Tennessee Hate Report

Starting this month we will track hate incidents and rhetoric in Tennessee on this page.  As the Supreme Court decision in the marriage equality cases nears, we expect to see more.  If we miss something, email us at [email protected] .  You can counter hate with a contribution that funds the Summer of Love tour here. The growing list of stories of concern appears after the flip.

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TEP releases local government advocacy agenda for next four years



Local Government Advocacy Agenda 2015- 2019


Introduction:  The Tennessee Equality Project’s previous local government advocacy agenda was a guiding force in our work between 2007 and 2014.  It influenced TEP PAC’s candidate endorsement process and our lobbying of local governments, thus helping to shape the discussion of non-discrimination and partner benefits ordinances around the state.  Achieving those successes, seeing other pressing needs, and acknowledging the important elections this year in Memphis, Knoxville, Nashville, and other cities make it clear that the time has come to announce a bold new advocacy agenda for the coming years.


Policy and advocacy objectives of necessity exist at the crossroads of what a community needs and what is possible to advance.  The goals presented are not exhaustive, but they are among those that we consider attainable through the cooperative effort of citizens and local governments in Tennessee.


In this spirit, the Tennessee Equality Project offers for the public’s consideration these elements of our new advocacy agenda for cities and counties throughout the state.  As more local governments  include the categories of sexual orientation and gender identity in their ordinances, we see an opportunity to make sure that these cities serve other basic needs of their gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender inhabitants.  We invite all people of good will in Tennessee to consider the following:


I. Domestic Partner Registries.  If the United States Supreme Court does not rule in favor of marriage equality for Tennessee, it will be many years before the State Constitution extends equal marriage to same-sex couples.  Until that time, Tennessee cities and counties must do what they can to protect same-sex couples.  The City of Atlanta, for example, maintains a domestic partnership registry for all residents of the city and city employees.  It may also be possible to explore a registry that includes anyone who works in a particular jurisdiction.  The certificate of domestic partnership is accepted by many private employers as proof of a relationship for the company’s own domestic partner benefits programs.  For more information on Atlanta’s approach, go to http://www.atlantaga.gov/index.aspx?page=1087 .


II.  Safe schools.  Only Knox County, Metro Nashville, Putnam County, and Shelby County school districts include sexual orientation and gender identity in their non-discrimination/anti-bullying policies.  We continue to advocate the inclusion of gender identity, gender expression, sexual orientation, disability, and other factors in school district policies across the state.  In addition, we will look for opportunities to help school districts incorporate LGBT competency training for administration and faculty and make them aware of the federal Equal Access Act to create a space for Gay/LGBT-Straight Alliance clubs in schools.


III. Gender transition/gender confirmation healthcare for city or county government employees.  Many people commonly think first of surgery when this topic comes up in conversation.  Gender related healthcare is a broader topic that relates to all the options that help transgender people live in their true gender.  Healthcare issues pertain not only to the initial stages of transition.  If a new  employee of a city or county government has already transitioned, other health care needs exist.  Employee insurance programs in local governments should include these needs.


IV.  Building relationships with local law enforcement and district attorneys across the state to address hate crimes and domestic violence.  The persistence of hate crimes, a national outbreak of violence against transgender women, and alarmingly high rates of domestic violence in the LGBT community call for closer relationships between advocacy organizations, local law enforcement agencies, and district attorneys.  These relationships can help achieve justice for victims and safety for survivors as well as help build support for state legislation and policy advances that adequately address these issues.  


V.  Funding for youth transitional housing.  LGBT young adults (18-24) have few options when they become homeless.  Many private solutions may not be fully inclusive and may even be hostile to LGBT people.  Local governments cannot require the private sector to serve inclusively of the LGBT community in Tennessee because of a 2011 state law.  But they can expand their own funding and they can do more to make sure their housing authorities are applying for all available federal programs related to youth transitional housing.  This policy goal may involve, for example, setting a target for a certain number of transitional housing units within a jurisdiction.  


VI.  LGBT-friendly affordable housing for seniors.  More cities like Chicago are looking at LGBT-friendly affordable housing options for seniors. See this article for information http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2014/10/06/chicago-minneapolis-philadelphia-senior-lgbt-housing/16115641/ .   The first generations of LGBT people who have lived most of their lives out of the closet are aging and in need of solutions.  In some cases they feel the need to go back into the closet with respect to their gender identity or sexual orientation, which is an isolating experience that leads to poor mental and physical health outcomes.  City and county governments can make sure existing HUD non-discrimination policies are fully understood and implemented by staff.  Local governments can also help their housing authorities implement LGBT senior cultural competency training for staff.  These solutions are readily available even before the discussion of dedicated units or expanded housing options begins.


VII.  LGBT-competent staff at health facilities.  Local governments across the state are involved in providing health services from hospitals to health departments and clinics to emergency medical services.  LGBT people, like all people, deserve excellence and respect when they seek services.  Local governing bodies and boards that oversee city and county health services should require personnel to improve their competency in serving the LGBT community in order to improve health outcomes.


VIII.  Dignity/Inclusion/Non-Discrimination resolutions for smaller local governments.  While it may not be possible to pass non-discrimination ordinances in smaller towns in Tennessee, local governing bodies should consider dignity/inclusion/non-discrimination resolutions like the ones passed by many towns in Mississippi.  The resolution passed by Oxford, Mississippi reads:  “NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the Mayor and Board of Aldermen of the City of Oxford declare it the policy of the City to reject discrimination of any kind and to respect the inherent worth of every person without regard to race, color, religion, national origin, sex, gender identity or expression, age, marital status, sexual orientation, family status, veteran status, disability or source of income, this the 4th day of March, 2014.”  The entire text is available at http://www.dailykos.com/story/2014/03/05/1282304/-Oxford-Mississippi-becomes-3rd-MS-city-to-pass-LGBT-euuality-resolution .  The goal of these resolutions is to inhibit discrimination and increase the safety of LGBT people in smaller towns.  It will also have the effect of showing more state officials that equality is a value cherished throughout Tennessee.  


The Work Begins:  The Tennessee Equality Project has begun the work of becoming the kind of organization equipped to pursue these advocacy objectives.  We announce these goals in hopes of gaining the support of candidates and current elected officials in local governments throughout Tennessee.  But we especially publish these goals to draw more members of the LGBT community and allies into this important work.  The work ahead will be difficult because the issues are complicated and the solutions we propose require education and consensus-building.  We ask for your help as volunteers and financial supporters so we can advance these important goals together.  You can provide financial support for our local government policy work at this link .



An open letter to Matt Moore: Stop aiding state-sanctioned discrimination

Dear Mr. Moore,

You came to our attention when the Family Action Council began posting about your April 23 discussion of faith and sexuality. 

Though I won't agree with you, I think you should be free to offer your message anywhere you want.  I think it is destructive within the Church, but your rights to freedom of speech and religion are not in question.  Do not imagine or use language that you are being persecuted because you're a Christian.  You're not.  Your rights are not being taken away.  Your voice is in NO danger of being silenced. 

So let's look at what you did by participating in the April 23 event and probably several others around the country.  You are colluding with an organization that lobbies the General Assembly of the State of Tennessee for discriminatory LAWS and against LAWS that would protect gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people.

If you believe that God has more in store for LGBT people than heterosexuality or living lives according to the gender they were assigned at birth, then why not just try to persuade people of that?  Why must you enable the use of state power in that enterprise? 

Is it that your message is not powerful enough?  Is it that the Holy Spirit is not allowing your teaching to bear fruit?  Is state power necessary to fill in the gap of your less than persuasive teaching?  Does God bless the discriminatory laws in place and use divine power to thwart the advance of equal rights in states like Tennessee?

In other words, what is your theology of the state and your theology of God's providential involvement in how legislation is passed or defeated?

I can tell you that we're fighting like Hell in Tennessee and it's a long, slow fight.  If God is telling you to use the power of the state against us, please say it because I like to know what I'm up against. 

Your connection with organizations that lobby against civil equality and for civil inequality is pernicious.  Let me give you an example from the very night you were offering your teachings.  A lesbian couple on the news talked about being denied housing in Nashville.  And there is no legal remedy for them in Tennessee, even though legal remedies have been proposed in our State Legislature.  Does God use prejudice in the world to give LGBT people an inducement to stop being LGBT?  Come clean with your real theology. 

If that's not an accurate characterization of your beliefs, then I fully expect you to admonish your friends at Family Action and let them know that God doesn't need the help of discrimination to make LGBT people as you would like us to be. 

Let's see how many people you could persuade to stop being LGBT without the sanction of legal discrimination and social shunning that results in statistics of 40% of homeless youth being LGBT

Is your faith in your message strong enough to stand without the prop of state-sanctioned discrimination?  Your performance tonight makes me wonder.


Chris Sanders

Executive Director

TEP holds Marriage PLUS rallies in Knoxville, Memphis, and Nashville on eve of Supreme Court oral arguments


For immediate release:  April 24, 2015

Contact:  Chris Sanders, 615-390-5252 or [email protected]

TEP Marriage PLUS rallies in Knoxville, Memphis, and Nashville April 27 ahead of Supreme Court oral arguments

WHAT:  Public rallies to show support for marriage equality the night before the Supreme Court hears oral arguments in the Tennessee, Kentucky, Ohio, and Michigan marriage cases.  The "PLUS" in "Marriage PLUS" refers to all the other issues that face gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people after marriage equality is won such as job discrimination, bullying in schools, housing discrimination, etc.

WHO:  Tennessee Equality Project, a statewide organization working for the equality of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people in Tennessee.

WHERE:  Knoxville rally takes place at the base of the Sunsphere in World's Fair Park; Memphis rally takes place at Memphis Gay & Lesbian Community Center located at 892 S. Cooper St.; Nashville rally takes place at Bicentennial Mall in the Amphitheater.

WHEN:  Knoxville rally takes place at 6:00 p.m. Eastern Time; Memphis rally takes place at 5:30 p.m. Central Time; Nashville rally takes place at 6:00 p.m. Central Time.

WHY:  The rallies commemorate the historic oral arguments taking place before the Supreme Court that could lead to marriage equality in Tennessee and other states.  They also highlight all the work that remains for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community to achieve full equality in all areas of life such as job discrimination, safety at school, housing discrimination, etc.



Ways Forward for Tennessee: Rachel Held Evans and S.E. Cupp

The leadership of the Tennessee Equality Project is always thinking about how the equality of LGBT people can move forward in our deeply RED state. 

Two recent pieces from papers on opposite coasts might offer some suggestive paths.

One is a Washington Post profile of Evangelical writer Rachel Held Evans of Dayton, Tennessee.  The other is an opinion piece in The Seattle Times by Republican commentator S.E. Cupp.

*I should note that the recommendation to read both pieces is not a full endorsement.  TEP doesn't endorse a particular religion and there are doubtless things Cupp has written and said with which we'd disagree.  But I do recommend you read both pieces.

Evans offers us a voice with national reach from one of the most socially conservative areas of Tennessee and from a point of view deeply immersed in Evangelicalism, the dominant religious paradigm in Tennessee.  The maps at this link, for example, show Tennessee to be over 50% Evangelical Protestant.  Understanding how Evans became an ally and how she talks about LGBT issues COULD be illuminating for the discussions we need to have in Tennessee.

Cupp, by contrast, is a familiar voice in national politics.  She makes a "numbers" and "manners" case for conservatives (the dominant political ideology in Tennessee) embracing those who support marriage equality.  Of course, our issues go beyond marriage equality (or Marriage PLUS, as we say at TEP).  But the case is relatable.  Cupp talks about a recent visit to Tennessee, noting:

A few weeks ago, I was in Tennessee speaking to a group of college students. After the lecture, one young woman came up to me and said: “I want to thank you. Last year, my younger brother came out. Your perspective on gay marriage showed me that I wasn’t any less conservative for accepting and supporting him. I want to be both, and you gave me that permission.”

We need more messengers in front of more audiences in Tennessee who can say these things from within Evangelical and conservative circles. 

Neither Evans nor Cupp offers nor would claim to offer a total blueprint for moving Tennessee forward.  But it would be foolish to ignore the clues they provide.



Family Action using Tennessee Bible debate to stoke flames of discrimination and build case for RFRA

On Thursday the Tennessee Senate decided not to pass the legislation that would have designated the Bible as Tennessee's official state book.  Many Christians in the Legislature argued that passing the bill would have denigrated the Bible.

But the result has displeased the Family Action Council, as Tom Humphrey reports.    And it doesn't take long before they argue for the ability of businesses to refuse service to LGBT people.  From the piece quoted by Humphrey:

…The sooner we wake up to the myth of neutrality the better. Neutrality is the mantra of those who would use it until such time as they suppress the reigning orthodoxy of the views with which they disagree. When those people succeed, they abandon neutrality in order to maintain control of the new orthodoxy. If you don’t believe me, go ask the florists, bakers, and T-shirt makers who have run into the “neutrality” of those who advocate for same-sex “marriage” and homosexuality as a civil right.

And what is the legislation that allows businesses to refuse service?  RFRA!  Family Action is on a warpath to advance such legislation.  They are thinking about it and preparing for it constantly.

We have to be ready, too!  You can help by becoming an investor in our RFRA Wedding Cake Emporium "startup" at this link

One final point.  The LGBT community and our allies are a cross-section of the wider population.  There are people of a variety of faiths including every kind of Christianity and people of no faith.  It is not equality or failure to make the Bible the official book of Tennessee that harms religion.  Hate and discrimination are the problem.  Many millennials have left religion because of anti-LGBT rhetoric and practices

No one on our side is trying to destroy anyone's faith.  Trying to use faith to achieve official state recognition or to discriminate are the real problems. 

We stand for a Tennessee where everyone's conscience is free of state interference and where everyone is free to live fully without discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.  We need your help to work towards that goal.


TEP on the Road: Knoxville and Sewanee

While the Legislature has been debating the Bible this week, TEP has been on the road across the state organizing for the equality victories to come.

Knoxville:  We started the week in Knoxville for a Freedom to Marry panel with partners like the Lambda Law Society at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville and the Campaign for Southern Equality.  You can read more about it here.  It was a fascinating look at the long movement for marriage equality and a frank discussion of all the work that remains long after we win the freedom to marry in Tennessee.


Sewanee:  Later in the week we headed down I-24 to Sewanee for the University of the South's Breaking the Silence events.  It was a productive discussion with students about how they can make a difference in the movement for equality.  We are grateful to have them as new partners. 

TEP believes every part of our state is critical to the movement for equality.


Coming Up:  We plan to meet with hundreds of people this year during the Summer of Love tour that starts in June. To face the challenges ahead, we must unite.  We want to be where you are.

One of the challenges we are sure to face is a renewed RFRA/Turn the Gays Away bill next year.  We will prepare for months leading up to January 2016 when the Legislature returns.  You can help make sure we have the resources we need at this link.

Preparing to win...that's what we're doing because it's what you deserve!


Why we must make POLICY a priority in elections

publicpolicy2.pngThis year Memphis, Knoxville, Nashville, and many other cities around the state will hold elections for their key city officials--mayor, council, etc.  Next year the country elects a president.

We all have gut feelings about candidates and those matter.

We must also develop our policy I.Q. when we're assessing candidates.  What do we need?  What will they try to do?  And what can realistically be accomplished?  These three questions help get us to smart policy questions, conversations, and finally to an agenda. 

A lack of policy focus puts us behind.  Vague hopes of inclusion do not accomplish inclusion.  We need specifics so we can shape the conversation and, therefore, the outcome.

The Past is a Guide:  Being friends with candidates and liking them is a fine thing.  In itself, it is an insufficient recipe for advancing policy.  One need look no further back than 1999 and 2003 in Nashville when our community hoped a candidate who went on to win would help our community with a non-discrimination ordinance.  It didn't happen...for a number of reasons.  But we can contrast 2003 with 2007 and 2011 when the policy conversations were clear.  The result?  Two non-discrimination ordinances and a partner benefits ordinance.  One sees similar results in Memphis and Knoxville where vital policy conversations took place.

COMING SOON:  In late April, TEP will announce our municipal policy agenda for the next four years so that we can shape conversations as our members and allies look for candidates to support in key city races. 

Ask your candidates questions.  And ask questions that come within their scope of authority.  A city council cannot bring marriage equality to a state.  It's great if a candidate is supportive of the issue.  But we need to ask local officials about things they can do something about.  And we look forward to doing just that!

War, Death, and the Next Battle for Equality

Headlines get stranger every day.  Focus on the Family Founder James Dobson thinks marriage equality could ignite a new civil war. A Texas pastor suggested that opponents of marriage equality should fight until they die.

But who declared this war and who is actually dying?  Loads of state legislation justifying discrimination steeped in the guise of faith should give you a clue.  But what if the conflict actually takes a violent turn, as the rhetoric suggests?  Oh, wait.  There already IS a body count.  Transgender women of color are murdered at an incredibly high rateOur community has higher suicide rates because we are coping with lack of acceptanceLGBT students are physically and verbally bullied at high rates in our schoolsAnd let's not forget health disparities

What are they thinking? One hopes that, as the LGBT community gains legal equality and social affirmation, all these harms will decline.  But until that time and likely afterwards, there will be dedicated groups in our country who seem to believe that if life is harder for LGBT people we'll have an incentive to stop being who we are.  At the very least, they don't want to support "that lifestyle."  So some folks are going to dig in as long as they can.

What can we expect?  I think we can expect a RFRA in Tennessee next year.  Our opponents are already planning for one.  We will probably see bills related to allowing elected and other government officials to opt out of serving our community.  We could see more anti-transgender bathroom bills.  We may see outbreaks of violence.  There are a lot of hate groups in Tennessee, after all.  I could tell you that I think it will all even out and get better, and I personally believe it will.  But the fact is that I don't know.  There could be many years of organized resistance to equality for LGBT people and we could see some reversals. 

The Path Forward:  I think desperation tactics on the far Right will generate greater connection within the LGBT community and lead to more allies coming out for the cause.  So we need to be ready to turn these acts of extreme opposition into a deeper connection for the long haul, a broader and stronger network.  We need to build the movement to outlast our legal victories because that is the movement that will outlast the opposition and allow us to thrive.


What is this Summer of Love Tour thing?


With a marriage decision likely coming from the Supreme Court in June, it will be a turning point for our community.  What happens after marriage equality?  How do we reach areas of the state like rural areas we haven't been reaching.  After all, the needs of rural LGBT people need to be addressed

The Summer of Love Tour will launch in June to help meet these needs.

The tour will have two legs--the I-24 leg covering Clarksville to Chattanooga and the I-40/I-81 leg covering Memphis to the Tri-Cities.  Our focus will be on smaller towns that we don't usually reach. 

We hope to (a) connect LGBT people and allies to one another, (b) connect people in smaller towns to the wider movement for equality in the state, (c) bring much needed programming like Tennessee Ready for Marriage on DAY ONE, SAFE (Schools Are For Everyone) Tennessee, and Equality Means Business to every part of the state to increase the safety and power of our community.

The average cost per stop is about $200.  We hope to fund the tour during the Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee's The Big Payback event on May 5 and Give OUT Day on May 21.  We hope to raise a total of $6000 for the tour during these two giving events.

If you or your company would like to be a sponsor of the Summer of Love Tour, contact us at [email protected] .

If you live in a small town in Tennessee and want to help host the event (no donation required) in your town, you can also contract us at [email protected] .  Include the name of your city in your email. 

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