I would say that if you argue that there is only a "Tennessee is hopeless" industry because Tennessee is, in fact, hopeless, then we're not going to agree. We all know it's tough here; some of us know there's more to the story and haven't got time to live under a myth constructed by others.
The following is a message that TEP Knox, Anderson, and Blount Counties Committee Chair Gwen Schablik sent to Scripps media about transphobia at Star 102.1, one of their stations:
I am reaching out to your company because yesterday I was informed about transphobic comments that were made on one of your stations, Star 102.1 in Knoxville, Tennessee. On Monday, Caitlyn Jenner introduced herself via a preview of the July edition of Vanity Fair magazine. She had recently advised in an interview with Diane Sawyer that she would introduce herself when she was ready. Now that she has introduced herself, we should be respectful to her and use her preferred pronouns. However, on Tuesday’s Star 102.1 morning show with Marc, Kim & Tyrone, they refused to address by her preferred pronouns, made jokes about her country club membership and also joked about how she will use the bathroom in the woods. These comments are not only transphobic but also sexist. It is extremely disrespectful and insensitive.
I contacted your station via email and Facebook to discuss how disrespectful and insensitive those comments were. I also asked my friends to contact the station and voice this disapproval. Star 102.1 is deleting any post to their Facebook page associated to this topic. They have not apologized. However, again this morning (6/3/2015) on the Marc and Kim show, they revisited the subject and continued to make insensitive comments about Caitlyn Jenner. Just because she isn't local and can’t hear the show does not make it okay to make jokes about her. I completely understand wanting to stay relevant about celebrity news and wanting to maintain the attention of the audience by being funny but there are NUMEROUS other topics that could be talked about. We don't need to be concerned with what is in between everyone's legs. We need to be focused on caring about people's feelings and showing respect to all. In fact, another morning radio show - Mike and Mike on ESPN - was able to discuss the news of Caitlyn Jenner, show respect towards her and even educated their listeners.
I am sure that a company as big as Scripps Media, has been made aware of the media reference guide from GLAAD that helps with being inclusive to all. http://www.glaad.org/publications/reference I ask that you pass it along to all your stations. In fact, just this week, GLAAD released an updated tip sheet for anyone covering Jenner and transgender issues. http://www.glaad.org/blog/glaad-responds-vanity-fair-cover-featuring-caitlyn-jenner-releases-updated-tip-sheet
Although, this happened in Tennessee, I am sure similar issues have happened at other stations you own across the US, I assure that transphobia is a very real and relevant issue. One that can be addressed by educating your listeners by using preferred pronouns and not making jokes about it. A recent Pew poll stated nearly 90% of Americans personally know someone who is lesbian, gay or bisexual, however only 8% of Americans personally know someone who is transgender. Given this reality, most Americans learn about transgender people through the media. So when the media talks about transgender issues - it is imperative that they get it right, especially in places like Tennessee were there are listeners in rural areas.
We must remember that language is everything and we should be respectful towards everyone. Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death among young people ages 10 to 24. LGBT youth suicide is very high. Nearly half of young transgender people have seriously thought about taking their lives, and one quarter report having made a suicide attempt. It is summertime so that means young people are on summer break and they're listening to Star 102.1 all day. Young people don't need to hear this bullying on the airwaves or watch it on television, they experience it enough in school. We must do better and we can do better!
I call on Scripps Media to address this issue and I ask that Marc, Kim & Tyrone issue an apology. Please feel free to contact me with further questions or to discuss how Tennessee Equality Project can work with Star 102.1. Although, I recognize that words can never be unsaid, I hope that going forward changes will be made and we can show that Star 102.1 & all Scripps Media outlets are welcoming and inclusive to all listeners & viewers.
Gwen Castro Schablik
Tennessee Equality Project
Committee Chair - Knox, Blount & Anderson Counties
IF THE SUPREME COURT OVERTURNS THE BAN: If the Supreme Court overturns state bans on same-sex marriage, then we need to share information in a way that helps the whole community. Even if you're not getting married, you can help those who are by following these steps:
STEP 1--Let us know if you are planning to get married in Tennessee. You can take that step NOW before the court rules. Use this form.
STEP 2--AFTER the Court rules, call your county clerk's office and determine whether they are issuing licenses to same-sex couples. You can find the contact information here. NOTE: You can take this step even if you are not getting married. Remember: Most county clerks will NOT immediately begin issuing licenses. They will probably check in with the county attorney on how to proceed. In the case of Nashville, the county clerk would check with the Metro law director. There will probably be delays until clerks get revised forms from State government, which have not been prepared yet, according to media accounts. But here are some steps YOU can take if you want to get married or help.
STEP 3--Email TEP at firstname.lastname@example.org and let us know whether your clerk is a YES or a NO on issuing licenses so that we can let others know.
STEP 4--If your clerk is a YES, go to the clerk's office. If you're getting married, get your license. Here is a refresher on what you will need legally to get married. NOTE: The fee is different in each county. Some are as high as $108. Most are lower. If you're not getting married, consider going to observe to make sure same-sex couples are not being harassed. Report problems or successes at this link or to email@example.com . Take a minute to think about your safety plan.
STEP 5--If your county clerk is NOT providing licenses to same-sex couples, you have two options: A. We can try to route you to a county where the clerk is providing licenses. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you need help finding one. OR B. Go ahead and apply for a license, get refused, and report it to us at this link or at email@example.com so we can get legal help. We are working with attorneys who can get the whole state into compliance.
STEP 6: Find an officiant/a celebrant who can perform your marriage and sign the license. Your license is good for 30 days. If you need help, contact us at this link or at firstname.lastname@example.org . Many officiants charge a fee for their services. If you have questions about who may officiate/celebrate a wedding and sign a marriage license in Tennessee, go to this link for more information. Also make sure you read our word of caution about getting an officiant who was ordained online.
FOR OFFICIANTS/CELEBRANTS: If you are a celebrant/an officiant authorized under Tennessee law to perform marriages, let us know at this link any time between now and DAY ONE. NOTE: If you require marriage counseling in order to perform a ceremony, do not contact us. That will not help couples wanting to marry on DAY ONE. Also if you perform ceremonies but don't sign marriage licenses because you have an objection to acting on behalf of the state or some other objection, we respect your wishes, but ask that you not contact us because we are looking for help for couples who need their licenses signed and may not have many options.
IF THE SUPREME COURT DOES NOT OVERTURN THE BAN: In the sad and, we think, unlikely event that the Supreme Court does not overturn the state bans on same-sex marriage, we will rally and protest and talk about next steps. Look for information on the TEP Facebook page.
Jack, a transgender man, contacted the TEP Knox, Anderson, and Blount Counties Committee today to report transphobia on the Star 102.1 program known as the "Marc and Kim Show with Tyrone on the Phone." The hosts were discussing Caitlyn Jenner's transition disrespectfully and not using the correct pronouns.
As Jack notes in his letter to the station: "Marc may think it's funny to be ignorant and say things that are insensitive but I don't think he realizes how many people he hurts by saying things like he did about Caitlyn. Even the refusal to use Ms. Jenner's preferred pronouns was the epitome of disrespectful."
Contact the station at this link. Urge them to apologize and to respect transgender people.
You can contact them on Facebook at this link.
You can contact them on Twitter at this link.
June 1 was the unofficial kickoff of the Summer of Love tour around Tennessee. And what a kickoff it was with a whirlwind trek through Southeast Tennessee!
Chattanooga: News has spread fast around the country that WRCB in Chattanooga has so far refused to air Freedom to Marry's ad in support of marriage equality. So since I was heading to the area any way, I popped in at the station hoping to speak to the general manager. He wasn't in, but I did get to speak to one of the leaders in the sales division and convey our thoughts on the importance of running the ad. It was a positive sign that someone from the station would talk to me on such short notice. We'll hope for ongoing discussions. The Chattanooga Times Free Press happened to contact me while I was on the way down and I discussed my hopes for the meeting and the embarrassment for Tennessee. I hope we can turn this situation around. Time will tell.
Cleveland: After leaving Chattanooga, the next stop was Cleveland where I paid for the park rental for our June 13 Summer of Love event. The process was easy and I enjoyed taking a look around town. You can find out more about the official first stop on the tour here.
Polk County: When I finished my business at Cleveland City Hall, I got back on the road and headed for Polk County. Shortly after crossing the border, I saw a good omen--a huge rainbow flag (two different kinds actually) flying proudly from a business called Ms. Be's Purple bus located at 256 River Heights Dr. in Ocoee. I talked to Belissa Levenea Russell, the owner, and presented her with a Tennessee Open For Business window cling. I bought a wind chime and braced myself for the school board meeting.
Back to the School Board: The background to the school board meeting is really sad. Two students of Copper Basin High School have taken their lives this year and both incidents are connected to bullying. Based on visits to other school boards around the state, I wasn't expecting much. But I was surprised and I have some measure of hope things can turn around.
Shortly after I arrived, I noticed several reporters and I met Angel, the mother of the young woman who took her life last month. I learned that she has contacted the Department of Justice and filed a suit. I met the school director before the meeting began and offered assistance. Paul Moisan, an activist living in Atlanta but originally from Cleveland, walked in and I got to talk to him after previously only corresponding by email. He has been staying up-to-date on every aspect of the situation in Polk County so it was great to have the chance to compare notes with him before and after the meeting.
I was pleased that the board allowed Paul to speak and more than the usual three minutes. Paul showed composure, presented good information, and asked good questions. Residents of the district later echoed some of Paul's questions so he was clearly striking a nerve. Then the school director rose to speak. I was worried I'd see a repeat of what I saw in Cheatham County in 2012--lots of defensiveness, but things took a different turn. He admitted there are problems and that the district didn't have all the answers. He presented parts of a plan to help turn things around including a new incident report form, incident reporting follow up procedures, new and clearer protocols, revised bullying policy, plans for discussions with outside groups, and establishment of a hope line. All of this will be sorted out by a committee that will include community input. These steps CAN work if the district follows through. A first meeting for the new committee is not set yet, so we'll all be looking for that. Here's Channel 9's story on the board meeting. It is going to be critical that the community stay involved to make sure problems aren't ignored and solutions have a chance to work.
June 1 didn't deliver definitive results, but I saw indications that this region of Tennessee can see progress with will and organization. I'm looking forward to coming back on June 13.
BuzzFeed is reporting that WRCB in Chattanooga is refusing to air a pro-marriage equality spot produced by Freedom to Marry. Read the story here. It's outrageous that people in this media market won't get to see the story of this doctor and soldier serving our country.
TAKE ACTION: Contact WRCB and urge them to air the ad.
*Contact them on Facebook at this link.
*Contact them on Twitter at this link.
*Call them at (423) 267-5412 .
Stand up for messages of equality!
Allies--there's a lot of national discussion of this topic in LGBT and progressive circles. If you search the, in my opinion, odd word "allyship," there are all kinds of critiques and so on. Overall, I think the LGBT community does a pretty good job of celebrating allies. We can always do better, of course.
To celebrate the work of allies in no way diminishes the work of LGBT people. It doesn't say that what they go through equals the discrimination our community faces. But in some cases, people become allies because they have faced their own struggles with classism, sexism, racism, etc. that may go well beyond some of the struggles that more privileged members of the LGBT community face.
Regardless, allies face pressures and it's easy to forget. Here's an example. The Nashville Scene today has a wonderful profile of Metro Councilman Lonnell Matthews who represents the first district and is running for an at-large seat on the Council this year. But the piece is looking beyond this election to the future and rightly sees Councilman Matthews as a rising star. I was struck by this section:
Matthews was also a vocal supporter of the legislation last year that allowed same-sex partners of Metro employees to receive benefits. At a recent fundraiser, asked for an example of his willingness to lead, he says that "several" supportive colleagues who wanted him to run for an at-large seat discouraged him from signing onto the bill as a sponsor. After he went ahead anyway, one even asked him to remove his name.
But he says that conversation was exactly why he had to do it. When it came to a vote, he stood on the council floor and delivered a forceful response to an effort to derail the bill.
Sometimes when I'm working on a local ordinance, I hear about the pressure allies are facing, sometimes I don't. But it's important to remember that even in our larger cities, allies sometimes face pressure not to support us on policy matters. I'm glad that Councilman Matthews and other allies powered through and supported the partner benefits ordinance. I hope and actually believe that they'll find it's not a liability. But since I'm not the one running for office, it's harder for me to assess that. People will say things to a candidate in private that they won't say to me.
So our community's government relations approach must not take allies for granted. It is our job to help create conditions that make it easier for them to work through the objections and support equality. And let's continue to celebrate the ones who fight alongside us!
The following is communication sent by Michael Finch, Brandon Thomas, and Brendon Holloway of the TEP Rutherford County Committee to WKRN regarding a recent story in which a transgender woman was misgendered and demeaned:
To Larry Flowers and the WKRN News Team:
We, The Tennessee Equality Project in Rutherford County, are writing in reference to the recent News 2 story on Devonta Blockmon, the transgender woman arrested on prostitution charges. We were disappointed to see that, although the article at one point acknowledged that Ms. Blockmon lives as a woman, the incorrect pronouns were used throughout the televised story and in the written article.
The Associated Press Stylebook has this to say about referring to transgender people in the news:
Transgender: Use the pronoun preferred by the individuals who have acquired the physical characteristics of the opposite sex or present themselves in a way that does not correspond with their sex at birth. If that preference is not expressed, use the pronoun consistent with the way the individuals live publicly.
While we may disagree on whether Ms. Blockmon’s transgender status was necessary to report, or whether it only further served to sensationalize the story and contribute to the stigma against transgender women of color, it is clear that Ms. Blockmon lives publicly as a woman. The pronouns “she” and “her” should have been used, if News 2 wanted to follow the guidelines put forth not just by GLBT advocacy groups like GLAAD and HRC, but by the Associated Press as well.
The lives of transgender women of color are often tragically short – experts estimate that transgender people have a 1 in 12 chance of being murdered, and the statistic increases to 1 in 8 when looking only at transgender women of color. Also, in states like Tennessee where an individual can be fired for their transgender status, transgender women are often forced to turn to avenues like prostitution in order to survive.
We at TEP don’t expect News 2 to singlehandedly solve these problems, but misgendering Ms. Blockmon simply adds further insult onto the trauma of being arrested. We would love to see News 2 take the lead on following AP Stylebook guidelines instead, knowing that other news outlets often look to News 2 for guidance.
Please feel free to contact us if you have any questions or seek further comment on the matter.
TEP Rutherford County
This morning an ally alerted the Tennessee Equality Project to this Chattanooga Times Free Press story that broke yesterday about a Copper Basin High School student taking her life in connection to the bullying problem at the Polk County school. The same paper covered another student taking his life earlier in the year, a case that may have also been connected to bullying. In the first case, there was an investigation in which the findings were to be turned over to the Polk County Sheriff. In the second case, the school is admitting there is a problem.
What we've done: The TEP SAFE (Schools Are For Everyone) Tennessee program has been in touch with an assistant principal at Copper Basin High. We left a message with some resources and a request to discuss the matter. I hope we'll hear back from the school.
What do we know about Polk County Schools and bullying leading up to these two incidents? Not much, but there is some data reported to the Tennessee Department of Education. In the 2014 bullying compliance report, there were 37 reported cases of bullying in the district (not limited to Copper Basin High School) and 20 confirmed. There were zero pending or unresolved cases at the end of the year, according to the report. In the 2013 report, there were 23 reported cases, 20 confirmed, and zero pending at the end of the year. The pending section of the report was left blank, so I am assuming the number is zero. We can say that either the numbers rose over the last year or that the school system did a better job of reporting incidents. The district says it serves 2800 students.
The Positives: Here's what we can say on the positive side. The district reports its numbers to the State. Some districts report zero cases of bullying, which no one should find credible. Second, based on media reports previously cited, there have been efforts to provide anti-bullying training to school personnel. Third, the school leaders are admitting there is a problem at Copper Basin High School. Having worked in situations in which a district would NOT admit a problem, such as Cheatham County in 2012, it's a constructive posture.
But it's looking as if the problem is not only with the amount of bullying that takes place or even the kinds of bullying that take place. It appears that this most recent bullying case went unresolved far too long, having been reported more than once.
Reaching out: We are hopeful that the school system will conduct a thorough investigation, as it says it is doing. Bullying reports need to be addressed promptly. We will continue to try to be in dialogue with the school system. If you live in Polk County, please, contact us at email@example.com . We would love to have your perspective.
The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation has released its annual Hate Crime Report. You can find the pdf at this link. As a whole, bias-motivated crime is down in Tennessee from 2013 to 2014 by 2.6%. But hate crimes based on sexual orientation and gender identity were up 14.1%.
In part the rise can be explained by the TBI helpfully adding "Gender Non-conforming" as a category this year. Here is the breakdown:
Gay 13 (number of incidents affecting this population)
Gender Non-conforming 9
Gays and Lesbians 16
The Tennessee Equality Project applauds the TBI for adding the gender non-conforming category so that we can better understand the patterns of violence against our community in Tennessee. It is obvious that much work remains to be done to improve the climate of acceptance in our state.
Getting help: If you are the victim of a hate crime, get to safety and seek medical attention if necessary. Then report the incident to local law enforcement. If you find your case is not being taken seriously, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org .
For recent incidents of hateful rhetoric (not limited to hate crimes), go to the TEP's ongoing Tennessee Hate Report.