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.

The good, the bad, and the bizarre: Recap of anti-equality legislation for Feb. 10

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.

Huge week for equality advocacy in Tennessee: What to know, what to do!

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 hereSign 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 info@tnep.org . 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.

TEP thanks the Metro Nashville Council for passing a pro-marriage equality resolution last night



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.

A pro-marriage equality resolution introduced in Nashville/Davidson County

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.

Final Scores for the TEP Gumbo Contest 2016

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

Embattled Rep. Durham a co-prime sponsor of resolution attacking Supreme Court marriage ruling

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.

He has been accused of sending inappropriate text messages to women.

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.

Four county anti-marriage equality resolutions up for consideration in Tennessee today

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.


Anti-transgender, RFRA, anti-marriage equality bills filed in TN Legislature

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. SoutherlandThis one is by Rep. Hulsey and Sen. BowlingThis one is by Rep. Rogers and Sen. BeaversThis 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.

2. Make plans to join us for Advancing Equality Day on the Hill on March 8.

3. Fuel the fight with a small contribution to increase our advocacy efforts.

Make calls to the Carter County Commission to fight the resolution

Tomorrow (Tuesday) morning, the Carter County Commission is considering an anti-marriage equality resolution at 9:00 a.m.

*Can you attend in RED to show your opposition?  RSVP at the link.

*Do you have time today to call the Carter County Commissioners and ask them to vote NO on the resolution?  If so, here's a script you can adapt with contact information.  Leaving a message is fine.  :

"Commissioner ___________________, my name is _________________, and I live in ___________________.  Please, vote NO on the marriage resolution that comes before the commission tomorrow.  I believe it is divisive and discriminatory.  It hurts people I know and care about it, and it tarnishes the image of Carter County.  Thank you for considering my views."

1st District - Hunter, Midway, and Unaka communities

Willie Campbell
101 Little Stoney Rd.
Elizabethton, TN 37643

1st District

(423) 547-0085

Buford Peters
371 Peters Hollow Rd.
Elizabethton, TN 37643

1st District

(423) 297-0059

Robert Acuff
126 Wilshire Dr.
Elizabethton, TN 37643

1st District

(423) 794-6770


2nd District - Hampton, Roan Mountain, and Tiger Valley

Nancy J. Brown
147 Smith Branch Road
Roan Mountain, TN 37687

2nd District

(423) 772-4719

Mike Hill
335 Bear Cage Rd.
Roan Mountain, TN 37687

2nd District

(828) 265-9974

Al Meehan
136 Mountain View Cr.
Hampton, TN 37658

2nd District

(423) 895-1023


3rd District - Central, Keenburg, and Range

Bradley Johnson
501 Dogwood Lane
Watauga, TN 37694

3rd District

(423) 542-8149

Ronnie Trivett
107 S. C. Slagle Road
Elizabethton, TN 37643

3rd District

(423) 542-4534

Charles Von Cannon
198 Von Cannon Drive
Johnson City, TN 37601

3rd District

(423) 202-7677


4th District - Courthouse, Eastside, and Siam Communities

Isaiah Grindstaff
1267 Charity Hill Rd.
Elizabethton, TN 37643

4th District

(423) 707-1140

L. C. Tester
934 DeJarnette Street
Elizabethton, TN 37643

4th District

(423) 547-2884

Danny Ward
124 Overstone Dr.
Elizabethton, TN 37643

4th District

(423) 213-8537


5th District - Happy Valley

Ross Garland
1406 Milligan Hwy.
Johnson City, TN 37601

5th District

(423) 943-2380

Bobbie Gouge-Dietz
138 Wildwood Drive
Johnson City, TN 37601

5th District

(423) 926-9824

Timothy Holdren
156 Toll Branch Rd.
Johnson City, TN 37601

5th District

(423) 444-2266


6th District - Hampton, Little Milligan, Elk Mills, Valley Forge

Randall Jenkins
124 Ross Jenkins Cr.
Elizabethton, TN 37643

6th District

(423) 647-8464

John G. Lewis
P.O. Box 182
Hampton, TN 37658

6th District

(423) 725-2453

Larry Doc Miller
140 Green Hollow Rd.
Butler, TN 37640

6th District

(423) 768-3185


7th District - Gap Creek

Sonja Culler
113 Marsh Lane
Elizabethton, TN 37643

7th District

(423) 542-8020

Ray Lyons
237 McKeehan Ridge Rd.
Elizabethton, TN 37643

7th District

(423) 677-7896

Scott Simerly
398 Max Jett Rd.
Johnson City, TN 37601

7th District

(423) 542-0442


8th District - Elizabethton High School, Harold McCormick

Robert Carroll
713 West D St.
Elizabethton, TN 37643

8th District

(423) 543-0271

Robert L. Gobble
400 M Street
Elizabethton, TN 37643

8th District

(423) 542-5127

Cody McQueen
309 E. Mill St.
Elizabethton, TN 37643

8th District

(423) 213-6396

Gratefully yours,

Chris Sanders
Executive Director

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