Massive Marriage Marathon: Tennessee WILL be ready for DAY ONE!

Ready for DAY ONE across TN

Ready for DAY ONE across TN

The preparations have been coming for months. Every day it gets closer. Marriage equality will come to Tennessee! The Tennessee Equality Project Foundation has scheduled information sessions around the state in August to prepare couples, volunteers, and those who would like to solemnize marriages for the first days of this important milestone.

What can you do?

1. Contribute. Your tax deductible contribution at this link makes it possible to invest in the fullest possible implementation of this program.

If you want to make a large contribution, which may come with benefits that lessen your tax deduction, consider these levels:

Wedding Ring Sponsor $2500

*Banner bearing your logo at all Tennessee Ready for Marriage on DAY ONE events
*Named sponsor of Olympus on September 19
*Four Governor level VIP tickets to Olympus wine tasting event on September 19
*Two general admission Olympus tickets
*Name included in email message to over 13,000 names on our email list
*Facebook post announcing your sponsorship to our 9,000 followers
*Logo included on printed materials for information sessions

Wedding Cake Sponsor
$1500
*Two Governor level VIP tickets to Olympus wine tasting event on September 19
*Two general admission Olympus tickets
*Name included in email message to over 13,000 names on our email list
*Facebook post announcing your sponsorship to our 9,000 followers
*Logo included on printed materials for information sessions

Rehearsal Dinner Sponsor
$600

*Two Speaker level VIP tickets to Olympus pre-party on September 19
*Name included in email message to over 13,000 names on our email list
*Name listed in printed materials for information sessions

Engagement Sponsor
$250
*Name included in email message to over 13,000 names on our email list
*Name listed in printed materials for information sessions

2. Participate in one of the sessions around the state

August 9 in Knoxville. RSVP at this link.

August 10 in Johnson City. RSVP at this link.

August 11 in Cookeville. RSVP at this link.

August 16 in Collegedale (Chattanooga area). RSVP at this link.

August 18 in Nashville. RSVP at this link.

August 25 in Memphis. RSVP at this link.

With your help, we can be ready. I hope you’ll join us in August at a session near you.

Comments Off

The Zig-zag of Progress in TN: 10 Years of TEP

Yesterday we celebrated ten years of the Tennessee Equality Project with ice cream sundae socials in Elizabethton, Maryville, Collegedale, Nashville, and Cordova—something that wouldn’t have been possible ten years ago. Check out the pictures here.

We started in Nashville, but we’ve come a long way since then with a presence around the state.

A commitment to geographic diversity presents many challenges, but it is ultimately one of the major strengths of our organization. We’re not everywhere we want to be and it’s something we think about quite a bit. We are sometimes dogged by a sense of inadequacy that we’re not in all 95 counties of Tennessee, but mostly we are spurred on to do more. We’ve been trying to build in a way that is sustainable, and that’s not easy.

Our first county committee was the TEP Shelby County Committee—one that is still going strong. Shelby County has been a source of innovation for TEP, a source of numbers, and a source of leadership.

Having board members and leadership from East, West, and Middle Tennessee sets us apart from many progressive statewide organizations headquartered in Nashville. We want people in all parts of the state to know that TEP belongs to all of us. Trusting the whole state with our leadership yields a return of trust from our members around the state.

If TEP had achieved nothing other than uniting people in East, West, and Middle Tennessee, we would have made an important mark. But, of course, wins and losses matter. We’ve all tortured ourselves asking what else we could have done to beat the marriage amendment at the ballot in 2006 and stop HB600 in 2011. Those were the tough days, and they still haunt me.

Tennesseans need and deserve victories and I’m glad there have been more than a few, especially since 2009. Advancing a number of non-discrimination and partner benefits policies around the state, beating negative bills like Don’t Say Gay and Turn Away the Gays, negotiating a solution to the Mint Springs Farm incident, and many more are events all fair-minded Tennesseans can take pride in.

The past is not something to dwell on, though. The victories that are ahead give us hope and they also keep us up wondering exactly how we’re going to get there. August will see a massive effort around the state to prepare for DAY ONE of marriage equality. We have been developing a new strategy complete with new tactics to advance the Dignity for All Students Act. And we have more plans to work on protections from job discrimination.

We will have more setbacks, too. It would be irresponsible for me to tell you otherwise. Hate crimes, bullying, bad state legislation, putting the Chattanooga non-discrimination/partner benefits ordinance on the ballot, attempts to stall marriage equality, infuriating remarks by elected officials…we are not near the end of the road yet.

All I can do is ask you to continue to work with us as we build a statewide movement for equality that gives our community the power we need to achieve our goals. I’ve been fortunate to know great advocates in every part of Tennessee over the last ten years. I promise you that we’re not alone and that we’re definitely stronger when East, West, and Middle Tennessee’s gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community works together.

Comments Off

Something Finer than Rage–a guest post by Marcus Ellsworth

The following is a reflection by Marcus Ellsworth, Co-Chair of the TEP Hamilton and Bradley Counties Committee

It is infuriating to look at the bigotry that persists in our society. It is served up in polished packages with charming names like “Defense of Marriage” by people in sharp suits who espouse supposedly holy motivations for their efforts. They claim they are on crusades to save us all. They campaign from California to Uganda to devalue the lives of LGBTQ people. Then when violence is carried out against us, they claim sympathy and that they do not condone it, though they will happily quote that our blood is upon us and that the wages of what they weigh as sin is death. This fills us with rage. This fills us with fear. This can fill us with contempt for everyone who even tacitly supports or excuses their perspective and actions. But what happens when we take a moment to extend compassion to those who we often see as our enemies? What happens when we put aside debate in exchange for conversation? What happens when we connect as human beings rather than personifications of ideals and identities?

On August 31st 2013, I was helping to organize Chattanooga’s first Marriage Equality Day Rally as part of Tennessee Equality Project’s statewide push for support for same sex marriage in Tennessee. As we were rushing to set up on the steps of City Hall in the intense August heat, I noticed an older couple standing across the street from us. The husband held a sign that quoted Old Testament condemnation of homosexuality in one hand while he balanced himself on a cane with the other. The wife stood proudly with a stack of pamphlets in her hands, ready to pass them on to anyone who came within arms reach. Our first protesters had arrived.

As I came down the steps, I stopped to check in with Chuck Hill. Chuck was the president of Tennessee Valley Pride at the time and he and his husband Mario had also helped to organize the event. He asked me if I had noticed our onlookers. Upon seeing them, Chuck and I had the same idea. Two older people, one for whom standing so long was obviously not easy, were out in ninety-five degree heat. We formulated a plan to go over to them, bring them at least some water and a couple of chairs and be done with it. We braced ourselves for a debate, but decided to try and focus more on our offers of kindness rather than starting an argument. Their sign, pamphlets, and steely expressions when they looked at us made me uneasy and a little angry. The thought of not trying to help them was simply not an option though. This was the kind of heat that could kill and we were going to be out there for hours.

We were met immediately with quotes from the Bible and offers of prayer that we could turn away from our “sinful” lives. I thanked the wife for her concern then explained that I wasn’t there to ask them to leave or argue or fight. I told her I only wanted to offer them anything to make it easier on them standing there in the sun. I told her I was worried that this heat may be too much for them. Chuck did much the same with the husband, using his fearless demeanor and good humor to his advantage. We went round and round for awhile. She asked if I was saved. She recited passages I have heard shouted or read on signs at every protest on LGBTQ issues I have ever been to. She offered prayers of salvation. All the while, I played my own broken record of offering water, offering chairs, begging her to accept this small kindness.

At one point, we started actually talking to each other. She told me her husband had survived two strokes and she thanked God for his health. I told her about being raised Catholic and how I still consider myself a Christian, but one who does not subscribe to a denomination so I occasionally attend services at churches that I know at least accept me for being gay. That my relationship with God was in tact, but my trust of churches was a broken and troubled thing. She smiled. For a moment, I think we both realized that, had we met under other circumstances, we could probably get along quite well. I said that maybe God was working through a sinner like me to quench their thirst. She responded that perhaps their test was to resist the temptation. I quipped that this whole “mysterious ways” business could be so confusing. She laughed. Chuck and I had to go back across to City Hall to finish setting up. As we turned to leave, she told me she thought I was a nice young man. She said she wanted God in my life and my heart, that God wanted to be with me and bless me. I told her He was and He has. That I have a loving boyfriend, a wonderful family, and people God has brought into my life as I’ve walked the path of being an openly gay man whom I would have never met otherwise. She smiled thinly and as I turned around, I heard her starting to pray.

Throughout the rally, I noticed that from time to time the husband would lower his sign and hold it behind his back. Particularly while Chuck or I were speaking. I took note of it, but didn’t know what to make of it. While other protesters lurked around in a Grim Reaper costume, shouted condemnation, and waved Bibles and prayerful hands at those attending the rally; they stood mostly in silence.

November of 2013 saw controversy in Chattanooga as the City Council prepared to vote on a LGBT inclusive Non-Discrimination Ordinance paired with a Domestic Partner Benefits Policy. The very ordinance that will now be voted on by Hamilton County residents on August 7th. The first Tuesday night that I entered the City Council’s chamber, I saw the couple sitting near the front row. Before I knew what I was doing, I waved at the woman and her husband and whispered a friendly “Hey! Good to see you!”. What was I thinking? They were the enemy. They had come to stand against equality, fairness, and everything I stand for. Even more surprising, she did the same thing almost simultaneously and her husband chuckled a little at our exchange. It was like we were people who had met once through mutual friends rather than opponents who had met in protest of each other. There was genuine good will between us. Strangely, it really was good to see them. They weren’t faceless protesters, they were only an elderly couple I had tried to help once. I wasn’t a rebellious queer stirring up trouble, I was that nice young man who had offered them water. We were people to each other. We were more than our beliefs and our causes. We were real to each other.

Chuck also spoke with them, at length, before each Council meeting. I kept my conversations with them short. Mostly because I didn’t like how other people on their side looked at us when we spoke to each other in obviously friendly conversational tones. Those looks made me uncomfortable and I didn’t want to cause them any problems. They didn’t make it to all of the meetings leading up to the vote. A few at the start, where they seemed much more reserved than their comrades, and the final vote when City Council voted to pass the ordinance. As everyone filed out of the meeting, the opponents to the ordinance looked either angry or disheartened. There was an air of apprehensive celebration among supporters. I saw the couple as they left and I couldn’t read their expressions. They certainly weren’t happy, but they didn’t look angry or forlorn either. I caught their eyes and they smiled weakly at me. The husband nodded slightly in acknowledgment. The wife looked away and held tightly onto her husband as she helped him out of the building.

Did these exchanges turn them into hardcore LGBTQ activists? No. Did it bring about a change in how their church views these issues? Of course not. But it may have softened their resolve. We were almost acquaintances. Under different circumstances, we could possibly have been friends. They could have sincerely invited me to their church. I could have invited them to events to get to know the community better. That didn’t happen, but something good still happened. It makes me recall small unexpected acts of kindness across these battle lines of protest and progress. A queer activist helped to jump start the car of an attendee of a Focus On The Family event in Nashville. Protesters helped an elderly woman to cross the street when she accidentally wound up on the wrong side of the protest lines. A Christian protester crossed the lines to express their condolences for a parent who had lost their child to suicide before deciding to go home and leave the issue alone for the time being.

Each of these moments illustrates the simple truth that most people at least want to be good, decent, and loving. This instinct is often abused by oppressive systems when those in authority convince their followers that the hate they demand be shared and spread is done out of love and for the greater good. They thrive off of our anger and outrage, because it keeps us from connecting to those good and kind folks who they have sold their lies to. But when we connect through acts of compassion or we find ways to understand each other, they start losing ground. It’s harder to be enthusiastic about condemning someone you see as your equal. Eventually, it becomes unthinkable to support anything that might hurt them because they are people just like you.

I have responded to hate and bigotry with rage. I have ranted, railed, debated, denounced, and shamed many a hateful protester and preacher. After, I have only ever felt that rage. But when I found myself accidentally relating to a couple of kind but misguided elders and saw them soften in their own resolve against us, that felt like a small victory.

We have a capacity for something those who oppose LGBTQ equality do not. We can forgive. We can reach out with true compassion. We can turn their hate for us into sympathy for them being used by a malicious political machine. We can bring humanity and humility to this issue. It may sound crazy to extend a helping hand to people who talk about us being inferior, broken, criminal, or sick; but it is certainly better than perpetuating anger and pain. We can offer something finer than rage. We can offer kindness. It may win us some allies. It may soften some hearts. That would be fantastic. But truly, it may only help some of us to heal as we realize we can lessen the power of their transphobic and homophobic poison for at least a moment.

We can remind them and each other that we are all human. We all know pain. We all know struggle. We all need kindness and compassion from others to truly thrive. We suffer under bigotry, but so do many of them. Some of them are members of our LGBTQ community or know and love members of our community. Some of them are simply looking for a reason to not perpetuate the hate they are fed by pastors, family members, and political leaders. We can give them that reason. It has been said before yet must be repeated: Only love can conquer hate.

So, yeah, I’m asking all of us to love our enemies. It’s not a new or innovative idea. Not by a long shot. But it is still a revolutionary act that can change the world.

“Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong,

but always strive to do what is good

for each other and for everyone else”

-Thessalonians 5:15

Comments Off

The End of ENDA: If we’re moving on, we’ve got some questions to face

CookevilleRally

I have spent a good part of the last 24 hours digesting and discussing the announcement that many national organizations have stopped supporting the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA). The reasons cited center on the broad religious exemptions that the bill would have granted that have been reconsidered in light of the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Hobby Lobby case.

I had questions when these announcements started streaming out and maybe you did, too. There was a lot of celebration on Facebook among those who even noticed the announcement. But our celebrations should be rather short lived. A big chunk of our community has made a bold statement. Now what happens? Let’s go through a few questions.

1. Would the present/old ENDA have passed? Might it still? It’s hard to say. It passed the Senate. Support had been growing in the Republican House. Speaker Boehner has said he wouldn’t let the bill come to a vote. Is that blustering or a hard position? It may be an academic question, but for now some groups are still working for the bill.

2. What replaces ENDA? A new and improved ENDA with narrower religious exemptions is one option that is being considered. Some are also arguing for adding sexual orientation and gender identity to the 1964 Civil Rights Act. That would cover not only employment but also public accommodations and other categories. That is definitely a dream bill for the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community. But these options present more questions.

3. If the religious exemptions were designed to secure more votes–Democratic and Republican–for the bill and if we narrow the exemptions, how do we build the political will to get the votes? What is the plan? We can’t expect the plan to appear magically, of course, the day after the announcement. But it’s a natural place for our community and allies to spend some time over the coming days.

4. Are there dangers in amending the 1964 Civil Rights Act with this Congress or the next? If the law were opened up, might the far Right water down the whole piece of legislation? That’s a concern raised by John Aravosis in this piece. And it strikes me as a concern that might be quietly and then loudly voiced by many of our progressive allies once we got into the meat of that option. Do we deserve sexual orientation and gender identity added to the 1964 Civil Rights Act? Of course. The political philosophy of the whole thing is easy. It’s the political path that is complicated.

5. How long is this going to take? That’s the question that worries me. I can easily see it taking more than five years, but I don’t have the gift of prophecy. However much time it takes, it will take work.

6. What are our options in Tennessee? Some states and cities already have comprehensive human rights statutes and ordinances. We don’t. We’re not likely to get them in the next few years without a massive infusion of resources and an epic awakening of our community and allies. So what can we do? We can continue to work on local non-discrimination ordinances. If the Howe v. Haslam challenge to the 2011 House Bill 600 case is successful, we can pursue contractor non-discrimination ordinances here again. We can be a part of the national effort that coalesces around whatever options emerge in the new Congress on federal legislation. And we can consider another option.

7. More litigation. One federal judge has already said that discrimination based on sexual orientation IS sex discrimination under existing law. The EEOC is already looking at gender identity discrimination as sex discrimination. Maybe we need more cases and case law here. Of course, we would all be on a firmer footing with a statute backing us up. But until we get the ideal law in place, we have a duty to do what we can to protect people from discrimination using other means, and we should explore the options.

What we don’t have time to do is celebrate, blame, or fight with one another. Tennessee gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people in the workforce have very little to shield us and we’ve got to figure out how to change that.

Comments Off

Equality advocates, register to vote TODAY if you want to vote on August 7

That’s right. Today is the last day to register to vote if you want to be eligible to vote on August 7. We need more gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and allied people in Tennessee to register to vote and turn out.

1. Why does it matter? August 7 is the county general and the state primary election. In the county general election, you will have the opportunity to vote for judges and a variety of county offices like sheriff, county clerk, and many others. In the state primary, you will have the opportunity to vote in a party primary on candidates for state legislative offices and U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives. The Legislature determines what happens to bills like “Turn the Gays Away,” the Dignity for All Students Act, and “Don’t Say Gay.” The U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives vote on bills like the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA).

2. It really matters in Chattanooga. Voters will go to the polls to decide whether to keep the recently passed non-discrimination/partner benefits ordinance. We need every Chattanoogan who can be reached to vote YES. Learn more about the campaign and how to volunteer at this link.

3. How can you register? It’s easy. Take a look at this map and find your county. When you click on your county, you will find contact information on your county election commission.

4. You’re already registered? That’s great. You will still want to check in with your county election commission if you have moved since the last time you voted for an update on your districts. And you can always share this information with someone who isn’t registered to vote.

Let’s turn out the gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and allied vote on August 7 and every election after that. VOTE EVERY TIME!

Comments Off

YES Chattanooga: The most important campaign for Tennessee’s LGBT community this August

YESChattanooga

YES Chattanooga–if you live outside Chattanooga, you may not have heard of it. It’s the campaign to keep Chattanooga’s non-discrimination/partner benefits ordinance, and it’s on the ballot this August.

Passed in 2013, the non-discrimination/partner benefits ordinance was attacked by Tea Party activists and placed on the ballot in an effort to undo these important protections and benefits for hard-working city employees.

Why is this campaign the most important item on the ballot for Tennessee’s LGBT community? Does it matter to people outside Chattanooga?

ABSOLUTELY!

1. It is the only measure on the ballot in Tennessee in August that could result in protections and benefits being taken away from LGBT people.

2. If the campaign to take away these benefits and protections is successful, it could spread. It might give encouragement to similar campaigns in Collegedale, Knoxville, and Nashville where partner benefits are also offered to city employees.

3. We’re all in this together in Tennessee. Chattanoogans fought hard for all of us against the Turn the Gays Away bill in the Legislature this year. That bill would have affected all of us. We have an opportunity to show solidarity with them.

HOW CAN I HELP?

You can help several ways.

1. If you’re in the Chattanooga area or willing to go, here is a list of upcoming volunteer opportunities for the campaign.

2. If you’re in Nashville, attend the celebration of the Windsor decision anniversary this coming Thursday and support the campaign financially. Here’s the link to the Facebook event. The event takes place at Tribe at 6:00 p.m.

3. Wherever you live, inside or outside Tennessee, send a contribuiton. Make your check payable to YES Chattanooga and send it to P.O. Box 707, Chattanooga, TN 37401.

Let’s all stand with Chattanooga from now to August! It’s a great way to help all of Tennessee’s LGBT community.

YES Chattanooga is a ballot measure committee registered with the Hamilton County Election Commission. Ray Boswell, treasurer. Contributions are not deductible for purposes of federal income tax.

Comments Off