TEP condemns Uber driver's anti-gay assault on Memphis businessman

TEP condemns Uber driver's anti-gay assault on Memphis businessman

Contact:  Ginger Leonard, (901) 461-0891

Memphis, TN:  Memphis businessman Ray Rico experienced an anti-gay assault on Friday night by an Uber driver after a disagreement over bringing food into the driver's car.  Mr. Rico reports that the driver called him "faggot."  Rico then ended the trip and attempted to hail another Uber driver.  The same driver appeared using a different profile on the app.  The driver unleashed another string of epithets at Rico.  After Rico took pictures of the car license plate the driver backed the vehicle into him.

TEP board chair Ginger Leonard offers the following statement:  "Mr. Rico's experience is an outrageous assault on his safety and dignity and therefore an assault on all LGBT Memphians.  Uber has begun an investigation of the incident and Mr. Rico is exploring pressing criminal charges.  We call on Uber to complete its investigation quickly and to work with TEP on a review of its diversity training for drivers. 

The Tennessee Equality Project is a statewide organization that advances the rights of Tennessee's lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community.


Anniversary of Tennessee ratification of the 14th Amendment

Today is the anniversary of Tennessee's ratification of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, a day we should all celebrate.

The path to ratification in Tennessee wasn't easy.  As the Tennessee State Museum points out:

 Many white Tennesseans were divided on this issue. President Johnson also opposed the amendment. 

Some of the Tennessee legislators decided to refuse to attend the session when they were supposed to vote on the 14th Amendment. They hoped there would not be a quorum—a number of legislators required to be present in order for a vote to count. 
Governor Brownlow found out about their plan, and he had two of the legislators arrested and imprisoned in the state capitol building. They were counted as being present even though they did not vote. The legislature did vote in favor of ratifying the 14th Amendment. Tennessee became the first Confederate state to re-enter the United States.
As hard as it was in Tennessee, getting the 14th Amendment ratified in the rest of the former Confederacy was even more difficult.  This piece from PBS notes:
With the exception of Tennessee, the Southern states refused to ratify the Fourteenth Amendment. The Republicans then passed the Reconstruction Act of 1867, which set the conditions the Southern states had to accept before they could be readmitted to the union, including ratification of the 14th Amendment.
So much of the progress for equality in our country on so many fronts can be traced to the 14th Amendment.  Its work is not yet done.  But on this day we can appreciate that Tennessee ratified it and that it was an important basis for the Supreme Court's marriage equality ruling whose anniversary we recently celebrated.

Ways to get involved near you over the next 7 days

It's a busy week ahead for the work of advancing equality in Tennessee.  Please, consider attending one of these events near you.

June 20--Murfreesboro--Rutherford County Committee meeting at 6:45 p.m.  RSVP at the link

June 21--Nashville--Thank you reception for supporters of the gender-neutral bathroom ordinance at 8:30 p.m.  RSVP at the link.

June 22--Memphis--Voter registration and pizza party at 6:30 p.m.  RSVP at the link.

June 23--Franklin--TEP Williamson County exploratory meeting at 6:30 p.m.  RSVP at the link.

June 26--Johnson City--TEP Tri-Cities Committee meeting and coffee at 1:30 p.m.  RSVP at the link.

Gathering as a community is as important now as it has ever been.  I hope we'll see you soon.

Breaking: Fayette County Commission passes anti-trans, anti-Obama resolution

Based on an email from Commissioner Tim Goodroe, I am sad to report that the Fayette County Commission passed a resolution calling on state officials to defy reggiehoward.pngPresident Obama's guidance on the civil rights of transgender students.  The measure passed 17 to 0 with one member of the Commission passing/not voting. 

The resolution was brought by Commissioner Reggie Howard. 

TEP just learned about the resolution this morning from a concerned citizen and we began contacting county officials to learn more and attempt to get the Commission to change course.

TEP offers the following statement:

"The Tennessee Equality Project condemns the action of the Fayette County Commission.  The resolution was not on the agenda for tonight's meeting so the public had no time to respond.  The resolution falsely assumes that transgender students are a threat and that bathroom policies are a major factor in the safety of women and girls.  The resolution fails completely in this respect.  The commission's duty is to fund education in the county and commissioners take an oath to uphold the Constitution of the United States.  Instead, tonight a majority of the Commission voted for defiance and against some of their own citizens."

If your local government is considering a similar resolution, contact us at chris@tnequalityproject.com .

If you would like to invest in our work of fighting discrimination, you can give at the link.

What difference does ministry make?

What difference does ministry make?  For many, none.  They're not part of so-called organized religion and wish it would go away. 

Ministry matters in Tennessee:  For many others, though, ministry plays a significant role in their lives in the sense that the clergy person provides significant teaching and care that shape their lives. And it matters in the sense that, as lay persons, they, too participate in ministries that touch people's lives.

I'm happy to be challenged on this point, but I suspect most people in Tennessee at some point in their lives come into the gargoyle.jpgorbit of ministry and are affected by it.  It may shape their thinking about issues.  It may have saved them from going hungry or being without shelter. 

It may also be a painful experience of abuse--sexual, emotional, or otherwise.  It could be a force that caused them to love some parts of themselves and hate others, a force that challenged them to be better or an overwhelming force that caused them to buckle under the pressure of trying to be good enough.

Ministry affects those who aren't religious:  Even those who are not members of congregations are often affected by ministry.  Ministry influences public policy and public policy affects all of us--programs for the poor, Bible bills, abortion regulations, anti-transgender bathroom bills, human trafficking legislation, and many other issues are shaped by the quality and quantity of ministry in a particular state or jurisdiction.

Ministry is going to exist in Tennessee.  Public policy, such as it is, is going to exist in Tennessee.  And they're going to shape each other.  So I contend we all have an interest in the quality of ministry in our state.  It is actually a public issue on which the public can and should comment.

Thinking about interpretation is key:  Here's an example I used to give when I spoke to groups.  Why is it that a student in a senior English class in say, Polk County, is made to sweat bullets interpreting a poem written in American English in the 1950s, but later that night, her youth minister, who has no formal training, cracks open a letter attributed to St. Paul for which we have no original manuscript written in Greek almost 2000 years ago to new urban Christians and this youth minister somehow effortlessly creates life lessons for 21st-century rural Southern teenagers? 

And yet that happens EVERY WEEK in Tennessee with thousands of people shaping their moral and political views. I could just as easily have chosen an example about sermons or any other kind of ministry, but you get the point.  People in Tennessee have been shaped to believe that it's hard to read a poem, but that anyone can interpret and apply the Bible.  And, gosh, people apply the strangest passages to the oddest issues.  Consider Rep. Eddie Smith's use of the Cain and Abel story to justify his position on guns.

Our challenge is to show the impact of the practice of ministry in such a way that we can reshape it.  We should scrutinize it.  We should expect more of it.  We should expect the best because it affects all of us, regardless of our personal religious views.

LGBT people and our allies, religious or not, in particular have an interest in the quality of ministry in our state because we are all too aware of the negative impact it has had on our community.  But the negative history is not the whole story, nor is it destiny.  Let's use our voices to make it better.

Franklin Graham visit to Capitol highlights need for separation of religion and discrimination

Yesterday Franklin Graham, son of the legendary evangelist Billy Graham, was in Nashville leading a prayer rally of thousands outside the Capitol.

By all news accounts, his remarks included listing marriage equality as one of our country's evils, on par with racism.

There's no way to know how many of those in attendance agreed with all of his positions on every issue.  But there was no rebuttal.  I might add that most of the news accounts didn't provide time for other views either.

How many times do we remind ourselves "We've got more work to do?"  But it's true.

We have more work to do engaging the media on the issue of the separation of religion and discrimination because there are many people in Tennessee who would like to see that kind of divorce. 

We have to engage those on the other side.

If you haven't already, sign the statement on the separation of religion and discrimination.  Let's reshape the conversation in Tennessee.

Counseling discrimination becomes law; TEP launches Counseling Unconditionally

After working with allies the entire legislative session, especially the American Counseling Association and many counselors in Tennessee, to defeat HB1840, we had hoped for a veto.  We know the Governor carefully considered his decision, but the reality we now face is that counselors will be able to discriminate against clients based on the counselor’s principles.  We continue to worry particularly about rural LGBT people who may not have adequate resources for counseling in their communities. 

Counseling Unconditionally:  To address the need for counseling across the state, we are launching Counseling Unconditionally today.  This initiative allows counselors, therapists, psychologists, psychiatrists, and social workers to identify themselves as practitioners who will not turn away clients simply based on their values and principles.  Those interested may sign up at  
http://tnep.nationbuilder.com/counseling_unconditionally .  We know that the vast majority of professionals are eager to help everyone who walks through their door.  Their compassion and commitment to ethical standards of care can help repair some of the damage this legislation has caused.  It will take legislation or a court order to do the rest.

UT-Knoxville diversity:  Please, continue to share the petition urging the Governor to veto the bill that strips funds from the diversity office at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville.  Here is the link so you can take action.

We are grateful for all your work.

Chris Sanders
Executive Director

ACT NOW while there is still a chance for a veto of discriminatory bills

Yesterday The Tennessean reported that Governor Haslam has not ruled out using his veto pen again.  Speaking after legislators adjourned for the year, he said, "They have a constitutional responsibility and we do too." 

There's still a chance, which we means we have to do all we can to push for a veto of the Counseling Discrimination bill and the effort to take funds away from the University of Tennessee-Knoxville's diversity office.


1. Call or Tweet the Governor asking him to veto HB1840 because it is bad for the counseling profession and bad for clients.  Tweet using @BillHaslam and #VetoHB1840.  You can call and leave a message at 615-741-2001.  When you have called or Tweeted, let us know at this link.

2.  Sign the petition urging the Governor to veto the bill taking funds away from UT-Knoxville's diversity office at this link.

3. If you've already done both, consider forwarding the email to friends.

Thank you for fighting so hard during this tough legislative session.


Chris Sanders
Executive Director

Shifting the discussion about religion and discrimination


Separation of Church and state--it's a time honored phrase or at least a paraphrase that comes from the founders of our country.

Many of us like the phrase because it is the right idea, indeed, the correct interpretation of the law, but it doesn't do the work we need it to do in a state like Tennessee

Many social conservatives know that the phrase never appears in the Constitution itself.  They also know that some states had established religions into the 19th Century.  Yes, Massachusetts had state supported religion until 1833!  And in Tennessee many of them also know that over 50% of the population is Evangelical Protestant.  On top of that, I think what religious social conservatives hear when we say "separation of Church and state" is that we're trying to keep Christians out of politics.

And maybe some people do wish that.  What I hope we mean when we use the phrase is that we oppose enshrining a particular/majority religion or any religion in law.  I hope we mean that law ought to be based on a sense of the common good and the practical needs of the people based on reason and evidence.  And how about science, too!

Here's the fact we have to contend with.  If you believe in democracy, that means that in Tennessee Evangelical Protestants ARE going to shape the laws of this state.  There's just no avoiding it.  There are thankfully constitutional limits, but the influence is going to be there for quite some time.

Our task is to shift the discussion to the use of religion to promote discrimination.  That strikes me as something that people who are religious and non-religious can talk about together.  The lawyers and the judges can and should guide us on the boundaries between religion and government.  But we can all, whether we're specialists or not, talk more about the place of discrimination in religion. 

I don't think we have to accept the phrase "That's just what I believe" when it comes to using religion to justify discrimination in the public square or in a private business.  When actions inspired by your religious beliefs have a public impact, then we actually have a duty to discuss it.

It's the separation of religion and discrimination where we can change the conversation.  It recognizes that separation of Church and state isn't enough.  If we succeeded in separating Church and state and religion was still being used to promote discrimination, people would continue to suffer. 

If you agree, consider endorsing the statement.

And if these issues interest you, consider checking out Jennifer Sheridan's new film project.



The anti-transgender bathroom bill is "personal to me." --Brendon Holloway

The anti-transgender student bathroom bill is personal to me.  As a trans man and a recent graduate of Middle Tennessee State University, one of the schools that would be affected by this legislation, I'm outraged.BrendonRally.JPG

I have been to Legislative Plaza several times to work against this bill, to tell my story and the story of friends across the state.  I have organized against it in Murfreesboro.  Sometimes legislators have a breakthrough, sometimes they don't.  But I am not deterred because I know that this bill will make life Hell for transgender and gender non-conforming students around the state.

I'm asking you to sign one more petition, regardless of whether you live in Tennessee, urging Governor Haslam to keep listening to those opposed to the bill.  It will be part of a multi-organization petition drop next week.

Please, speak out now while there is still time to beat this bill.

Gratefully yours,
Brendon Holloway
TEP Rutherford County Chair

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