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 .

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

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.

Evidence that the Counseling Discrimination bill IS about the LGBT community

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.

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