Jennifer Keane isn't gay. She's a straight married mom with a toddler and another kid on the way. When she and her husband moved to Memphis from Ohio, the state recognized their marriage. Because she's married, she can make end-of-life decisions for her husband if necessary. She and her husband benefit from tax deductions due to their marriage, and she's covered on her husband's insurance policy.
"I have all this because I'm straight. What kind of damn sense does that make?" asked a tearful Keane, as she addressed the crowd of about 100 people gathered in the sanctuary at Neshoba Unitarian Universalist Church in Cordova Monday night.
Keane was one of several speakers at the "Stand for ALL Families" rally held at Neshoba, a counter-rally protesting the "Stand for Families" rally at Bellevue Baptist Church. The Bellevue rally featured Family Research Council president Tony Perkins, a well-known foe of marriage equality.
Also at the Neshoba rally were Edie and Tamar Love, a married lesbian couple with two children. Though their marriage isn't recognized in Tennessee, the Loves live their daily lives as a married couple. When their kids ask questions about why their parents aren't allowed to have their marriage recognized, Tamar says she isn't sure how to answer.
"We have a hard time answering that question because we don't understand the problem either," says Tamar.
Jonathan Cole of the Tennessee Equality Project (TEP) spoke about the gay community's newest threat in Shelby County — the Family Action Council of Tennessee (FACT). FACT is a non-profit, conservative Christian organization aimed at promoting "traditional families" (read: heterosexual families). The group, which previously only had a presence in middle Tennessee, is setting up an office in Cordova. Cole believes FACT is coming to Shelby County as a result of the gay community's success in passing a non-discrimination ordinance last summer protecting Shelby County employees on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. The city council will consider a similar measure protecting city employees later this spring.
After Cole spoke, Will Batts, director of the Memphis Gay & Lesbian Community Center, called the attendees to action. He asked everyone in the room to urge other LGBT people and straight allies to speak out in support of equality.
Said Batts: "We need to encourage people to come out and stand on the picket line. We will win this. We just can't give up."
On Monday, March 29th, Bellevue Baptist Church is hosting a "Stand for the Family" rally to promote what they call "traditional families." I can only assume they mean "heterosexual families" considering that the rally's guest speaker is Family Research Council president Tony Perkins, a well-known foe of marriage equality.
In protest, the Memphis Gay & Lesbian Community Center (MGLCC) has organized a counter-rally billed as "Stand for ALL Families: A Rally to Celebrate and Promote Every Family" at Neshoba Unitarian Universalist Church (7350 Raleigh-Lagrange Rd.) on Monday, March 29th from 6 to 8 p.m.
Says MGLCC director Will Batts: "MGLCC stands for all types of families because we value the unconditional love that builds those relationships. Many of the kids we assist have been hurt by traditional families that see only rigid, limited ways of expressing love.”
Do the "Y.M.C.A." and raise money for the city's annual gay film fest at the same time. Horseshoe Casino is offering special VIP tickets for Friday's performance by the Village People, and 100 percent of the proceeds benefit the Outflix film festival.
Tickets include the Village People performance, round-trip transportation to the casino (with pick-up and drop-off at the Memphis Gay & Lesbian Community Center), one buffet coupon, access to the VIP after-party at PUSH Nightclub, and a pre-made Players Card for Horseshoe Casino. Tickets are $30 per person or $50 per couple.
Roundtrip tickets to Horseshoe Casino can also be purchased without event tickets for $20.00 each. Seating is limited. The party bus will depart MGLCC at 6:30 p.m. and leave Horseshoe Casino at 1:00 a.m. to return to MGLCC.
For ticket information, contact Will Batts at email@example.com or Christy Tweddle at firstname.lastname@example.org or call MGLCC at 278-6422.
Speaking out for equality doesn't just mean holding a sign on a street corner. The Tennessee Equality Project (TEP) and the God Lens are co-sponsoring a "Creativity, Equality, and Empowerment" conference to inspire and equip people to speak out for equality in the political, religious, and social arena.
Held at Prescott Memorial Baptist Church on Friday and Saturday, March 26th and 27th, the conference will feature visual art, live music, and activism workshops.
On Friday, three artists will show examples of how the creative voice can be used to speak out for equality. Richard Lou will display visual art. Songwriter Kim-Char Meredith will perform, and Elaine Blanchard will present For Goodness Sake, a one-woman play about racial, sexual, and religious oppression. The event will also feature a silent auction benefiting the Tennessee Equality Project. Doors open at 5:30 p.m.
On Saturday, training (held from 9 a.m. to noon) includes a storytelling workshop led by Blanchard, a songwriting for equality class by Meredith, an art for collective action workshop led by Lou, and "Advocating for Equality: The Art of the Possible" led by TEP's Jonathan Cole and Latoya Belgrave.
Tickets for Friday (includes dinner) are $25, and tickets for Saturday's workshops are $10. They're available at Prescott Church (327-8479) and Burke's Book Store (278-7484).
Learn to organize non-violent direct actions to advocate for LGBT equality at a training session at the Memphis Gay & Lesbian Community Center (MGLCC) on Tuesday, March 23rd at 7 p.m.
Representatives from the Mid-South Peace & Justice Center will deliver the workshop to members and potential participants in MGLCC's "Raise Your Voice" campaign. "Raise Your Voice," aimed at uniting LGBT rights advocates in the fight against oppression, was formed in response to the vandalism of a National Coming Out Day billboard last fall.
The activism training workshop follows the regular monthly meeting of the Tennessee Equality Project, scheduled for 6 p.m. at the MGLCC (892 S. Cooper).
The Memphis Gay and Lesbian Community Center (MGLCC) is hosting two town hall meetings to approve and adopt the organization's amended and restated charter and amended and restated bylaws.
The first meeting will be held on Sunday, March 21st at 2:30 p.m. and the second is scheduled for Sunday, April 4th at 2:30 p.m. Both will be held at the MGLCC (892 S. Cooper).
Memphian Matthew Smart is hosting an event he's billing as the "First Semi-Annual O-So-Gay Yard Sale" on Saturday, March 20th at 3789 Healey Road.
The LGBT community and gay-friendly straight people are invited to sell their stuff at the yard sale. Anyone interested in selling should contact Smart at 552-0853.
Representative Stacey Campfield's (R-Knoxville) bill banning discussion of homosexuality in schools was killed in 2008, after a motion was approved to send the bill to the state board of education. But despite opposition, Campfield's bill is back.
On Wednesday, March 17th, the "Don't Say Gay" bill (read all about it in my Memphis Flyer story) is back before the Tennessee House K-12 subcommittee. The bill would prevent teachers from giving out "any instruction or materials discussing sexual orientation other than heterosexuality" in elementary and middle schools. According to Campfield's blog, he's recorded an episode of Showtime's "Penn & Teller" discussing the bill.
The Tennessee Education Association, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the state Department of Education have spoken out against the bill.
Although the LGBT community and their straight allies continue to fight for gay marriage, an end to military discrimination, and inclusive hate crimes legislation, most will agree that gays and lesbians are much better off today than one hundred years ago.
In the early part of the 20th century, there were no LGBT magazines or newspapers, no public community centers or pride parades, no gay-centric radio and television stations. Yet the generation that remembers those days are slowly dying off.
The Old Lesbian Herstory Project attempts to collect oral histories from senior lesbians. In 1997, Arden Eversmeyer began documenting the stories of older lesbian women in Houston, Texas. Since then, the project has expanded across the country. A local group is organizing and will host a planning meeting at the Memphis Center for Independent Living (1633 Madison) on Saturday, March 13, from 2 to 4 p.m.
View samples of herstories, as well as photos and old newspaper clippings, at the Old Lesbian Herstory Project website.
Although the 2010 U.S. Census doesn't ask people to reveal their sexual orientation, people in same-sex relationships have an opportunity to make that known on the census form.
According to Memphis Gay & Lesbian Community Center (MGLCC) director Will Batts, LGBT people in relationships may opt to check "husband or wife" or "unmarried partner" in a section that asks questions about other people living in the home. The MGLCC (892 S. Cooper) is hosting an informational session with a 2010 U.S. Census worker on Thursday, March 11th at 6:30 p.m.
Since gay people aren't allowed to marry or have out-of-state marriages recognized in Tennessee, Batts suggest that people in same-sex relationships fill out the form according to how they view their relationship. In other words, even if you're not technically married, you should check "husband or wife" if you think of your partner in that role.
"They want us to share the most accurate information about our lives that we can. If we believe that we are married — like if we were married in another state but living in Tennessee — we need to record that," Batts said. "If we believe we are simply unmarried partners or roommates, that should be how we record our relationships. The census is not making judgment about our relationships. The census is collecting information from us about ourselves, so we should record that as honestly as we know how to."
A 1995 U.S. Supreme Court decision allowed Boston, Massachusetts' St. Patrick's Day parade organizers to ban gay groups from taking part in the annual march.
But Memphis' Beale Street Merchants Association doesn't discriminate. For the second year, the Memphis Gay & Lesbian Community Center (MGLCC) will be represented in the parade down Beale Street on Saturday, March 13th.
Currently, the MGLCC is seeking LGBT people and straight allies to join in the parade walking group. Anyone interested should e-mail or call 901-278-6422 to sign up. The parade begins at 4 p.m., but walkers will begin lining up at 2 p.m.
In a March 1st letter to some Shelby County pastors, 9th District Congressional candidate (and former Memphis mayor) Willie Herenton wrote: "As pastors, I hope you will join me in my opposition to same-sex marriage and the legalization of marijuana."
As Tennessee Equality Project's Jonathan Campbell points out in a note on Facebook, Herenton's words are in conflict with his previous support of the LGBT community during his tenure as mayor.
On September 25, 2000, Herenton appeared with Judy Shepard (mother of hate crime victim Matthew Shepard) at a speaking engagement at Calvary Chuch in Memphis. The former mayor proclaimed the day "Memphis Against Hate Crimes Day."
Also in 2000, Herenton appeared at the ribbon-cutting for the grand opening of the Memphis Gay & Lesbian Community Center. And in January 2009, Herenton pledged support for an ordinance that would protect LGBT city employees and contractors.
On Tuesday, March 2nd, gay rights advocates will gather in Nashville to push for pro-LGBT legislation on the Tennessee Equality Project's (TEP) annual Advancing Equality Day.
Specifically, advocates will be lobbying against a proposed bill that would prevent unmarried couples from adopting. They'll also be working to expand hate crimes protections.
For more information on how to get involved, check out this blog post.