Compared to other states like Oklahoma, Georgia, North Carolina, Arkansas, Alabama, Kentucky, Florida, and many others, Tennessee is getting something of a breather this year. Can that really be true? And if so, why?
It seems to be true. The major anti-equality bill we are facing is the Counseling Discrimination bill. We're not facing bills attacking transgender people in restrooms. The RFRA/Turn the Gays Away bill is not back. Don't Say Gay and License to Bully...no appearance. So we have a real chance to focus on fighting the Counseling Discrimination bill. And fight it we must! Remember that in 2013 it passed the full Senate. It could happen again and reignite momentum against LGBT people at the Legislature.
Why is it true? Let's break down the possible reasons. And it's probably a combination of all of them.
- Waiting. The far Right might be waiting until the Supreme Court rules on marriage to unleash bills or they could be waiting to amend bills this session.
- Already Tried. Unfortunately for those of us in Tennessee, we've already seen almost every negative bill you could imagine. We've already faced down the Police the Potty bill for transgender people. We fought Don't Say Gay four sessions. License to Bully was a few years ago. Turn the Gays Away / RFRA--so last year.
- Other Priorities. The debates this year in Tennessee are about Medicaid expansion, educational issues like Common Core and vouchers, and taxes.
- Other Targets. Maybe the Legislature is slowly leaving behind (for the time) its LGBT obsession, or at least putting it on the shelf, while it turns to reproductive health attacks, religious minorities, and so on. Of course, all these issues affect LGBT people!
- Once Bitten, Twice Shy. When the majority caucus of the State Senate launched the Turn the Gays Away /RFRA bill with an official press release last year, I can honestly say I was never more afraid. But we fought back with biting media showing the impact in East, West, and Middle Tennessee, helped bring to bear an impressive group of business associations against the bill, and generated hundreds of phone calls to the Senate Judiciary Committee, which made an impression. Legislators may have decided they needed a break.
Whatever the reasons, I don't expect the partial reprieve to last. So what do you do while anti-equality forces rest? You prepare. How?
- Phone Calls. Be ready to make those phone calls when the Counseling Discrimination bill moves.
- Meet. We're focusing heavily on conversations about the bill and discrimination during Advancing Equality Day on the Hill on Tuesday. And we have great coverage of the Legislature this time!
- Organize Statewide. Our regional committees in every part of the state are running stronger than ever. We're growing in places where there had been a decline. As momentum toward marriage equality builds, more people are getting involved across the state.
- The Message. We take more media calls, write more op-eds, and pitch more stories than any other LGBT organization in the state. We're going to shape the conversation while the opposition merely reacts to marriage and other national developments.
- Fuel the Fight. We've got a bunch of issues that need in work in Tennessee--from hate violence to bullying in schools to job discrimination. When you contribute a little each month, you keep us going for the battles ahead.
Caleb Banks of Columbia, Tennessee and his husband just got back from Huntsville, Alabama where they got married. In light of the Alabama Supreme Court ordering probate judges to stop marrying same-sex couples, Caleb is wondering where things stand and whether he'll get his official marriage certificate, which will have an effect on his family's health insurance. Caleb is an equality advocate who is serving as a district captain for Advancing Equality Day on the Hill coming up on Tuesday of next week.
Here's some of his story in his words:
Based on our reading of all bills filed this year, there is no Turn the Gays Away/RFRA/religion carve out/religious exemption bill related to businesses this year. We caution that at some point a bill could be amended to include such provisions, but our assessment is that no direct bill in that category has been filed.
Many of you remember that the battle over the bill was intense last year. Huffington Post details the fight from February last year. Indeed, many states have waged renewed battles over these bills this year, as The Washington Blade details at this link.
We are tracking many other bills this year. We believe that the Counseling Discrimination bill is the worst of them.
We need your help to defeat it. RSVP for TEP's 11th annual Advancing Equality Day on the Hill at this link. And consider signing up for a monthly contribution to TEP to support our lobbying efforts at this link.
Soon we will brief you on the positive bills that our community should try to advance this session. But for now we are celebrating a reprieve from the Turn the Gays Away bill.
District Captains for Appointments During Advancing Equality Day on the Hill on March 10. To RSVP for the event, go to this link.
In the Senate
Senator District Captain Room Number Time
Bailey Shayne Bilbrey 304WMB 9:00 a.m.
Briggs Isaac Sherman 317WMB 10:15 a.m.
Dickerson Chris Sanders 310WMB 1:00 p.m.
Haile H.G. Stovall 10A-LP 11:00 a.m.
Harris Jonathan Cole 318WMB 2:15 p.m.
Harper Wes Aull
Hensley Caleb Banks 309WMB 11:30 a.m.
Jackson Drew Baker
Kelsey Jeff Kirwan 7LP 9:50 a.m.
Ketron Christie Crowell
Kyle Ginger Leonard 305WMB 9:30 a.m.
Massey Ryan Hood
Norris Anne Gullick
Overbey Gwen Schablik 306WMB 10:30 a.m.
Ramsey Cindi Huss 1LP 10:45 a.m.
Roberts Susan Brown 321WMB 9:00 a.m.
Stevens Buster Whitfill 302WMB 2:15 p.m.
Yarbro Will Fuson 312WMB 1:15 p.m.
In the House
Representative District Captain Room Number Time
Beck Chris Sanders 24LP 10:45 a.m.
Butt Caleb Banks 106WMB 2:00 p.m.
Clemmons Marisa Richmond 38LP 11:00 a.m.
Cooper Skip Ledbetter 38LP 2:15 p.m.
Daniel Isaac Sherman
DeBerry Jonathan Cole 26LP 10:00 a.m.
Eldridge Drew Baker 208WMB 11:00 a.m.
Gilmore Michael Reding
Harwell Roger Schecter 19LP 10:30 a.m.
Hulsey Cindi Huss 204WMB 9:00 a.m.
Jernigan H.G. Stovall 24LP 10:00 a.m.
Jones Dakerri Barber-Rhone 26LP 11:30 a.m.
Kumar Susan Brown G-28 WMB 11:15 a.m.
Love Wes Aull
McManus Kristine Evenson 20LP 1:45 p.m.
Mitchell Chris Sanders 37LP 1:30 p.m.
Powell Eric Patton 34LP 10:00 a.m.
Sexton Shayne Bilbrey 113WMB 10:30 a.m.
Ramsey Rebecca Lucas
Rogers Pam Simmons 110A WMB 10:30 a.m.
Shaw Drew Baker 36C-LP 10:15 a.m.
Smith, E. Ryan Hood
Swann Gwen Schablik G19A in WMB 11:00 a.m.
Todd Anne Gullick 209WMB 2:45 p.m.
Turner Jeff Kirwan 38LP 1:00 p.m.
White BJ Cook 217WMB 1:30 p.m.
Wirgau Buster Whitfill G-2 WMB 1:30 p.m.
Womick Christie Crowell
The Counseling Discrimination bill (SB397) by Senator Hensley is back. We saw the bill last session where it advanced in the Senate.
*Equality advocates will on the Hill in Nashville on Tuesday, March 10 working against the bill. An impressive list of district captains from around the state is leading the charge with great coverage in the Legislature, as you can see at this link.
Why is it so important to FIGHT BACK?
The bill basically lets students in the counseling, psychology, and social work programs at Tennessee universities opt out of serving certain clients because of their "sincerely held religious beliefs."
As last time, we believe the target for the bill is the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community. It may also affect student interaction with atheist clients, clients who are members of religious minorities, clients who are straight whose sexuality is objectionable to students in these programs.
Clients should not experience stigma from counselors, psychologists, or social workers. Students in these programs should learn to serve the whole public, regardless of their personal views. It's just part of good education and good practice.
TEP will join others in opposing this bill.
As the bill moves in committee, we will provide more information.
It's been a good day for coverage of equality in Tennessee.
In Chattanooga, TEP Hamilton and Bradley Counties Committee Co-Chair Kat Cooper talks with the Times Free Press about preparations for DAY ONE of marriage equality in our state. You can find the story here.
In Memphis, TEP Chair Jonathan Cole talks with the Commercial Appeal about the politics and the flavors that will be on display at this coming Sunday's TEP Gumbo Contest. You can find the story here.
Tonight on Nashville's WKRN/Channel 2, we will discuss Grace Pointe Church's announcement of welcome to the LGBT community. We will post the link when it is available. The segment should air on the 10:00 p.m. broadcast. UPDATE: Here is the link to the WKRN story.
I've been watching two sets of headlines for months. The first set chronicles victories in marriage equality. We all see those and "like" them on social media. The other sort is more troubling, though. If you look closely there are many headlines about the destructive ways that our opponents are resisting victories in marriage equality, job discrimination protections, etc., especially in the South.
Here's a sampling:
*Three bills in Oklahoma designed to deprive the LGBT community of victory.
*A Kentucky bill giving a cash reward to students outing transgender students in restrooms.
*Alabama probate judges trying to find ways to avoid issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
*So-called Religious Freedom/Turn the Gays Away bills in Virginia, North Carolina, and other states.
*Starkville, Mississippi repeals its nondiscrimination measures.
*A Texas bill to nullify the non-discrimination ordinances of its cities and counties.
I think you get the point. Advancing equality in the South is not easy because you have to continue to fight to consolidate the gains you've made. We have some advantages in Tennessee that help us when these situations come up. This Huffington Post piece from last year listed some of them. We also organize in every region of the state. We have a great lobbyist. We have one-of-a-kind programs like Tennessee Ready for Marriage on DAY ONE. And we have a strong media presence. But we will not escape the efforts of the far Right to roll back progress.
To make it all work, we need your help. 1. Can you attend TEP's 11th annual Advancing Equality Day on the Hill this year? RSVP here. 2. Can you encourage businesses to join Equality Means Business free of charge at this link? This program helps grow a network of affirming spaces in our state. 3. And would you consider signing up to give a few dollars a month to help our legislative efforts at this link?
Good lobbying and good organizing are worth the investment in Tennessee. They help us defend ourselves and move equality forward in our state. More attacks will surely come. Please, help us prepare!
By now many of you have heard of the case of Brian Copeland and Greg Bullard of Nashville, whose family had applied for a spot at Davidson Academy, a private Christian school. If not, you can get caught at this story from USA Today originally posted by The Tennessean.
The case has generated a lot of discussion and that's great. Sadly, there are many bad arguments floating around in the comments sections of stories about it. Let's go through some of them.Read more
Are you looking for ways to get involved? We've got lots of events around the state coming up for you.
January 20--Jackson--TEP Madison County meeting. 5:30 at Woodstock Bake Shop. To RSVP and learn more, go to this link.
February 1--Collegedale/outside Chattanooga--TEP Hamilton & Bradley Counties Committee meeting. 2:00 at Collegedale City Hall. To RSVP and learn more, go to this link.
February 8--Knoxville--SAFE Tennessee meeting. 1:00 at Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist. To RSVP and learn more, go to this link.
February 8--Memphis--TEP Gumbo Contest. 4:30 at Bridges Center. To get tickets and learn more, go to this link.
February 16--Nashville--Panel discussion on domestic violence in the LGBT community. 6:15 at OutCentral. To learn more and RSVP, go to this link.
February 20--Knoxville--Legislative Update and Advocacy with special guest former State Rep. Gloria Johnson. 1:00 at Hodges Library/UT-K. To learn more and RSVP, go to this link.
March 10--Nashville--TEP's 11th annual Advancing Equality Day on the Hill. 9:00 a.m. at Legislative Place. To learn more and to RSVP, go to this link.
We hope that we'll see you soon at an event near you. If you would like to support our work with a small monthly donation, you can do so at this link.
Here's a roundup of the media coverage of last night's marriage equality events in Knoxville and Nashville.
Knoxville: The Knoxville rally took place at the Sunsphere and was covered by WATE at this link. Here are some photos of the event linked from Twitter. For more Twitter posts, look for the tag #NotDoneTilDayOne .
Nashville: Nashville advocates met at OutCentral and heard from Abby Rubenfeld, one of the attorneys in the Tennessee marriage case. Channel 5's coverage can be found at this link. Fox 17's coverage can be found at this link.
An image of Abby speaking to the group
It was a great evening around Tennessee. Even though the Supreme Court has not yet decided to take up our state's case, we are hopeful it will happen next week. We are ready for DAY ONE.