Overcoming the "Tennessee is hopeless" industry

Taking the power out of the "Tennessee is hopeless" industry is not easy.  In previous posts, I named it and discussed its effects

Those posts indicated that there probably will be no quick solution, but the effort is necessary to avoid a free fall into despair.  So how do we overcome this message machine?

1.  We have to be honest about the problems we face in Tennessee.  What we share in common with the "Tennessee is hopeless" industry is a sober look at the issues we face.  Where we depart from others is how we use bad news.  We don't write or speak about our problems in order to sensationalize them or confirm preconceived notions about the state or the South in general.  We discuss our problems as a call to action.  Lack of a call to action is one of the sure signs of sharing bad news as a call to reaction, typically an emotional reaction.

2.  Remember and celebrate victories.  Audre Lorde said, "Each victory must be applauded."  And  we have them in Tennessee along with the setbacks.  The Nashville non-discrimination ordinance, the Nashville contractor ordinance, the Knoxville non-discrimination ordinance, the Memphis non-discrimination ordinance, the Knox County non-discrimination ordinance, the Chattanooga partner benefits/non-discrimination ordinance, the Knoxville partner benefits executive ordinance, the Nashville partner benefits ordinance, and more.  Negative legislation, which generates so many "Tennessee is hopeless" stories, mostly gets defeated.  Consider the Don't Say Gay, License to Bully, Police the Potty, Counseling Discrimination, and Turn the Gays Away bills, which have all been defeated in recent years.  Every adoption ban bill has eventually gone down in flames.  This is a record we Tennesseans can be proud of, not only because of the results, but because we achieved them.  There will be more victories in part because we believe we can achieve them.

3.  Being clear about the help we need.  There are absolutely times when we could use help.  We could have used help from national bloggers on the YES Chattanooga campaign, but they would not cover it before the defeat and the damage was done.  WOULD NOT.  So those of us fighting in Tennessee--from the organizations to the individuals who care about equality--need to do more to urge the national blogs to cover our struggles AND cover our victories.  Other than the Human Rights Campaign, I'm not sure anyone at the national level wrote about the defeat of the Counseling Discrimination bill this year.  We all (and I include myself) have to try harder to get our stories out.

4.  Stories.  Stories.  Stories.  And that gets me to a point we hear all the time, but it's true.  We need stories and not just the stories of organizations, although that is important because those of us in organizations work hard.  But we need the stories of individuals surviving and thriving in Tennessee.  We need the stories of allies and how they came around.  Oddly enough, these stories will be as valuable in moving our LGBT brothers and sisters in other parts of the country as they are in moving our straight neighbors in Tennessee.  Maybe if LGBT folks in other parts of the country read and hear our human stories, they won't be so quick to write us off and they might partner with us more often in constructive ways.

That's my best guess.  But the "Tennessee is hopeless" industry must be resisted because it perpetuates a skewed perspective and it further isolates our region to the point that we are being deprived of resources that we need.  Let's resist it constructively, though, and not in some shrill or bitter manner.  We are not responsible, in the end, for what others write about us, but we can make sure we do our part to give them better material. 

TBI report finds increase in LGBT domestic violence

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation has released its latest domestic violence report.  You can read it here.  We'll note a few of the findings.

*Overall domestic violence reports were down in Tennessee by 7.4% when one compares the 2011-2013 statistics to the 2012-2014 figures.

*LGBT domestic violence increased by about 3.5% between the 2011-2013 and 2012-2014 reports.  In the most recent report, the LGBT numbers were 4194 documented cases.  That number was 4053 in the previous report.

*Within same-sex relationships, "the largest group of domestic violence victims were African-American females at 41.9%."

The report doesn't specifically identify relationships involving transgender and bisexual people.  So the figures could be significantly higher. 

TEP calls on Rep. Susan Lynn to engage transgender community, not diagnose trans people

This morning Betsy Phillips at the Nashville Scene's Pith in the Wind blog notes that TN State Rep. Susan Lynn posted an article indicating that being transgender is a mental disorder.  Rep. Lynn said, "This is an excellent article that intuitively rings true...please read."  You can read Phillips' fine analysis and rebuttal here

Rep. Lynn is not getting anything close to an accurate or a complete picture of the transgender community.  Beyond that, she has spread inaccurate and incomplete information.  And to take it a step further, she legislates on issues that affect the transgender community.

We call on Rep. Lynn to avoid diagnosing people, to begin engaging the transgender community, and to learn more about the struggles trans people face with violence and discrimination.  Her vote and leadership are needed to help make transgender Tennesseans safer.

New Boards for TEP and the TEP Foundation

At today's annual meeting in Nashville, the following were elected to our boards of directors:

Tennessee Equality Project

Chair & Pres  Ginger Leonard
Vice Pres       David Glasgow
Treasurer      H.G. Stovall
Secretary       Kim-An Hernandez
At-Large        Carla Lewis
Anne Gullick
Ashford Hughes
Brian Copeland
Skip Ledbetter
Gwen Castro Schablik
Dr. Herb Zeman
Linda McFadyen-Ketchum
Toby Compton
Amanda Bolton
Kal Rocket
Virginia Awkward
Jeff Kirwan
TEP Foundation
Chair & Pres   Gwen Castro Schablik
Vice Pres        Anne Gullick
Treasurer        Pablo Juarez
Secretary         Jeff Kirwan
At-Large          Virginia Awkward
Jonathan Cole
Ginger Leonard
Brian Copeland
Dale Reifschneider
H.G. Stovall
Linda McFadyen-Ketchum
Amanda Bolton
Davin Clemons
Jimmy Edge
Carla Lewis
Dr. Valarie Radu
Kal Rocket
Congratulations to all those elected!

Effects of the "Tennessee is hopeless" industry

In the previous post, I discussed what the "Tennessee is hopeless" industry is.  I want to look at some of the effects.

Overall:  The major effect of the "Tennessee is hopeless" industry  is to shape the views of those outside our state.  Stories and blog posts along these lines almost magically push the buttons of "hillbilly," "redneck," "backward," and "what do you expect" comments. 

For example, here's a comment on a "Tennessee is hopeless" piece from March 2014: "How wonderful to see Tennessee so eager to rapidly race to the inside of the toilet bowl, just to set a good example for the rest of us. Can we legally ask this state to secede, along with Texas?"

Of course, those who write the articles aren't directly responsible for the comments, but they follow so predictably that you have to wonder whether this is the desired response.  And what is the essence of these comments?  We (the rest of the country) would rather not have to deal with you (Tennessee or the South). 

Am I being overly sensitive about a stray comment?  I don't think so.  I've watched these stories closely for 13 years and the comments that go with them.  I wish I saw significant patterns of change, but I don't.  Much of the rest of the country can't figure out why LGBT people live here if they bother enough to consider the matter.

The Money:  And that brings us to the next effect, the rest of the country doesn't deal with the LGBT movement in the South.  We don't have to secede because the rest of country already treats us as if we have done so.  There are exceptions here and there, but funding for LGBT advocacy and programs in the South is tellingly low.  As the group "Funders for LGBTQ Issues notes, about 3 in 10 LGBT adults live in the South, but the South sees about 4% of the funding spent in the United States.  The national funders haven't yet made significant advocacy investments here and the avalanche of neglect and discouraging stories and blog posts probably makes those of us who live in Tennessee and in the South hesitant to invest in the movement right here where we live.  We are taught to believe we can't win for losing.

Confronting a hopeless tide:  The overall effect can be crushing.  The rest of the country denigrates you.  The national funders don't support you.  The right-wing in your state outspends you to maintain a socially conservative culture.  Your own community and your allies hesitate because they think you can't win.  The results are closeted lives, higher STI rates, suicide, discrimination, and violence with few resources to address them from a social service or advocacy perspective.  People and organizations that attempt to stand against the tide find it hard to stand for long or as tall as they would like to. 

Next time:  In the final piece, I'll discuss some thoughts on turning things around a bit.  The hopelessness that is thrown at us in Tennessee and in the South is a big ship that can't be turned around quickly.  But there's always something we can do.

Is there a "Tennessee is hopeless" industry?

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.

TEP Knox Chair confronts transphobia at Scripps radio station

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:

Dear Scripps Media,

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

Steps to follow when the Supreme Court rules on marriage

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 hereNOTE:  You can take this step even if you are not getting marriedRemember:  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 [email protected] 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 protected]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 [email protected] 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 protected] 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 [email protected] . 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


Confront Transphobia at 102.1 in Knoxville

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.


Summer of Love Letter 1: Chattanooga, Cleveland, Polk County

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 adWRCBPop.jpg 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. ClevelandParks.jpg








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.  POLKMsBs.jpg






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 aPOLKPaul.jpg 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 POLKDirector.jpgaround 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. 

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