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. 

TN Mini Indy/Counseling Discrimination bill taken off notice

The mini Indiana-style/Counseling Discrimination bill has been taken off notice by the House sponsor. 

When the sponsor spoke before the subcommittee yesterday, he cited "a very vocal group of folks in America" and noted that he has "been here long enough to know when a piece of legislation is not going to move."  WSMV has more on the story here

Though it is not completely dead, the bill appears to be done for this year.  We are grateful for all the calls and emails you sent.  We appreciate everyone who came to Advancing Equality Day on the Hill and everyone who wrote letters to the editor of your local papers.  Of course, we also have to note the incredible work of our lobbyist, Jenny Ford, in coordinating our strategy throughout the session with allies.

Your support makes it possible for us to combine professional lobbying and grassroots responses to negative bills like this.  Please, consider contributing to help us continue to be a voice for equality on the Hill

What does your investment do?  It will allow us to prepare for a major, full-scale Indiana-style RFRA bill that our opponents want to try to introduce again next year.  It will take the summer and fall to put structures in place to defend ourselves against it.  Any amount is welcome

Thank you for all you do to advance equality in Tennessee.

The mini-"Indiana"-style bill in Tennessee you should know about

When Indiana Governor Pence signed the RFRA/religious refusal/license to discriminate bill, suddenly everyone in the country knew about it.

We've got a mini-version in Tennessee that not many people know about--the Counseling Discrimination bill.  And it's up for a key test on Wednesday.

HB566 would allow students in counseling, psychology, and social work to turn away clients based on the student's sincerely held religious beliefs.  Sound familiar?  It should.  It is exactly the kind of language used in the bigger RFRA/Turn the Gays Away bills.

IMPACT OF THE BILL:  This bill is bad news, even though the damage would not be as extensive.  It could jeopardize the accreditation and hence the value and marketability of our counseling, psychology, and social work degree programs in Tennessee.  It represents bad education because students won't be exposed to the full range of clients.  And it's bad for clients because it adds stigma at a time when they are seeking help. 

WEDNESDAY IS KEY:  The bill is up on Wednesday, April 1, in what we believe really is the final meeting of a House subcommittee.  It is number 23 on the calendar.  We've heard they've reserved the room for the whole afternoon starting at Noon, which indicates they plan to go through the entire list of bills up for consideration. 

STOP THE BILL:  We need to stop the bill in this subcommittee.  What can we do?

1.  Email the subcommittee and members of the full committee and ask them to vote NO.  Use this link

2.  Call the members of the full committee and leave them messages asking them to vote NO. 

3.  Consider attending the subcommittee meeting at Noon on Wednesday in Legislative Plaza Room 31.  Wear purple if you can.

4.  Fuel the fight.  Consider a monthly donation to TEP

We are grateful for all your support and your efforts to defeat the bill. 


Counseling Discrimination bill up in House subcommittee next Wed

The Counseling Discrimination bill by Sen. Hensley and Rep. DeBerry is up in House Education subcommittee next Wednesday at Noon.  SB297/HB566 would allow counseling, psychology, and social work students at Tennessee public universities to opt out of serving clients based on a student's sincerely held religious beliefs. 

This bill is clearly targeting the LGBT community.

Here's how you can fight back.

*Pack the subcommittee meeting and wear purple to show your opposition at Wednesday at Noon.  RSVP for the event here.

*Call every member of the subcommittee.  The image in this post gives you their numbers and a short script.  Leaving a message in the evening work just fine. 

*Consider making a small, monthly contribution so we can sustain our lobbying efforts at this link

*Write a letter to the editor of your local paper about the bill.  Email us at [email protected] to get talking points, etc.

*You can also sign the petition against the bill at this link.  It will generate an email to all the members of the subcommittee who will vote on the bill.

Thanks for all your support in fighting this discriminatory legislation!



Why are there so FEW anti-equality bills in the Legislature this year?

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. 


TN couple get a taste of the fight for marriage equality in Alabama

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:

"I'd first like to say, what an amazingly easy process it was to marry in the state of Alabama. We traveled from Columbia TN ON my Birthday, March 3rd to wed in Huntsville. Upon arriving we entered to probate office and spoke with the clerk there and I had asked why they were not performing the ceremonies in the Courthouse anymore. She stated 'We are so overwhelmed with people from counties far south of us and from Tennessee I cannot keep up with the demand, I send hundreds of certificates a day and I'm still backed up to Feb 28th." 
Upon getting the OK that I can marry I contacted a WONDERFUL lady named Bonnie Harrison. She is a lawyer's wife who does the ceremonies. As delightful as she was the atmosphere in the courthouse itself was quite tense. Though uncomfortable with people staring and whispering amongst themselves we proceeded with the ceremony right in front of them. Though too nervous we forgot to even get a picture, which we will probably go back down there to do one anyways.
On that note, I would like to share with you the contact information of Bonnie in case anyone else would like to go to Huntsville when this mess is all cleared up. Confused by the outcome of today at the end of the day. We are left in limbo now. Where do we go from here? Is our marriage legal? Are we even considered to be married? Will we receive our official Marriage license? Though I really hope all of this does clear up. Because in my mind, and my heart, I am married no matter who says what. No amount of preparations could prepare you for the intense, overwhelming love you feel when you stand there, holding onto your partners hands and saying those words 'I do."
Bonnie Harrison (256) 534-8485 The ceremony cost us $50 which was not bad and the license was $59 altogether well worth the trip."
Thanks, Caleb, for sharing your story!

No Turn the Gays Away bill! Tennessee is still open for business!

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--Advancing Equality Day on the Hill

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


Read more

Counseling Discrimination bill is back

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

*Please, consider making a small monthly contribution at this link to fuel the fight against this bill at the 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.

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