One month from today the Tennessee General Assembly reconvenes at "high Noon." What lies ahead for the state's gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community?
Negative bills: 2016 could be one of the worst. Here's what either is coming or could be coming.
*The Tennessee Natural Marriage Defense Act was filed in September. It would attempt to nullify the Supreme Court's June marriage equality ruling.
*Various Turn the Gays Away/RFRA bills like those designed to "protect" clergy, businesses, and local officials from having to serve the LGBT community.
*Anti-transgender bathroom bill. It hasn't been filed yet, but it may be coming. It is particularly troublesome because of the danger to which it exposes transgender and gender non-conforming youth.
*Counseling Discrimination. The bill would allow students enrolled in counseling, psychology, and social work programs at public universities in Tennessee to turn away clients based on their religious beliefs. The bill was sidelined earlier this year, but it could be back in 2016.
*Defunding the University of Tennessee-Knoxville's Office of Diversity and Inclusion. That has come up again just this week.
*Local non-discrimination ordinances nullified. In the unconfirmed rumors section, we would add that there is the possibility of bills being filed to nullify city or county ordinances that protect their own local government employees from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
The choice we have. Given all the negative legislation coming and given how few resources there are in Tennessee, we have to ask ourselves whether it makes any sense spending time on legislation that is great in terms of its content but has no chance of passing. In order responsibly to deal with the attacks, we have to spend our time there.
At the State level, TEP will be focused on beating these negative bills.
And we've already been working on just that.
Efforts so far: When the Tennessee Natural Marriage Defense Act was introduced, we began by defining the perception of it in the media. We asked Professor Sherry of Vanderbilt Law to offer this op-ed and we contributed our own piece to Huffington Post. We have canvassed voters in Dickson, Manchester, Maryville, and Bristol in order to find out if there is a message that works with moderate voters in conservative districts. It turns out there is!
And we opened and have sustained the fight against the anti-transgender bathroom bill. The TEP Rutherford County Chair, who happens to be from Rep. Hulsey's district, was scanning news coverage when he learned about the bill and helped us get the information out to you statewide. Hundreds of our members have called and emailed Rep. Hulsey urging him to rethink the bill, which is what he is doing right now. We also have preemptively generated over 1100 emails to all the members of the State Senate urging them NOT to sponsor a companion bill. We were also pleased to support the recent rally in Johnson City by bringing up the idea with local organizers, publicizing it dozens of times, and providing media support.
And that is how we'll fight for you when the Legislature convenes in January. We're going to be smart about how we use our time. We're going to look at every tactic at our disposal, including some we've never considered before. But our focus is defending you and defending you well.
I hope you'll consider supporting our legislative work with a contribution of $25 or more at this link. If you prefer to give a little every month to keep us running strong, you can sign up at this link.
Don't forget to RSVP for TEP's 12th annual Advancing Equality Day on the Hill at this link.
Thanks for all you do!