Legislative Update: Yesterday's action and #TnHateWeek continues

Yesterday the House Health Subcommittee recommended passage of HB1840, the Counseling Discrimination bill, with another amendment.  This one differs from the Senate amendments.  It substitutes "principles" for "religious beliefs."  It's bad that the bill is advancing.  But if it must advance, it is good that it got amended in a way that differs from the Senate version of the bill that passed recently.  To become law, Senate and House versions have to be identical.

We got more time on HB2414, the anti-transgender student bathroom bill yesterday when the House Education Administration and Planning Subcommittee couldn't get to it.  If they had, it probably would have passed. 

#TnHate week continues today with SB1912, a bill to take funding away from UT-Knoxville diversity efforts and divert them to putting "In God We Trust" on law enforcement vehicles. 


Over 75 Tennessee clergy oppose HB2414, the anti-transgender student bathroom bill

February 28, 2016

Contact:  Chris Sanders, 615-390-5252, chris@tnequalityproject.com

Nashville, TN--The Tennessee Equality Project (TEP) announced today that more than 75 Tennessee ministers and rabbis have added their names to a letter opposing HB2414 up for consideration on March 1 in the House Education Administration and Planning Subcommittee.

The bill restricts Tennessee public K-12 and higher education students to restrooms and changing rooms that correspond to the gender on their birth certificates.  The bill, like others across the country, targets transgender and gender non-conforming students.

The clergy letter reads: 

As clergy serving people of faith in Tennessee, we oppose HB2414/SB2387. This legislation is detrimental to transgender students by exposing them to violence and increasing the likelihood that they will drop out of school or take their own lives.  Faith teaches us to cherish all people, especially those targeted by legislation that fails to recognize them as they are and subjects them to harm.  We respectfully call on the Tennessee General Assembly to reject this bill.

"Clergy in East, West, and Middle Tennessee are speaking out against this bill because at the heart of morality is how we treat those who are already marginalized," notes TEP executive director Chris Sanders.  "Transgender and gender non-conforming students already face significant bullying from their peers.  It is devastating when legislators pile on with laws targeting them."

For a full list of clergy who have added their names to the letter, go to this link


Can WE talk about morality and HB2414, the anti-transgender student bathroom bill?

The LGBT community may have a well placed suspicion when it comes to discussions of morality because the language of morality has so often been used to justify beating up on us. 

A caricature of the divide:  We actually do talk about morality.  We often talk about it terms of consequences.  In other words, we typically say, "Here's what will happen if you adopt this sort of legislation."  And there are good reasons to do so when those consequences are people taking their own lives, dropping out of school, having poor health, experiencing unemployment and homelessness, and so on.  We should never lose our ability to talk about the consequences whether we use statistics or stories.  Both matter.  Both communicate the problem. 

Our opponents talk about consequences, too, though the consequences they talk about exist in the fantasy/nightmare realm and not in reality.  They imagine all kinds of bizarre outcomes from sharing showers, bathrooms, and changing rooms with LGBT people.  Those imaginations take particularly brutal turns when it comes to the transgender community as we have seen again and again.  So our opponents talk about consequences, just not evidence based consequences.

The difference is that our opponents think they are also using the moral language of principle, though I don't think they actually succeed, whereas I think often our side doesn't do so.  Sometimes our only principle seems to be "discrimination is wrong," which is true, as far as it goes.  But there is more to say.  So we could do more to shore up our side of the argument.

What we could be adding to our argument from a moral point of views?:  We could spend more time asking and answering some of the basic questions of morality, which is not a mere list of rights and wrongs.  The big questions of morality are issues like "What is the good life?" and "How do we know what's right or wrong?"

In the Western tradition, "Know thyself" has been at the heart of the quest for the moral life, even as Western society has failed miserably at operationalizing that quest.  But it's still right idea.  That maxim is particularly relevant to the set of issues in the transgender student bathroom bill debate.

Bringing the matter to the topic before us, we need to ask exactly how Rep. Susan Lynn knows who belongs in which restroom and what that has to do with her self-knowledge and the self-knowledge of transgender students.  What are her methods really--inspection of a piece of paper, inspection of culturally derived gender stereotypes like clothing or hairstyle, inspection of body parts that she assumes correspond with only one gender but not any others?  Take a minute to think through exactly how a regime could be put in place to enforce a rule that requires any of those three kinds of evidence to enter a restroom.

Moral knowledge is about guidelines we make or discover for ourselves and how we will interact with others based on what we know about ourselves.  Moral rules are not guesses we make about others that are then imposed on them.  Such guesswork precisely removes moral agency from others and becomes, by definition, immoral through the use of compulsion and arbitrary application.

Morality recognizes that each person is seeking and finding varying levels of self-knowledge. Morality recognizes that one will know more about oneself than others will.  To bring that point back to the bill, no matter how smart and experienced Rep. Lynn may be, she actually can't know better than a transgender student which bathroom is best and safest and most fitting for a transgender student.  And in the absence of bad outcomes resulting from those students making their own choices, they really ought to get to continue making those choices without the interference of state law and whatever bizarre enforcement mechanisms might come with such a law.

That is really why this bill opens a set of moral questions.  So we need to be prepared to talk about them.

Clergy against HB2414, the anti-transgender student bathroom bill

StatementAs clergy serving people of faith in Tennessee, we oppose HB2414/SB2387. This legislation is detrimental to transgender students by exposing them to violence and increasing the likelihood that they will drop out of school or take their own lives.  Faith teaches us to cherish all people, especially those targeted by legislation that fails to recognize them as they are and subjects them to harm.  We respectfully call on the Tennessee General Assembly to reject this bill.

Signed by

Rev. Laura Bogle, Maryville

Rev. Janet Wolf, Nashville

Rev. Dr. Diana L. Hynson, Nashville

Rev. Beth A. Richardson, Nashville

Rev. Pamela Hawkins, Nashville

Rabbis Philip and Laurie Rice, Brentwood

Rev. Lisa Gwok, Nashville

Rev. Emily Reeves Grammer, Madison

Bishop Melvin G. Talbert, retired, Nashville

Rev. Billy Vaughan,

Rev. Jim Hughes, Forest Hills

Rev. Deven Hazlewood, Johnson City

Rev. Bryan Currie, Nashville

Rev. Kevin Mitchell, Murfreesboro

Rev. Dave McIntyre, retired, Coffee County

Rev. J. Peter van Eys, Nashville

Rev. Judi Hoffman, Nashville

Rev. Heather Harriss, Nashville

Rev. Cynthia Andrews-Looper, Memphis

Rev. Adam Kelchner, Nashville

Bishop Patrick Potts, Johnson City

Rev. Heather Godsey, Knoxville

Rev. Kira M. Schlesinger, Lebanon

Rev. Thomas Kleinert, Nashville

Rev. Jacqueline Luck, Johnson City

Rev. Mark C. Pafford, Cookeville

Rev. Tim Kobler, Knoxville

Rabbi Joshua Barton, Nashville

Rev. Paul Slentz, Nashville

Rev. Chris Buice, Knoxville

Rev. Elaine Blanchard, Memphis

Rev. Robert Coleman, Nashville

Rev. Ken Carroll, Chattanooga

Rev. Ted McEachern, Nashville

Rev. Susan A. Gray, Nashville

Rev. Dr. Bruce W. Spangler, Knoxville

Rev. Mary Louise McCullough, Nashville

Rev. Robert L. Early, Middle TN Presbytery, retired

Rev. Michael Williams, Nashville

Rev. Barbara Garcia, retired, Nashville

Rev. Theodore McKnight, retired, Pleasant Hill

Rev. Scott M. Williamson, Cookeville

Rev. John Feldhacker, Nashville

Rev. Will Berger, Franklin

Rev. Dr. Rik Rouquie, Nashville

Rev. Susan Groseclose, Nashville

Rabbi Joshua Kullock, Nashville

Rev. Slade Kyle, Memphis

Rev. Floridia Jackson, Memphis

Rev. Allison Hancock, Memphis

Rabbi John Kaplan, Memphis

Rev. Ken Edwards, Nashville

Rev. Ingrid McIntrye, Nashville

Rev. Dr. Susan Bond, Jackson

Rev. Greg Bullard, Madison

Rev. Christine Grace, Chattanooga

Rev. Amy Roberts, Memphis

Rev. Gordon D. Gibson, Knoxville

Rev. Stacey Hamilton, Murfreesboro

Rev. Viki Matson, Nashville

Rev. Don Steele, Elizabethton

Rev. Joseph Dowlingsoka, Chattanooga

Rev. Patrick Handlson, Cookeville

Rev. Brandon Gilvin, Chattanooa

Rev. Nancy Speas Hill, Franklin

Rev. Judith Meyer, Knoxville

Rev. Annie McClure, Middle TN Presbytery

Jon Coffee, Ministerial intern, Knoxville

Kate Fields, Minister in training, Old Hickory

Rev. Jill Sizemore, Knoxville

Rev. Mark Flynn, Chattanooga

Rev. Margaret Prigmore Lewis, Goodlettsville

Rev. Phildora Prigmore Lewis, Goodlettsville

Rev. Beth Lefever, Cordova

Rev. Schaap Freeman, Johnson City

Rev. Jake Morrill, Oak Ridge

Teresa Kim Pecinovsky, Nashville

James Waldrop

Rev. Steve Wolf, Clarksville

Rev. John Gill, Knoxville

Rev. Dr. Dan Rosemergy, Nashville

If you are a member of the clergy serving people in Tennessee and would like to sign your name to this statement, contact us at chris@tnequalityproject.com .

BREAKING: Anti-transgender student bathroom bill on notice for March 1

HB2414, the anti-transgender student bathroom bill is on notice for March 1 in the House Education Administration and Planning Subcommittee.  We will be receiving talking points on the bill from Tennessee Transgender Political Coalition.

We urge our members to consider attending the meeting on March 1 at 3:00 p.m. in Legislative Plaza room 29.  It is currently the 20th bill on the calendar, so there is no guarantee the subcommittee will get to it.  But they can jump around on the agenda, so be prepared.

TEP condemns this bill as devastating to transgender students in public K-12 schools and public colleges and universities in Tennessee. 

TEP celebrates failure of Washington County anti-marriage equality resolution

Contact:  Chris Sanders, (615) 390-5252 or chris@tnequalityproject.com

Nashville, TN--The Tennessee Equality Project celebrates the failure of the Washington County anti-marriage equality resolution, which lacked the votes for a constitutional majority in the early hours of February 23.

In a meeting that ran over 6 hours and included approximately 50 speakers on both sides of the resolution, citizens of Washington County debated the Bible and the Constitution, morality and inclusion, and different understanding of family.

TEP congratulates all those who showed up in red to oppose the resolution and to speak against it.  We also thank those county commissioners who spoke and voted against the measure. 

The Washington County resolution is the first in Northeast Tennessee to come up for a vote and fail.  Greene, Johnson, Hawkins, and Sullivan Counties have passed similar resolutions in recent months.  For a map of anti-marriage equality resolutions and their fates around the state, go to this link.  The Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County passed a pro-marriage equality resolution in February.


A letter of solidarity to our friends in Washington County

Dear friends who are part of the LGBT and Ally community in Washington County,

As your county commission gathers tonight to consider an anti-marriage equality resolution, equality advocates across Tennessee hold you in our thoughts. 

You do not deserve the kind of local government that would question and attack the basic human rights of any segment of the population.  But when faced with just such a challenge, you have risen to meet it with dignity and community spirit.

Your presence was so strong at the last meeting that it caused the county commission meeting to adjourn.  Your presence tonight, whatever the outcome, is a profound witness to the values of equality and inclusion in a state that desperately needs such a visible manifestation.

Your strength, your organizing skills, and your determination inspire us all.  People in Memphis, Jackson, Nashville, Murfreesboro, Clarksville, Cookeville, Chattanooga, Knoxville, Maryville, and everywhere in between are watching you with pride today.

Win or lose, you are heroes of the movement for equality in Tennessee. 

So on behalf of the boards of the Tennessee Equality Project and the TEP Tri-Cities Committee Chair Amy Williams, who will be with you this evening, I want to thank you for the incredible work you are doing.

Gratefully yours,

Chris Sanders

Executive Director

Tennessee Equality Project

Taking a look at media coverage of the Counseling Discrimination bill: What's great and what's lacking

Sometimes you have to take a minute to stand back from an issue and take a look at how it's being talked about.  We're at that point with the SB1556/HB1840, the Counseling Discrimination bill.  Here are some things I'm noticing.

Tennessee coverage:  First, the Tennessee media have provided strong coverage of the bill, which is a real positive for citizens of the state.  State legislation can be really hard for most citizens to follow, but the state's media have done a fine job of taking a look at the bill at every stage so far.  You can find some of the coverage here

National coverage:  I'd say more about this topic, except there hasn't been much national coverage.  Understandably and rightly, there has been significant coverage of the South Dakota anti-transgender student bathroom bill, the Kentucky bill that provides separate marriage licenses for same-sex and different-sex couples, and the Georgia First Amendment Defense Act.  So the national LGBT community probably doesn't realize what we're up against with this bill or that they'll likely see it at some point in their states.  Unfortunately for Tennessee, when there is less national coverage, there is less national help. 

Who's for the bill vs who's against it:  Sen. Jack Johnson is frequently quoted in the press defending the bill.  It's his bill and he should be the one making the case for it so that makes sense.  I respect the fact that he is available to the media to do so.  But where are the counselors whom he says he's representing?  Why are none of them speaking out for the bill?  It makes one wonder whether they exist or whether they know how to make the case for the bill.  It would be helpful for the media to press for answers to this question about the identity of the bill's proponents and interview some of them.  That would help advance the debate.

Speaking of the debate, it continues on Tuesday when the bill comes up in the House Health Subcommittee.

Why Caleb Banks opposes HB1840, the Counseling Discrimination bill

Caleb Banks of Rutherford County contacted us about sharing his story of why he opposes HB1840, the Counseling Discrimination bill, which is up for consideration in the House Health Subcommittee on Tuesday.

Here are his words, unchanged by Tennessee Equality Project:

First I’d like to start off by saying, Tennessee is my home state. It’s something I always come back to no matter what. It’s where I was raised, where my family resides and where my husband & I have settled down. I also would like for you to know, I’m also a Gay married 23 yr old college student. I struggle day in and day out to make ends meet. I work hard for what I have accomplished and I am determined to be the best I can be. Like so many LGBT citizens in Tennessee I have struggles. Those struggles go left unheard because those around me choose not to listen or care. I also was a mental health patient for many years during my youth. At age 5 diagnosed with ADHD and depression at age 6.

Over the years I became more secluded from my peers, distancing myself afraid of not being normal. At the age of 6 I knew I was different. Taking a liking to boys more so over girls in class. I would think about how odd I was to not be like the “normal” kids. How I would be treated by the other kids on the playground if I had ever openly said I liked a boy in my class.

As my youth is coming mid-way I notice a lot more changes as most teens do in these early stages of puberty, mine somehow, felt different. I didn’t feel normal. I didn’t think I could be accepted. Hearing hurtful words like “fag, fudge packer” and a bunch of other hurtful words. As a kid, it does more than punches. It leaves a mark on you that you can never heal from, an open wound for decades to come.
That was all too real when I turned 15. I didn’t feel that I could turn to anyone, no one could help. I sealed my fate and let it just be. I took a belt tied it around the metal in my closet and wrapped it around my neck then sat as the belt tightened. I felt this way was the best for everyone around me. Little did I know this was no way to handle your emotions as a child. My mother found me still conscience but just barely.

My mother took me to a therapist who specializes in adolescents. They advised me to go to the mental health hospital in Nashville to seek therapy and then to continue to see her after my treatment was done. My therapist and I spoke, and spoke often. We discussed how I felt as a Gay child and how others in school would bully me, how I thought my distant family felt of me since they no longer spoke to me. The pain I was suffering as a child I felt this was all my fault, when in fact it was not.

A child can think exceptionally dark thoughts. Thoughts that can overwhelm them quickly without the treatment they need. I thankfully was seen twice a month and each month got better, eventually conquering my depression. Without that help, I would NOT be here today. Without that help my immediate family would have suffered their entire lives without a son, brother, cousin, grandson, and nephew. I would have never met my husband of 4 years which of whom suffers from depression himself as well.
HB1840 is not only a tool to promote bigotry in the state of TN it’s also a death sentence to those who are LGBT and suicidal. “Referring” someone to meet with them can be extremely difficult and almost impossible for some. Having limited transportation, or not being able to meet for months at a time with someone who specializes in the needs that they are so desperate to treat.
I’ve spoken to many parents who lost their children to suicide because they didn’t seek treatment in time, most of them… Yes you guessed it right.. LGBT. Any child death is tragic, but a preventable one can hit your stomach even harder to make you not even want to go on.

Our community is bruised and battered, we cry and bleed the same. The only difference? It’s that we aren’t pushing a hateful agenda that tells a community we don’t care that you die.

This not only affects the LGBT community, but this also affects Muslims, Jews, Blacks, Hispanics, and even Christians themselves actually turning the tables on them by anyone opposed to religion. This is life and death these politicians are playing with here. Bullying those who are a minorities seems to be the status quo in Tennessee and enough is enough. The buck stops here. Whether this discrimination bill is passed or not remains to be seen. But even having this as an option on the table is absolutely disgusting in itself. Let’s stop the bullying in Tennessee and show the country we are a progressive state that wants to move forward and not backward.

I’ve been bullied enough. Now it’s time to stop it, before it’s too late for others.

Against a resolution trying to tear down marriage during Valentine's week


Happy Valentine's Day! 

Can you believe that the Legislature is about to go on record supporting a lawsuit that asserts that Tennessee can no longer provide ANY marriage licenses because of the Obergefell v. Hodges Supreme Court ruling?

HJR529 by Rep. Lynn passed 3 to 2 in the House Civil Justice Subcommittee last week.  The resolution is being amended on Tuesday to shift from a simple protest against the Supreme Court ruling to an endorsement of the Family Action Council's lawsuit against the Williamson and Bradley County Clerks to try to get them and then the whole state to stop issuing marriage licenses.

Why does that sound strangely familiar?  Maybe it contains echoes of the original Valentine's Day legend

The emperor had to maintain a strong army, but was having a difficult time getting soldiers to join his military leagues. Claudius believed that Roman men were unwilling to join the army because of their strong attachment to their wives and families.

To get rid of the problem, Claudius banned all marriages and engagements in Rome. Valentine, realizing the injustice of the decree, defied Claudius and continued to perform marriages for young lovers in secret.

I'm not sure whether Rep. Lynn is playing the role of Emperor Claudius or what, but it's really odd when pro-family folks try to prevent everyone from getting married JUST to get back at same-sex couples trying to get married.

While many legislators WILL vote for the resolution, and we expect it to pass, I hope some of them will stop and think what they 're doing.

They are saying it's OK to throw everyone's marriage (who was married on or after June 26) into chaos.  They are endorsing an effort that pesters the clerks and people of Williamson and Bradley Counties by taking up staff time and resources and possibly costing them legal fees as well.

You can find all the members of the House Civil Justice Committee here, wish them a happy Valentine's Day, and urge them to vote NO on HJR529 on Tuesday.

And you can join us in RED on Tuesday at Legislative Plaza to oppose this ridiculous resolution.

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