LGBTQ Public Policy: Preemption or preventing equal rights in cities and counties

One important public policy issue affecting LGBTQ people in Tennessee is preemption.  Preemption is this context means the State of Tennessee preventing cities and counties in Tennessee from going beyond state standards.

A Nashville example that affects the whole state: In 2011 the Metro Nashville Council passed an ordinance that said its contractors and vendors could not discriminate against their employees based on sexual orientation or gender identity. That same year the Tennessee General Assembly passed a law (HB600) that prevented local governments in Tennessee (cities, counties, public school districts) from applying non-discrimination standards to the private sector that exceed state non-discrimination standards. 

In other words, if the state non-discrimination standards don't include sexual orientation and gender identity, then neither can the local rules.  Note:  Local governments CAN forbid discrimination against their own employees based on sexual orientation and gender identity.  But they can't require their contractors--private entities getting public money--from the doing the same.

The Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County contracts with dozens of companies that employ thousands of people every year.  If the state law didn't exist, many LGBTQ employees of those firms would have inclusive non-discrimination protections.  And that's important in a state that generally lacks them.

But remember that even though Metro Nashville is the only city or county that has passed a contractor ordinance, the state law prevents ALL cities and counties from having a contractor ordinance.  So the the 2011 state law affects LGBTQ people in East, West, and Middle Tennessee.

Metro Nashville Council Member Anthony Davis explained why this is a bad idea a few years ago in testimony before a State Senate Committee in this video:

The 2011 state law has been challenged unsuccessfully in court, but new challenges may arise.  Overturning the state law with legislative action would require substantial organization throughout Tennessee.

One thing we can do immediately as the new legislative session begins in January is continue to work against the Business License to Discriminate bill.  That bill prevents state agencies and local governments from looking at the internal policies of private entities when awarding contracts.  It could affect everything from health insurance for married same-sex couples to birth control.

TEP will keep you posted if this bill moves in the new year.

Are you registered to vote? You can register online at this link.

Would you considering making a $5+ monthly donation to support TEP's advocacy efforts at this link?


November events: Gets involved

Get involved in the work of advancing equality in November.

November 6 in Portland, TN.  Rally against the ban on drag.

November 9 in Nashville.  Will & Grace watch party.

November 11 in Nashville. Coming Out: Stories from Nashville

November 15 in Memphis.  Advocacy 101 with the University of Memphis Stonewall Tigers (details coming)

November 28 throughout the world.  Giving Tuesday (details coming)

All Month.  Register to vote at this link. Share the link with friends.

December 6 in Murfreesboro. TEP Rutherford County Holiday Social.

One way to help throughout the year is linking your Kroger PLUS card to Tennessee Equality Project Foundation at this link.  Thank you for all your help!

Upcoming events in Memphis, Knoxville, and Nashville

Jump in and get involved in these events coming up in Memphis, Knoxville, and Nashville.

October 19-Nashville. Will & Grace watch party.


October 21-Nashville. Victory Fund/Victory Institute Training.  Learn about running for office, managing campaigns, and other leadership issues.


October 22-Memphis.  Cookout at the Pump. .


October 23--Memphis. Hate Crime Training at the National Civil Rights Museum.  TEP is on a panel. Event link is


October 26-Knoxville. Dr. Leticia Flores and others will be speaking to the Knox Blue Dots about TEP's work.


October 27-29--Nashville. Healthy and Free Tennessee convening.  TEP is on a panel.

Voting:  Remember to register to vote or check your voter registration at this link

October Nashville Events: Share a story, laugh, celebrate, build skills

October is a busy month.  I hope you'll join us for some of these upcoming Nashville events:

Wednesday, October 11.  Tell YOUR coming out story on National Coming Out Day.  Learn more at the link.

Thursday, October 12. Nashville Black Pride kickoff.  Event details here.

Thursday, October 12.  Will & Grace watch party.  RSVP at the link.

Saturday, October 21. Victory Institute Leadership Summit.  Learn more at the link.

Get involved.  Work for equality.  Change your community.

Chris Sanders
Executive Director

Challenge Discrimination

On the anniversary of historic Supreme Court marriage equality rulings and in the face of a massive reaction against LGBTQ people, we ask you to join us to CHALLENGE DISCRIMINATION.

We need you:  Below we discuss the threatening legislation that is coming and the opportunities to advance good legislation in Tennessee.  To move forward we need you!

*If you haven't done so, tell us your two state legislative districts at this link.

*Consider a small monthly donation to support our legislative work.

*Consider a one-time donation to assist with your Pride outreach throughout the state to bring new people into the work.

Negative Legislation awaits us:  When the Tennessee General Assembly returns in January, waiting for us is the Business License to Discriminate bill and the Tennessee Natural Marriage Defense Act and possibly legislation that attacks LGBTQ parents.  We can also expect more attacks on transgender and gender non-conforming people. 

We will CHALLENGE DISCRIMINATION:  We are developing new teams in key conservative districts to fight back against these bills, but we believe that to be successful in turning the conversation we must advance positive legislation.  It will not be easy to pass a positive bill in Tennessee, but we need to move the marker and fight to get some good bills out of committee as we have done in the past.

The Legislative Agenda:  Among the items that are at the top of our legislative agenda for 2018 are the following:

*Work with TTPC to advance the transgender-inclusive penalty enhancement to Tennessee's hate crimes law because right now the federal hate crimes law does not adequately deal with anti-trans vandalism and the state hate crimes law does not include gender identity or expression.

*Repeal 2011's HB600 because Tennessee's cities and counties should be able to protect their residents from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. 

*Advance the Dignity for All Students Act.  Every student in Tennessee's public schools deserves to be protected from bullying and discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, and other relevant factors.  We almost succeeded in getting this bill out of committee a few years ago, and it's time to try again!

Building up district teams:  The most important thing we can do to fight discriminatory bills and advance the good ones is to build our strength in every part of the state.  We will resume regional committee meetings around the state starting in July, so look for updates on those.  But, again, we really need to have YOUR name, email, and state legislative districts at this form.

Are you ready to take the battle in Tennessee to the far Right?  I am, but we can't do it without you.


Chris Sanders

Executive Director


Far Right using governor's race to attack LGBTQ coimmunity

Tennessee's LGBTQ community is on the far Right's agenda as the race for governor heats up. 

This weekend, according to The Tennessean's online story and video, Sen. Mae Beavers attacked marriage equality and brought up anti-transgender bathroom policies when she announced her bid for governor.

A few days before at a party event, The Nashville Ledger reports that Diane Black, who represents Tennessee's 6th congressional district and may be considering a gubernatorial bid, said, "They try to say there are other things such as gay rights that we have to accept in our schools, a bathroom that should be used just to go in and do whatever you do in the bathroom and leave."

The anti-equality faction in this state is becoming more brazen, though perhaps less eloquent. 

One thing we can do is build power in state legislative districts.  The day may actually come when we need the Legislature to be a check on a governor with an anti-LGBTQ agenda.  So we need everyone who lives in Tennessee who receives this email to let us know your state legislative districts--your one state senator and your one state representative.  You can do so at this link.  We are grateful to those who have already let us know. 

Wherever you live, you can invest in TEP's Pride outreach with a $5+ contribution at the link. We are working hard at Pride celebrations around the state to help organize the community to resist discriminatory rhetoric and actions.  We made a wonderful start of it at Upper Cumberland Pride in Cookeville this past weekend.  On June 17, we'll be in Knoxville for PrideFest and many more throughout the summer and fall.

Your support of any amount at this link helps us confront the hate and organize throughout Tennessee

Gratefully yours,

Chris Sanders
Executive Director

Whatever our beliefs, we should resist Senator Green's dichotomy between religious values and our existence

Just like the rest of the population, many LGBTQ people are not religious and many are.  But whatever our beliefs, we should resist the dichotomy that Sen. Mark Green presents--his version of Christianity vs. the morality of our existence.

In withdrawing his name from nomination as Secretary of the Army, Sen. Green has put much of the blame on our community.  We are blamed for defending ourselves from past attacks.  That in itself is ridiculous.  Our community didn't pick any fights with Sen. Green.  Sorry if I sound like a 5-year-old on a playground, but he started it.  There's not a one of us who singled out the senator before he opened his mouth.

You see, no one forced him to run an anti-LGBTQ bill like SB127 (Business License to Discriminate) or sponsor others.  And no one forced him to tell a group of people his personal views of transgender people or to frame the discussion in terms of morality.

So we won't accept the blame for the collapse of his nomination because we didn't care one way or the other about him until he attacked us.

And we won't allow him to say that he is speaking for Christianity or that he is defending religious values.  Picking on transgender people isn't a commandment or an article of the Nicene Creed or any other important summary of the Christian religion.  He can't deflect rightful criticism of his legislative record and his remarks by donning a religious cloak. 

Almost 100 clergy (most of them Christian) opposed his SB127 this year.  So what do we make of the conflicting interpretations?  Sen. Green has the right to call himself a Christian and he has the right to argue that his views are the correct interpretation of the religion.  He does not have the right to have it taken for granted by the rest of us that he speaks for Christianity and he does not have the right to make assertions about others without them being challenged.

State lawmakers, take note.  You will not be allowed to argue that you represent Christianity and you will not get away with using religion to beat us up with the law.


TEP Foundation announces honorary co-chairs for our The Big Payback Campaign

The TEP Foundation is pleased to announce our honorary co-chairs for The Big Payback, which is an annual giving day presented by the Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee.  A variety of Middle Tennessee non-profits will be participating and the TEP Foundation has participated every year.  Starting at Midnight on May 3, participants can make $10+ contributions to the TEP Foundation at this link


Honorary Chairpersons


Hon. Anthony Davis of Nashville            Hon. Erica Gilmore of Nashville

Hon. Nancy and Ms. Joan Van Reece of Madison    Hon. Zach Young of Goodlettsville


Karen K. Reynolds, MSG, USA Retired of Clarksville

Jef Laudieri and Will Peyton of Franklin

Brandon Thomas and Michael Finch of Smyrna


Jerry and Benjamin Camarena-Jones

Sam Felker and Keith Little

Pablo Juárez

Brent Meredith

Brett Potter

Maria Salas

Aurora Sexton

Jen Sheridan and Sabrina Torres

H.G. Stovall

of Nashville

My Existence is Not Up for Debate: Transgender Day of Visibility Post by Brendon Holloway





My Existence is Not Up For Debate

by TEP Board officer Brendon Holloway


 My name is Brendon. I’m a Tennessean at heart, a graduate student at  the University of Michigan, and a transgender man.


When I was 18, I embarked on this journey of owning my trans identity. I came out to my friends, family, and classmates and asked them to call me Brendon and use he/him pronouns. My friends and classmates at Middle Tennessee State University accepted me and encouraged me. My family accepted me and for that, I will always be grateful.


At 20, I discovered the field of social work. I discovered a field that would not only support me as a trans man, but a profession that would allow me to advocate for trans people and openly speak up for trans rights. After some time, I began an internship at Tennessee Equality Project and found my people: the LGBTQ community. I spent many days at legislative plaza combatting anti-trans legislation and many hours at night contemplating my existence as a trans person. The fight for trans equality was strong and worth it, but the harsh words and actions from others made it difficult to sleep at night. At that point in time, I had no idea where I’d be a year later.


A year has passed and I am in Ann Arbor, Michigan working toward my MSW. I will graduate in July with a new chest and possibly a mustache. Since moving to the Midwest, I have started hormone therapy and undergone gender reassignment surgery (otherwise known as top surgery). Every single day I realize more and more that I am enough, I am worthy, and I am thankful for being trans. On Trans Day of Visibility (TDOV), I am very privileged to be able to be openly trans and wear a shirt with the trans colors on it that basically screams I am a trans person. But not everyone is able to. For those who can’t be out: you are authentic and you are loved. Not being out does not make you any less trans or authentic. You are strong and you are trans. Not being on hormones does not make you any less trans and not having surgery does not make you less trans. You are wonderful just as you are.


For those of you who have supported me over the years, thank you. Thank you for taking me in and pushing me to transform society. I feel blessed to be trans and to be surrounded by love and support, especially from my trans family.  


With love,




In the video below, Brendon takes you through the process of a T injection.  Note: Be advised that the video shows needles used to extract and inject testosterone. 









Actions, Reflections to fight the sneaky Slate of Hate: March 31-April 7

A new critical point:  Together we have achieved something stunning.  The most damaging bills to the LGBT community in the Tennessee General Assembly are disposed of for now--the anti-transgender student bathroom bill and the TN Natural Marriage Defense Act. That allows us to make a decisive shift in our work to the subtle, sneaky bills that are also damaging.

To get an orientation to the sneaky bills, read this TEP op-ed in The Tennessean

What you'll find below is a set of actions and reflections designed to help you play a part in unmasking the sneaky bills and fighting them.  If you live in Middle Tennessee, you have a built-in advantage because you are closer to many of the events and I hope you'll attend some of them.  But there will be steps anyone in Tennessee can take.  Regardless of where you are, March 31 through April 7 is a good week in which to make your voice heard.  Look through the calendar and do as much as you can.  Also try to use the time to read the reflection questions and think about your role as an equality advocate.

Friday, March 31

March 31 is International Transgender Day of Visibility and that provides a good focus for the day as we head into a busy legislative week. 

Action Steps

1. If you don't know what the day is about, learn what it's about here.  Remember that Google is your friend.  A Google search reveals a wealth of information

2. Read TEP Board member Brendon Holloway's post about Transgender Day of Visibility here.

3. Whether you are a trans person or an ally, consider devoting a social media post to the holiday.  It can be as simple as "Happy Transgender Visibility Day."  Does that make you activist?  No, it takes far more than a Facebook post to make you an advocate, but you may help start a conversation or send a signal that someone needs to see.  No one at TEP would ever suggest that a social media post is enough to make you an activist.

4. Read this piece  by GLAAD and examine your own use of terminology.  Make a commitment to change any ways of speaking or writing that are inaccurate and disrespectful. 

5. Check this link for next week's events related to state legislation and mark your calendars.  For example, the April 5 subcommittee meeting about the Business License to Discriminate bill can be found at the link.


1. Had you ever considered all the anti-LGBT bills in Tennessee affect transgender and gender non-conforming people?  Yes, even the TN Natural Marriage Defense Act does.  Have you been speaking about certain bills as if they only affect gay, lesbian, and bisexual people? 

2. Put yourself in the place of someone who is about to speak to a state legislator.  What have you heard about what many legislators think about gender, the gender spectrum, and trans and gender non-conforming people?  What do YOU think might convince them to shift their thinking to a more inclusive position?

Saturday, April 1

Action Steps

1. Attend TTPC's Letter writing party at 1pm in West Nashville.  RSVP at the link.

2. Consider planning your own letter writing party against the #SlateofHate bills in Tennessee.  It only requires you and a few friends or many friends gathering to write letters against negative bills.  We can help you.  Contact us at .


1. What is your own preferred way to communicate with legislators?  In person, email, phone calls, writing a letter?  And why is that?  If you are reluctant to use one or more forms of communication with legislators, what would make it easier for you and would that allow you to have more of an impact on the legislative process?

2. What effect does it have on you when a legislator answers your message or ignores it?  Does it affect your ability to sustain your advocacy if you feel legislators aren't listening or aren't demonstrating that they are listening?  On the other hand, are there times when you know you got through and made a difference with your message?

3. If the bills you are communicating with legislators about are sneaky or subtly written, how do you communicate differently or with more urgency to make your point?  How do you convince your friends that a bill really affects the LGBT community when it doesn't appear to do so?

Sunday, April 2

Action Steps

1. Consider sending emails to Representatives Bill Beck, G.A. Hardaway, and Andrew Farmer thanking them for asking tough questions about the TN Natural Marriage Defense Act that got the bill sidelined for the year.  Their email addresses are,, and .

2. Study the Pew Research Center's Religious Landscape Study on Tennessee.  Think about how the findings have an impact on Tennessee politics with respect to LGBT issues.

3. Take a minute to learn about the "Religious Left" at this link.

3. Are there clergy you know you could join this list against the #SlateofHate ?  Can you help recruit them?  Will you reach out TODAY?


1. If you're a person of faith, do you find it easy or difficult to make common cause on issues with people who hold no faith or no particular faith?  Likewise, if you are not a person of faith or not a member of a faith community, what is helpful and what is a barrier to you working with people of faith on LGBT issues?

2. Whether you're a person of faith or not, what values do you think you share with legislators or other people who are socially conservative?  If your fundamental values are different, what works for you in having a conversation about LGBT issues over the divide?

Monday, April 3

Action Steps

1. Consider attending the We Are Watching rally at the Capitol in Nashville with other progressive activists resisting a variety of oppressive bills.  RSVP here.  TEP will provide signs about relevant bills.

2. If you can't attend the event, will you publicize the link?

3. Give the protesters some back up.  Tell your state senator and your state representative that you support the We Are Watching protesters who show up at the Capitol every Monday.  That is a way to amplify their work and join it.  You can find your state senator and your state representative at this link.  Look for the "Find My Legislator" tab.


1. Are you comfortable protesting?  Are you supposed to be comfortable protesting?  What are your preferred ways to taking action against discriminatory bills? 

2. What do you think the value of protesting is?  How can protests draw attention to discriminatory bills?

Tuesday, April 4

Action Steps

1. Attend TEP's final Advancing Equality Day on the Hill.  See the schedule here.  If you want to join an existing appointment and get connected with your district captain, email me at .

2. If you can't attend Advancing Equality Day on the Hill, email your state senator and your state representative and tell them you support the people who are on the Hill today working for LGBT equality and fighting discriminatory legislation.  You can find their names and email addresses by going to the Legislature's website.  Click the "Find My Legislator" tab.

3. Consider visiting your legislators a different week. If you would like help setting up an appointment and getting talking points for your meeting, contact me AFTER APRIL 4 at .


1. Is meeting with elected officials new to you?  What would make you prepared to speak effectively with them about LGBT issues?  If it's something you've done for years, have you learned more about the process that has made you more effective each time or do you feel stuck?

2. Why don't more LGBT people and allies come to events like Advancing Equality Days on the Hill?  Is it because they interfere with work or school?  Is it the distance?  Is it that they think they wouldn't know what to say?  What would be the impact on LGBT issues if 300 people or more participated in events like Advancing Equality Days on the Hill?

Wednesday, April 5

Action Steps

1. Attend the House State Government Subcommittee meeting at Legislative Plaza in Nashville.  RSVP here.  The Business License to Discriminate bill will be up for a vote.

2. If you can't attend, consider sharing the link that morning.

3. In the morning, email the subcommittee members and ask them to vote NO on HB54.  You can find their names here. When you click on the picture, it takes you to their page and you can find their email addresses.  Put in the subject line of your email:  Vote NO on HB54.  The body can be something like:

"Dear Representative __________, please vote NO on HB54 this afternoon.  The bill ties the hands of government in contracting with the private sector.  It opens the door to lawsuits against government and it enables discrimination against LGBT people.   It's a bad deal for taxpayers.  Thanks for considering my views.  (Your name + your street address)"

4. If the bill passes in subcommittee, are you willing to write a letter to the editor about the bill?  If so, contact me at


1. Why do so many legislators in Tennessee care more about discrimination against business than they do about discrimination against LGBT people?  What can we do to shift the concern?

2. Why has there been so little media coverage of this bill?  What has the media focused on in terms of legislative issues this year?  Why is that so?

Thursday, April 6

Action Steps

1. Read about the sneaky LGBT Erasure bill.  It is SB1085/HB1111.  Now compare it to SB30/HB33.  The bill was not on notice (or up for a vote) this week, but we expect it to be on notice soon.  Reading the bill helps you prepare.

2. If you're not in the TEP Facebook group, join it and read the last few posts to be up to date on what happened with legislation this week and what is coming up.  We post frequently.  You can also join the TEP email list here.  If you're more of a Twitter person, you can follow us at TNEQUALITY.

3. How have you taken time for yourself?  Many people don't invest much time in advocacy, but some people invest a great deal of time in advocacy.  If you are spending a lot of time on legislative advocacy, you may want to think about how you are handling the stress.  There are many online resources with suggestions.  This link provides just one of many.  In terms of the legislative calendar, there are some meetings on Thursday, but Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday are good days to take it at a slower pace.  Make sure you are stepping away when you need to.  The work will be there when you return.


1. Is the new political situation with anti-LGBT discrimination at the state level coupled with setbacks at the federal level resulting in higher levels of fear, anxiety, or depression for you?  Is it resulting in more physical danger for you?  What friends and professionals can you speak with about what is going on with you?  If you're doing OK, are you noticing these signs in the lives of friends?

2. Do you find that participating in activism/advocacy gives you more confidence and a sense of community that helps you deal with the stress of the new political situation?

Friday, April 6

Action Steps

1. If you took Thursday off, which we support, check the TEP Facebook group for what is coming up with #SlateofHate legislation.  Or you can check Twitter at TNEQUALITY.  You can also check this link at the main TEP Facebook page.

2. If you're in Nashville, consider attending this Nashville Grizzlies event in support of TEP at Play.  If you can't attend, consider making a small monthly contribution to TEP at this link.  If you prefer to make a one-time donation, you can do so at this link.  TEP is grateful to have the support of the Nashville Grizzlies and so many people across the state.

3. Do YOU want to host a house party in which a TEP representative comes to you and talks about state legislation and/or LGBT advocacy?  Contact us at .


1. Have you ever given to LGBT causes?  Why or why not?

2. Do people in your part of Tennessee take LGBT advocacy seriously?  If not, what could change that?

3. Is there a TEP committee in your community?  If so, and you're unsure how to be involved, contact me at .

4. What would enhance rural LGBT advocacy in Tennessee?  Do you see it as critical to victories in the Legislature?




Donate Volunteer Find an Event