If you haven't followed the discussions of SB1556, it might be easy to conclude that the bill has no connection to the LGBT community.
Indeed, the Senate sponsor said in an interview with WKRN that "It's not anti-anybody..."
Before we get into the comments made during Senate committee discussion of the legislation, it's important to note that any bill with language like this is anti-somebody: "a client as to goals, outcomes, or behaviors that conflict with a sincerely held religious belief of the counselor or therapist."
In other words, there are counselors out there who are making religious judgments about their clients. So the bill is designed to protect counselors who are against someone, but who are these mystery clients?
The comments during the Senate Health and Welfare Committee meetings give us all the clues we need to conclude that the bill is about the LGBT community.
Let's start with the comments made on January 27. You can find the full video here.
The Gay Agenda? The sponsor makes comments about counselors being "targeted" around minute 4:43 and targeted "by some agenda" around minute 10:20. Those comments were repeated on February 10 around minute 34:33, which you can find in this video. We never learn exactly who has this sinister agenda of suing counselors as a sort of activist hobby. But conjuring a bogeyman with an "agenda" is an old tactic used specifically against the LGBT community to divert discussion from the discrimination we face. If you don't find this Wikipedia entry credible as a source on the history of the phrase, then read the sources that went into making the article.
Lifestyle Choice: Back to the January 27 video, another senator makes the analogy of "lifestyle choice." If you're not LGBT and you're not part of the religious right, maybe you've never heard of discussions of gender and sexuality being described as a lifestyle choice rather than sexual orientation or gender identity. But the difference matters and it's a common way for social conservatives to discuss the LGBT community. Why does it matter? It matters to social conservatives because things that are choices can be judged as moral or immoral. Internet searches are rife with the connection. Here's just one item.
The Truth Emerges: In a few rare moments during discussion of the bill, senators let the cat out of the bag as to who is really targeted by the legislation. On January 27 around minute 8:45 of the video the committee chairman references those couples who are now allowed to marry because of the Supreme Court decision. And on the February 10 video around minute 37:28 the bill sponsor briefly mentions counselors who want to provide couples therapy, just not "same-sex couples therapy."
Fight back: It is urgent that the LGBT community and our allies fight this bill, even as amended. It is up next in the House Health Subcommittee on Tuesday. Join us in RED for that event. RSVP here. You can also sign the petition on the bill that generates an email to each member of the House Health Subcommittee at this link.
When they say it's not about you, but it is: Making Tennessee's LGBT community invisible at the Legislature
We might not be able to have politics if we didn't all play word games to some degree. There are, of course, endless discussions of "framing" and "messaging." Language reveals and obscures. We all know this from the time we learn to use words to accomplish our tasks in life.
But I can honestly say that every time I go to Legislative Plaza I am reminded just how invisible LGBT people are to Tennessee lawmakers and I'm fairly certain it's by design.
Oh, they know we exist. But we exist as an idea, some invisible threat, not as full-blooded neighbors and fellow citizens.
And that was clear this week with the proposals that came up for a vote.
Example of the Counseling Discrimination bill: In the Senate, SB1556, the Counseling Discrimination bill was voted out of the Health and Welfare Committee. There was a great deal of dancing around just what issues were the focus of the bill. But we finally got some hints. You can watch the video for yourself. Testimony starts at about 27:45. Sen. Johnson has, in fact, improved the original bill by adding a provision that makes referrals mandatory. So he deserves some credit for listening and adapting. That is in itself a real victory. But we have to wait well into the discussion of the bill for the example of counseling for same-sex couples to come up, which one is fairly certain motivated the bill to begin with. And we get another hint about what kind of image of our community really animates the thinking about LGBT people in Legislative Plaza. Sen. Johnson alludes to counselors being "targeted by those advancing an agenda."
So rather than the Legislature learning about the lack of acceptance of LGBT people in Tennessee, legislators think of us as some force that is organized for the purpose of going around testing counselors to see if we can sue them. I bet most of you reading this had no idea that the LGBT community was that organized and that driven by litigation. Yet that is precisely the image of our community that went completely unrefuted in the hearing on the bill.
Example of the Marriage Equality Resolution: Let's take another example. When Rep. Lynn ran her anti-marriage equality resolution, she amended it in committee to focus it on Family Action's lawsuits against the Williamson County and Bradley County clerks. Yet, she talked about separation of powers and other seemingly sex-less and gender-less concepts. So I provided testimony discussing Tennessee's LGBT community, and if we had not done so, I honestly believe there would have been NO direct reference to our community in the discussion of the resolution among its supporters. You can view video on the resolution debate here. Go to minute 21:37.
Rep. Mike Carter said during his comments that marriage was not the issue motivating his interest in Rep. Lynn's resolution. Fair enough. As a former judge, his interest in the question of separation of powers can be understood.
Regardless, Rep. Lynn sent an email blast to her list on Feb. 8 using the phrase "my resolution in support of David Fowler's lawsuit that may overturn same sex marriage in Tennessee." We have known all along what that this is what she meant with her resolution.
So what's the deal? Why are we playing these games in Legislative Plaza when socially conservative legislators are clearly telling people whom they think agree with them that these bills ARE about us?
Are they concerned about the media spotlight? Are they concerned about the volume of calls and emails they would receive if they "came out" with their discriminatory sentiments so openly?
Whatever it is, I think there's a clue for us at work in this dichotomy. So it's going to be important for us to press harder for people to reveal themselves. Otherwise, people supporting discrimination will get away with it. Unless legislators are direct in their hatred and contempt of our community, the public won't see it...and in some cases the media may miss it. Legislators use code. They understand the code, act on it, pass bad bills, and most people never notice.
We all have to call it out, expose it for what it is. Then we can have an honest discussion. We still might lose on some bills, but the open discussion gives our allies more opportunity to come forward. And that is precisely what we need in Tennessee.
Let's work for an honest discussion. Let's press for the truth and let the people decide what legislators really mean.
Here's your recap of what happened in the Legislature today with anti-equality measures.
The Good: It wasn't all bad news. Rep. Holt's marriage caption bill was deferred to the final calendar of the House Civil Justice Subcommittee meeting of the session. For now, that is great news. The bill is not ready...either because the content isn't ready or the votes aren't there. In either case, it's good to have a short break on that bill.
The Bad: The Counseling Discrimination bill, though amended, passed in the Senate Health and Welfare Committee today. One encouraging part of the amendment was that counselors who opt out of serving certain clients based on the counselor's beliefs must make a referral. However, the current ethics code makes provision for this. In the Senate, the bill moves next to the Calendar Committee and then likely to the Senate floor. It is up for consideration in the House Health Subcommittee on Feb. 16. Join us in RED at 1:30 in Legislative Plaza next Tuesday. RSVP at the link.
The Bizarre: Rep. Lynn and Rep. Durham's anti-marriage equality resolution passed in the House Civil Justice Subcommittee today 3 to 2. It was amended to focus more on the legal challenges brought by the Family Action Council against the Williamson and Bradley County clerks. Why is this bizarre? In showing support for the lawsuits against clerks, the Legislature would basically be saying Tennessee currently has no marriage statute and all marriages (same-sex and different-sex) performed on or after June 26, 2015 are null and void. But if the Legislature really believed that, wouldn't it make more sense to pass a marriage bill since, according to the fantastical world created by this lawsuit, Tennessee doesn't have one? It seems that legislators are missing the boat. The resolution is up for consideration in the full House Civil Justice Committee on Feb. 16 at 9:00 a.m. Please, be there in RED.
If you would like to support our legislative efforts, please, do so at the link.
The week of February 8-14 may turn out to be one of the biggest this year for equality advocacy in Tennessee. Here's what's coming up and what you can do.
1. Monday, Feb. 8--The Franklin County High School GSA has come under attack from some adults in the community who have gone so far as to compare the group to ISIS/ISIL/Daesh. The Franklin County School Board meets at 6:30 p.m. Prior to the meeting there is a rally. For more information, go to this link. TEP plans to join others that night to support the GSA.
2. Tuesday, Feb. 9--The Counseling Discrimination bill is up for consideration in the House Health Subcommittee at 1:30 in Legislative Plaza Room 30. Feel free to attend if you are available. Tell the subcommittee to vote NO at this link.
3. Wednesday, Feb. 10--3 items are up for consideration that day.
(a) The Counseling Discrimination bill is up for consideration in the Senate Health and Welfare Committee at 12:30 in Room 12. We encourage you to attend in RED. RSVP here. Sign the petition against the bill here.
(b) Rep. Susan Lynn and Rep. Jeremy Durham's resolution opposing marriage equality is up for a vote in the House Civil Justice Subcommittee at 3:00 p.m. in Legislative Plaza Room 31. We encourage you to attend in RED. RSVP for the event here. Sign the petition against the resolution here.
(c) Rep. Holt's marriage caption bill that will probably become an anti-marriage equality bill is up in the House Civil Justice Subcommittee at 3:00 in Legislative Plaza Room 31. What do we mean by a caption bill? A caption bill is filed so that it opens a section of the Tennessee Code. What often happens is that legislators file a caption bill and then change it to do something else when they get to committee. Why would we think this is a caption bill? We think so because 5 similar bills have been filed this year that adjust the amount of time people have to turn in a marriage license. Has there been a sudden public outcry about that issue? No, so we rightly suspect that the bill is being used to carry some other marriage issue. All those filing such bills have publicly opposed marriage equality. Rep. Holt did so in a statement on June 26 when the Supreme Court made its ruling.
If you don't believe us that this is probably going to turn into an anti-marriage equality bill, we'll be glad to discuss with you the 5 other similar caption bills and you can make up your own mind. Contact us at email@example.com . Better safe than sorry, though, right?
We ask you to attend the meeting in RED. RSVP at the link.
If you would like to support our legislative advocacy work, go to this link.
Thank you for all you do to advance equality in Tennessee.
February 3, 2016: Nashville, TN--The Tennessee Equality Project thanks the Metropolitan Council of Nashville and Davidson County for passing a pro-marriage equality resolution last night at their regular meeting. The resolution was passed on voice vote and, according to observers, was unanimous by those Council Members on the floor at the time the vote was taken. The resolution easily passed the confirmation and rules committee with only one abstention prior to going to the floor of the Council for a vote.
Among those joining lead sponsor Council Member Nancy VanReece were the following cosponsors: Council Members Brett Withers, Burkley Allen, Bob Mendes, Dave Rosenberg, Fabian Bedne, Michael Freeman, Mina Johnson, Scott Davis, Colby Sledge, John Cooper, and Erica Gilmore. Others may have been added just prior to the Council meeting.
The resolution is the first of its kind in Tennessee. County commissions around the state have been considering anti-marriage equality resolutions since the fall of 2015. For a breakdown of county anti-marriage equality resolutions and anti-marriage equality state legislation before the General Assembly, go to this link.
The Tennessee Equality Project thanks Metro Council Member Nancy VanReece for introducing the first pro-marriage equality resolution by a county government in Tennessee. You can read it here.
Other co-sponsors so far include Council Members Brett Withers, Burkley Allen, Bob Mendes, Dave Rosenberg, Fabian Bedne, Michael Freeman, Mina Johnson, and Scott Davis. TEP is grateful for their support as well.
Assuming the resolution passes in committee, it will be up for consideration by the full Council on Feb 16. Please, join us in RED for that event.
For information on county anti-marriage equality resolutions considered in 2015 and 2016, go to this map.
All of the gumbo teams are winners in the eyes of Tennessee Equality Project, but the judges and people tasting the gumbos had to make difficult choices on who was the best.
Five (5) judges scored each team’s gumbo on a 1 to 5 point-scale for aroma, consistency, taste and aftertaste. The points awarded by each judge was added (the highest possible score = 100 = 20 points x 5 judges).
The People's Choice Gumbo was judged only by public vote. The gumbo with the most votes became the winner of this competition. Unfortunately, the total vote counts for the People's Choice competition for all team gumbos were lost during clean-up after the event.Read more
No human being can be 100% consistent, but it's painful to learn that Rep. Jeremy Durham, who resigned as Tennessee House Majority Whip over the weekend, is a co-prime sponsor of an anti-marriage equality resolution in the Legislature.
We can't stop hypocrisy from popping up in the Legislature, but we can speak out about resolutions that attack our community. Please, add your name as a co-sponsor to the People's Resolution against all this legislative whining about marriage.
January 25--Up to four county anti-marriage equality resolutions may be up for consideration across Tennessee today. Click on the link for each county for details.
Hawkins County--9:00 a.m. Eastern Time in Rogersville. We could not confirm the meeting is still on due to weather considerations.
Unicoi County--6:00 p.m. Eastern Time in Erwin. We have heard the resolution has been pulled from the agenda, but the Commission could still suspend the rules and introduce it at the last minute.
Washington County--6:00 p.m. Eastern Time in Jonesborough. Expect a big crowd in RED.
Hickman County--7:00 p.m. Central Time in Centerville.
***If you are able to attend any of these events, please, do so in RED if possible to show opposition to these divisive, discriminatory resolutions.
A host of new anti-LGBT bills have been filed over the last two days in Tennessee. Here are a few:
1. Anti-transgender student bathroom bill. Filed by Rep. Susan Lynn and Sen. Mike Bell, the bill would require students to use the restrooms and changing rooms that correspond to gender on their birth certificates.
2. RFRA/Limited Turn the Gays Away bill. Filed by Rep. Holt and Sen. Bowling, the bill would "protect" any member of the clergy, religious institution, or organization controlled by a religious institution from having to solemnize any marriage they disagree with or providing services in connection with any marriage they disagree with.
3. Marriage bills. A general nullification bill that is clearly inspired by the marriage issue, again filed by Rep. Pody and Sen. Beavers. Various caption bills that seem to deal with other issues, but could actually be shell bills that can be amended to become attacks on marriage equality later. We should be watching to see what they become. This one is by Rep. Timothy Hill and Sen. Bailey. This one is by Rep. Matthew Hill and Sen. Southerland. This one is by Rep. Hulsey and Sen. Bowling. This one is by Rep. Rogers and Sen. Beavers. This one is by Rep. Womick and Rep. Beavers. This one by Rep. Holt and Sen. Bailey. And this troublesome bill by Rep. Van Huss and Sen. Bowling that prevents public officials from solemnizing marriages. This makes it harder for people who aren't members of congregations (of every sexual orientation and gender identity) to get married. Here's a resolution by Rep. Lynn expressing disagreement with the Supreme Court's marriage ruling.
4. Marriage and gender identity all in one bill. Here's a bill by Rep. Sparks and Sen. Beavers that not only defines husband and wife in government documents, but even more fundamentally male and female. It makes documents that don't adhere to these definitions void. This is another vicious attack on the transgender community.
5. A new form of the counseling discrimination bill is back and it applies to more than just students this time. Filed by Sen. Jack Johnson and Rep. Dan Howell, the bill would apply to counselors in private practice and allow them to turn clients away based on sincerely held religious beliefs.
1. Watch for email updates and updates on Facebook on specific bills and take action.
3. Fuel the fight with a small contribution to increase our advocacy efforts.