In last night's mayoral debate on WMC-TV, all nine candidates present — Charles Carpenter, Wanda Halbert, AC Wharton, Carol Chumney, Kenneth Whalum, Sharon Webb, Prince Mongo, Jerry Lawler, and Myron Lowery — declared support for a non-discrimination ordinance protecting city of Memphis employees.
News anchor Joe Birch posed the question, but he didn't specifically mention that the ordinance would protect gay and lesbian workers. One would assume that's what he meant since he framed the question by comparing a possible city ordinance to the county ordinance intended to protect LGBT workers that passed earlier this year.
In other LGBT-related mayoral debate news, panelist and Memphis Flyer political reporter Jackson Baker asked candidate Whalum to explain what happened with the two lesbians who claimed they were ejected from his New Olivet Baptist Church last Sunday.
Whalum avoided the question, saying he would "absolutely, positively not" explain what happened.
Whalum went on to say: "You know what happened. Nothing happened out of the ordinary. Find out. Come over there and find out."
I placed a call to New Olivet Baptist Church on Monday, as soon as I'd heard about the incident involving a lesbian couple ejected from pastor and Memphis mayoral candidate Kenneth Whalum's church (see my last post for details). I was told he was out, so I left a message.
Yesterday, I finally received a call from a member of Whalum's church staff. She informed me that Whalum would like me to check his Facebook page for his account of what happened in church service last Sunday that resulted in the ejection of the lesbian couple.
Unfortunately, that's not so easy. Since Whalum has privacy settings on his Facebook page, one must be "friends" with him to view the page. In order to see Whalum's response, I had to request to become his Facebook friend. Only after he approved me (which to his credit was rather quickly) was I able to view his response.
After some digging through comments from his page on Tuesday, I found a few vague responses Whalum had made to comments on his status update: "i'll answer any questions today about "the incident". to quote President Obama..."teachable moment" :-)" Here's the most comprehensive of his answers, given in response to questions posed by commenter Danielle Inez:
Candidate Whalum, do you mind sharing the following: When did you become aware of the incident involving the two women? What was the rest of the congregation doing? What were the women doing when you became aware; it's safe to assume you didn't see everything? What were the people in their immediate vicinity doing when you became aware? How did the ushers respond to the women? How did the security respond to the women? How did the congregation respond to the incident? How did you respond? That's all people need/want to know.
woohoo!!!!! sup d!? great questions: (1) when several members complained to me about the disruptive behavior; (2) the rest of the congregation was WORSHIPING, praying, praising, singing, dancing, crying, laughing, and other general stuff people do at our church; (3) when i became aware, they were shouting obscenities, and waving arms wildly while ... leaving sanctuary; (4) by asking them to quiet down or leave; (5) by asking them to leave because of their increasingly disruptive behavior; (6) by WORSHIPING, praying, praising, singing, dancing, crying, laughing, and other general stuff people do at our church :-) (7) as i always do, by moving forward with the liturgical sequence. Again, GREAT questions. I can't imagine that anyone would need more than that, so I'll hang around a few more minutes, then I'm out. Peace.
While I admire Whalum's embrace of social media, an old-fashioned phone call would have been nice. As a mayoral candidate, I believe he has a responsibility to be accessible to all media outlets, especially in relation to controversial incidents such as this one.
In an effort to learn more about mayoral candidate Kenneth Whalum, Yas Meen and Monique Stevens visited the reverend's New Olivet Baptist Church Sunday morning. But they claim the experience resulted verbal attacks and expulsion from the church.
"I had been having political debates with my partner about who to vote for for mayor. I said Whalum was the man to vote for, and she was going for Herenton," Meen says. "We decided to go to [Whalum's] church to see what he was all about."
Meen says many in the congregation were giving them dirty looks as soon as they sat down. But she says the real trouble started when the women — who are both agnostic — opted out of a "sanctified dance" that supposedly involved congregants dancing in the aisles, laying on the floor to pray, and blowing kisses to God.
"People were telling us we needed to blow kisses, and I said, I don't communicate with my higher power like that," says Meen, who admitted to feeling uncomfortable with New Olivet's unique style of worship. She said Whalum directly called them out for not participating.
Later, when Stevens placed her arm around Meen, the women claim a security guard asked the two to leave the church. He said he'd already called the police. The women allege that a group of about 25 young men pushed them out of the church while others taunted them with calls of "demon" and "devil worshipper." Stevens' glasses were broken and she suffered scratches and bruises.
"I was there to support him as mayor, but he won't be getting my vote now," Meen says. "If he's going to act like that in church, how will he act in front of [the citizens of Memphis]?"
Whalum was not immediately available for comment, but if he does return Flyer phone calls, we'll be certain to update the story at that time.
According to the New Olivet's website, the church offers "compassion and refuge, reaching out to a lost and hurting world that needs salvation and purpose."
For more details, check out Jonathan Cole's blog post on Grand Divisions.
Though the Memphis City Council is holding off on discussing a city-wide non-discrimination ordinance until after the special mayoral election, Nashville is moving full steam ahead.
An ordinance banning discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in Nashville's metro government passed the second reading by the Metro Council last Tuesday night. The vote was 23 to 16, but it must pass one more reading before becoming official. According to the Nashville Scene, a passage on the second reading "usually is tantamount to final approval."
Nashville's Metro Council voted down a proposal to ban discrimination against LGBT city workers in 2003.
For more, check out "Pith In the Wind" on the Nashville Scene's website.
In a city council committee meeting this morning, city councilwoman Janis Fullilove announced that discussion of an employment non-discrimination ordinance for the city of Memphis has been postponed until November 3rd, after the special mayoral election.
The move came at the request of the Tennessee Equality Project (TEP), the LGBT civil rights protection organization behind the ordinance.
At 9 a.m. Tuesday morning, the Memphis City Council's personnel, intergovernmental, and annexation committee is scheduled to discuss an ordinance that would establish employment non-discrimination provisions for sexual orientation and gender identity. The meeting will take place on the fifth floor of City Hall. It's open to the public, but a word of warning — there's not much space for seating in the conference room.
The Shelby County Commission passed a similar employment nondiscrimination ordinance in June.
Last Friday, Memphis Gaydar put out a call for someone to organize a local kiss-in in conjunction with the Great Nationwide Kiss-In. At that time, no locals had stepped up to take part in the multi-city demonstration.
Since then, Jo Williams of the Mid-South Peace & Justice Center has organized a Memphis Kiss-In to be held at Poplar and Highland on Saturday, August 15th from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m.
Gay and straight folks are encouraged to come out and participate in the synchronized smooch, which will take place at similar demonstrations all across the country.
Why make out in public? In July, a gay couple was detained by security and then cited for trespassing after they kissed on the plaza at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In June, two gay men were ejected from Chico's Mexican Restaurant in El Paso, Texas after a security guard saw them kissing at their table. Those incidents inspired bloggers David Badash and David Mailloux to organize the national kiss-in protest.
Williams says the event is even open to single folks: "You can kiss your hand or hold a sign." She says ideas for signs include "Kissing Is Not a Crime" and "Kiss For Peace."
The local delegation (9th Congressional District) for the National Equality March will hold its second planning meeting tonight at the Memphis Gay & Lesbian Community Center at 6:30 p.m.
The team will be discussing plans to travel to Washington DC on October 11th for a march to demand equal rights across the board for LGBT citizens. That includes the right to marry, a repeal of "don't ask, don't tell," and the passage of an inclusive federal non-discrimination act and hate crimes bill. They'll also discuss local lobbying efforts to inform Tennessee legislators about the need for LGBT rights.
Last week, a few members of the local team met with Vicki Walling of Congressman John Tanner's office. Tanner represents the 8th Congressional District, which includes Millington. According to Tommy Simmons, a local organizer with the National Equality March delegation, there's still a huge need for LGBT awareness and education in "rural, military personnel-influenced districts like TN-08." That lack of education makes equality a tough sell, Simmons says.
For more information on tonight's meeting, check out the local group's Facebook page.
On Saturday, August 15th, gay and straight folks across the country will gather in public places for a synchronized make-out session with their partners during the Great Nationwide Kiss-In. But so far, Memphis is not participating.
At least, we're not on the official list of participating cities on the Great Nationwide Kiss-In's Facebook page. There's still time though, so if anyone is interested in becoming a local organizer, he or she should contact the group.
In July, a gay couple was detained by security and then cited for trespassing after they kissed on the plaza at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In June, two gay men were ejected from Chico's Mexican Restaurant in El Paso, Texas after a security guard saw them kissing at their table.
"We need to make a strong statement to everyone everywhere: kissing is not a bad thing, nor has it ever been. It's not vulgar or inappropriate. It's a sign of affection that is as old as time itself. And it's a beautiful thing that we share with our loved ones every single day," reads their mission statement on Facebook.
Lots of cities are already organizing events, including Little Rock and Pigeon Forge, but Memphis has yet to join the party.
Over the past few years, the Greater Memphis GLBT Chamber of Commerce has amassed a pretty useful list of local gay-owned and gay-friendly businesses. Among them are Crye-Leike Realtors, First Tennessee Bank, and Frank Balton Sign Co. For a full list, arranged by type of business, check out their directory.
The chamber is currently seeking input for additions to the directory. If you know if a gay-friendly business that's not on the list, send your suggestion to firstname.lastname@example.org.
For a very comprehensive list of national gay-friendly companies, check out the Human Rights Campaign's 2009 Buyer's Guide.