The planned Westboro Baptist Church protest at Graceland started right on time but not in the location counter-protesters anticipated.
At 4:30 p.m., counter-protesters — decked out in rainbow attire and/or Elvis costumes and sideburns — were already huddled behind a police barricade outside Graceland's iconic signature wall. But Westboro's "God Hates Fags" signs were nowhere to be seen.
Rumors began swirling that Westboro had set up across the street and a block away from Graceland, and against police wishes, the counter-protesters began slowly making their way down the street, a few at a time.
Sure enough, 10 or so Westboro members, most of them small children and teens, were holding their signature anti-gay signs at the corner of Elvis Presley and Lonely Street. But they weren't lonely for long, as the LGBT-supportive crowd and a gaggle of curious tourists made their way to Westboro's corner.
Although the Westboro Baptist Church's website said they'd be protesting Elvis as a false idol and drug addict, they weren't bearing any Elvis-related signs. Instead, the signs focused on gays, gay marriage, Obama, and new enemy — the NBA. Signs reading "Fag NBA" with pictures of rainbow basketballs were likely due to NBA star Jason Collins recently coming out as the first openly gay player in the NBA.
The Westboro members brought a stereo along with them, and they were playing Maroon 5 and Garth Brooks songs but changing the words like this catchy chorus from Maroon 5's "This Love": "This lust has taken control of you. We said, okay, god has become your foe."
It wasn't long before counter-protesters began posing for silly pictures with the Westboro people, who continued their singing while the photos were being taken. At one point, a counter-protester dressed as Elvis began serenading the Westboro crowd.
Eventually, the police assigned to watch the counter-protesters realized the protesters had moved to the location where the Westboro people were, and police on horses showed up to block Westboro's members from further interaction with the counter-protesters.
Westboro packed up to leave at 5:40, a few minutes after the protest was supposed to have ended.
With only a couple of gay bars left in the Bluff City, Dru's Place — once known as primarily a lesbian bar — has revamped its space to accommodate more patrons in its bar area.
Since Crossroads closed last November, Dru's has been hosting displaced drag queens, essentially turning the lesbian bar into an all-around gay bar. Of course, everyone was always welcome. But these days, Dru's has a more traditional "gay bar" ambiance.
Over the past month, Dru's staff have been posting photos of the remodeled bar on its Facebook page. Part of the wall has been removed between the bar and the pool table room, creating an extra space for bar seating. The old worn-down bar stools have been replaced. The bar and walls have a fresh coat of paint, and the pool table area boasts new lighting fixtures.
The renovation is nearly complete, and the bar is open for business. On Saturday, May 4th, Dru's Place is hosting a "Turnabout Night," at which patrons are invited to "watch our Queens become Kings and our Kings become Queens."
The NBA finally has an openly gay player, thanks to Washington Wizards center Jason Collins coming out story on Sports Illustrated's website this morning.
Collins jokes in his piece about a parlor game called "Three Degrees of Jason Collins" since he's played for so many teams that everybody knows somebody who has played with him at one point or another. Collins even played 31 games with the Memphis Grizzlies in the 2007-2008 season. In his piece, Collins mentions that former Grizzlies player Mike Miller once sold him a dog.
Collins is the first person to come out in a major American team sport. Collins writes that he finally decided to come out after the Boston Marathon bombings made him realize that things can change in an instant and that he should live truthfully.
To read more about Collins' decision to come out, click here.
Senator Stacey Campfield's infamous "Don't Say Gay" bill failed to pass in the Tennessee General Assembly before the legislative session ended on Friday. To celebrate, the Tennessee Equality Project is selling "We Say Gay" t-shirts.
For years, Campfield has been pushing "Don't Say Gay," which would prevent any discussion of homosexuality in kindergarten through the 8th grade in Tennessee's public schools. The bill has become the butt of jokes in the national media, including this funny dissection of the bill by Stephen Colbert on The Colbert Report.
In Campfield's most recent version of the bill, teachers and counselors would be required to tell a student's parents if they suspected that student to be gay.
Overall, the Tennessee Equality Project is declaring a legislative victory at the close of this session. Not only did "Don't Say Gay" get defeated again, but a bill aimed at eliminating Vanderbilt University's non-discrimination policy also failed to pass. A bill that would have prevented public universities from hiring or designating a diversity officer failed to gain a House sponsor.
One pro-LGBT bill, the "Dignity for All Students" Act, a bill that would add sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression to the state's school bullying policy, was sent to summer study.
To order a "We Say Gay" t-shirt, click here.
Marco McMillan, the first openly gay candidate for mayor of Clarksdale, Mississippi, was beaten, dragged, and set on fire, according to a statement from his family that was released on Monday. His body was recovered last Wednesday from a levee along the Mississippi River.
McMillan, 34, was reported missing early last week after his SUV was recovered from a crash on Highway 49 near the Coahoma/Tallahatchie county line. McMillan was not driving his vehicle at the time of the crash. Instead, it was driven by 22-year-old Lawrence Reed, the man who police charged with McMillan's murder last Thursday.
McMillan's death remains under investigation.
Knoxville Senator Stacey Campfield is at it again. His "Don't Say Gay" bill, which bans talk of homosexuality in schools for kids in kindergarten through the eighth grade, died with the adjournment of the Tennessee General Assembly last year. But now he's reintroduced the bill, and this time, it's getting personal.
The new "Don't Say Gay" bill, SB 234, would require that teachers or counselors tell parents of LGBT students that their child may be gay.
Or as the bill's wording states:
A school counselor, nurse, principal or assistant principal from counseling a student who is engaging in, or who may be at risk of engaging in, behavior injurious to the physical or mental health and well-being of the student or another person; provided, that wherever possible such counseling shall be done in consultation with the student’s parents or legal guardians. Parents or legal guardians of students who receive such counseling shall be notified as soon as practicable that such counseling has occurred.
A blog post on ThinkProgress. org points out that LGBT kids often face family rejection upon coming out to their parents and that 40 percent of homeless kids are gay. Those homeless youth have either been kicked out of the home or have chosen to leave a hostile environment.
"LGBT youth who experience family rejection are at high risk for depression and suicide," the blog post states.
For a more in-depth analysis of Campfield's latest "Don't Say Gay" bill, read Jackson Baker's latest Political Beat post.
Gay couples (and unmarried straight couples) who share a residence may now join the Germantown Athletic Club with a family membership.
The city-run gym previously defined "family" as a "husband, wife, and the children for whom they have legal custody." But after a gay couple and their children were denied a membership this past weekend, they complained to the club's membership sales advisor. On Monday, the city of Germantown decided to update their family policy.
The new policy allows for household memberships, stating: "...household membership which includes 2 adults living under the same roof, and the children in the household that one or both of those adults are legally responsible for. Couples membership will now become a joint membership for 2 people living in the same house that would like to join their facility."
On Tuesday morning, the Germantown Athletic Club posted its new membership form, with the amended language, on its website.
The Tennessee Equality Project praised the city of Germantown for embracing the need for change and the couple who brought the matter to the city's attention for speaking up: "Raising your voice in the face of discrimination can bring positive change. The Germantown Athletic Club deserves praise for demonstrating a commitment to diversity, inclusion, equality and fairness."
Yesterday, the University of Memphis Faculty Senate passed a motion to draft a resolution in support of same-sex benefits for faculty. The resolution will be drafted by a five-member committee and should be reviewed by the Faculty Senate in February.
But according to Faculty Senate president Thomas Banning, the move is largely symbolic because any decision to provide same-sex benefits would have to be approved by the school administration and the Tennessee Board of Regents (TBR). A similar resolution to provide same-sex benefits for faculty of the University of Tennessee-Knoxville was rejected by that school's chancellor in April. The U of M Faculty Senate also passed a motion yesterday encouraging the TBR to look into the advantages of that resolution.
Banning said the resolution will be rejected by the TBR because state law doesn't allow the university to provide same-sex benefits. He described the Faculty Senate's move to be a symbolic effort to show the faculty's support of same-sex benefits whether they're allowed under law or not.
"It's important that we recognize that trying to hire the best faculty possible means we have to be competitive with other four-year institutions," Banning said.
On a recent list of Newsweek's top 25 universities, 23 provide benefits to same-sex faculty members, Banning said.
Banning called the move a "business decision" and said the senate doesn't expect to see rapid change. Regardless, he said the university is doing what it can to show outsiders that the school is open and supportive of all students and faculty, regardless of sexual orientation.
"Speaking for the students, we have already established LGBT safe zones around campus. That is an indication that we are open, and we want the best and brightest students," Banning said.
A Facebook fan page has launched for a new gay bar set to open in Memphis. But the when and where remain a mystery.
The owners of Rumors Memphis are being hush-hush about the details. When commenters on their page have inquired as to a location or opening date, the response from Rumors is "information coming very, very soon."
With the closing of Crossroads last weekend and closing of Shane Trice's gay bars — Backstreet, Metro, and Mary's — Memphis is sorely lacking in gay bars. We'll keep you posted on the Rumors progress as we learn details, or you can follow progress for yourself on the Rumors Memphis Facebook page.
In response to a full-page, anti-gay ad that ran in The Commercial Appeal last week, a group of LGBT advocacy organizations have begun a food drive for the Mid-South Food Bank.
The anonymous organization behind the ad, known only as Memphis Churches of Christ, reportedly paid around $15,000 for the spot. Rather than raise money to buy a pro-equality, counter-ad, a handful of LGBT groups are asking supporters to make a donation to the food bank.
"The content of the ads is deeply offensive, but I remain a firm believer in the First Amendment right to free speech. While this group is entitled to say what they want, most people reject the divisiveness of the ad's message because they support inclusion, fairness, decency, equality and diversity in Memphis," said Jonathan Cole of the Tennessee Equality Project. "It's hard to watch churches and other religious organizations spending tithes and church offerings on hateful advertising rather than benefit their church members or assist those living in poverty in our city."
"Our organizations have criticized churches who spend money to demean us by suggesting that they focus on caring for the poor and feeding the hungry," said Will Batts, executive director of the Memphis Gay and Lesbian Community Center. "In response to recent attacks on our community, we're putting our money where our mouths are and the mouths of those who go hungry. We shall meet hatred with love for our friends and neighbors."
They are calling on people to make donations of food or money by November 9th. Donations may be made online. Food may be dropped off at the Mid-South Food Bank at 239 S. Dudley between the hours of 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday through Thursday or 8 a.m. to noon on Friday.
Needed items include canned meats (tuna, stews, chicken and dumplings, chili, Spam), soups, peanut butter, canned fruits, canned veggies, canned 100% fruit juice, and any non-perishable item. No glass containers are accepted.
The Memphis City Council voted 9 to 4 on Tuesday afternoon to approve an amendment adding "sexual orientation" and "gender identity" to a list of city workplace protections.
The language of the amendment had been previously approved to add "sexual orientation," but there was some confusion over whether or not such an amendment would violate the city's charter. At that time, city attorney Herman Morris said he believed the amendment would violate the charter, claiming a referendum may be required. But after further research, Morris changed his opinion. However, city council attorney Allan Wade stuck by his original opinion that passing the amendment violates the city charter.
But Wade's opinion did not dissaude the council members who originally voted to add "sexual orientation." It also didn't prevent councilmen Harold Collins from changing his votes to "yes" this time around. Collins said he'd consulted with faith leaders and decided not to let his religious beliefs affect the way he voted on legislation.
Councilman Reid Hedgepeth, a conservative who voted in favor of the ordinance last time, told the audience that harassment and robo-calls from the amendment's opposition had only strengthened his resolve to vote in favor of the amendment again.
"One e-mail said 'I hope you and your family burn in hell together.' How is that for Christianity?" Hedgepeth asked.
Additionally, councilwoman Janis Fullilove proposed an amendment to the ordinance that added protections on the basis of "gender identity." That amendment passed 9 to 4, as well. The only "no" votes on the "gender identity" amendment and the main motion to amend the city's nondiscrimination ordinance came from council people Wanda Halbert, Bill Boyd, Kemp Conrad, and Joe Brown.
The council chambers were lively before the vote. Speaking for the opposition, a representative from the Family Action Council said the amendment's passage would lead to protections for "grown men attracted to 12-year-old boys." That elicited boos and gasps from the audience. Pastor Larry Hunter, who wore a Taekwondo uniform, said he didn't "want to walk nowhere and see two mens [sic] kissing or two mens [sic] hugging."
After Hunter's statements, which did not seem to pertain at all to the ordinance in question, an impassioned advocate for the ordinance stormed the podium and began screaming at Hunter. Members of the Tennessee Equality Project were forced to drag the man away from the podium.
Speaking for advocates of the ordinance, Rev. Valentine Handwerker from Immaculate Conception said the Catholic church's teachings are clear on why we shouldn't discriminate. A transgender retired Episcopal priest told the council that passage of the amendment would protect the city against liability. But Jake Brown with the Shelby County Democratic Party elicited the most applause when he said, "We are not here to debate morality or immorality. We are not here to debate religious beliefs. We are here to talk about city policy and whether or not the city endorses discrimination."
On Tuesday, September 18th, the Memphis City Council discussed the passage of a non-discrimination ordinance protecting LGBT city workers, but its final passage was delayed until October 16th because of confusion over whether or not its passage would violate the city charter.
Council attorney Allen Wade and city attorney Herman Morris were of the opinion that such a change might require a public referendum.
Knoxville's council unanimously passed a very similar ordinance last year, and county commissioner Steve Mulroy, an advocate for the city's passage of the ordinance, decided to investigate if there was any issue with Knoxville's charter.
Ronald Mills, Knoxville's deputy law director, wrote Mulroy a letter that says: "This letter is to confirm that the City of Knoxville Law Department did not find the recent revisions to various sections of the Knoxville City Code regarding discrirrńuatìon based on gender identity, sexual orientation, and other factors to violate Knoxville’s home rule Charter. Given the Wording of our Charter, this really is not an issue that came up in consideration of the ordinance, because there is nothing in our Charter which we find to be a definitive and exclusive list of discriminatory practices."
Said Mulroy in response: “I thought it prudent to check with another big Tennessee city and see how they were able to do it. Their opinion is instructive. Their charter and ordinance are virtually identical. Indeed, the argument that the City Council has authority under the charter is even stronger in Memphis."
To read the full letter from Mills and statements from city councilman Lee Harris and Tennessee Equality Project's Jonathan Cole, check out this post on Grand Divisions.
At a Tennessee Equality Project press conference Friday afternoon at the AFSCME headquarters on Beale, Memphis Police officer Virginia Awkward, a 9-year veteran and former cast member of TLC's Police Women of Memphis, made a plea for the Memphis City Council to include "gender identity and expression" to the amended non-discrimination ordinance. The ordinance was amended to include "sexual orientation" last month, but "gender identity and expression" were left out of the discussion.
"I believe my city is a city of love and compassion, and I believe my city is a pioneer for equality," said Awkward, who invited TLC viewers into her same-sex relationship when the reality show aired in 2010.
TEP's Shelby County Committee chair Jonathan Cole said the gay-inclusive non-discrimination ordinance, which passed last month but remains on hold while the council sorts out whether its passage is legal under the city's charter, is incomplete until all employees, including those who are transgender, are protected.
When asked why he didn't include "gender identity" when he made the amendment to add "sexual orientation," city councilman Lee Harris said "the political will just wasn't there." But he supports the addition this next time around. The ordinance comes back up for a vote on October 16th.
"We've already done one miracle. Don't discount us just yet," Harris said. "Hopefully, the same seven votes will be around again."
Chad Johnson, the director of AFSCME, said there should be more than seven votes. He said the council should approve the changes unanimously.
Jake Brown, political/operations director of the Shelby County Democratic Party, said the party endorses passage of the amendment and the addition of gender identity.
"This is not a question of whether you endorse homosexuality or not. It's about whether you endorse discrimination," Brown said.
Ellyanna Hall, a transgender woman, spoke at the conference about the discrimination she has faced trying to find work in the city.
"When someone is denied work, you deny them housing. You deny them food," Hall said. "I've experienced discrimination for many, many years. It's dehumanizing. It's isolating. It's wrong."
As for the religious influence that seemed to hold some council members back during the discussion about adding "sexual orientation," Davin Clemons, a 10-year city employee and a minister at Cathedral of Praise, had a few words for pastor Steve Gaines of Bellevue Baptist Church. Gaines spoke at the council meeting against the addition of "sexual orientation" to the city's non-discrimination protections.
"Steve Gaines' job is not to tell the city council how to vote. His job is to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ, the correct version of the gospel. That's the gospel that says we should love everyone," Clemons said.
The Memphis City Council voted 7-5 to add an amendment protecting city workers on the basis of sexual orientation to a proposal that updated the city's nondiscrimination policy to include age, disability, and national origin. But the council then voted to delay the amendment for 30 days while the council's legal department decides if the amendment is allowed under the city 's charter.
In a move that council member Janis Fullilove called a "diversion," city council attorney Alan Wade informed the council that he wasn't sure if the council adding sexual orientation was legal under the charter because he said the addition may be required as a charter amendment rather than a city ordinance.
However, Wade saw no problem with adding age, disability, and national origin, other characteristics proposed to be added by councilman Lee Harris, because those are already protected by federal law. Federal law does not protect workers on the basis of sexual orientation because the Federal Employment Nondiscrimination Act has stalled in Congress. Wade told the council, if passed, a group of citizens might have a right to sue the city for not allowing a charter referendum.
City councilman Myron Lowery, who voted in favor of adding sexual orientation, told the council it needed to act as the legislative branch of city government and vote on the issue.
"If there are ramifications after the vote, let it be. Let the courts rule on any challenge," Lowery said, evoking thunderous applause from the equality advocates in the room, most of them sporting blue shirts that read "Equal Protection for All."
City attorney Herman Morris told the council he didn't believe the body should be addressing the issue, claiming that it should be for the administration to make policy decisions. But he agreed that the charter issue needed to be researched.
Wade's opinion came as a surprise to equality advocates who showed up to support Harris' amendment to add sexual orientation. But councilwoman Wanda Halbert asked Wade to discuss the legality of making the change after several passionate speeches supporting the amendment by councilpeople Fullilove, Shea Flinn, and Harris.
County commissioner and attorney Steve Mulroy was in attendance, and upon request of several council members who supported adding sexual orientation, offered his legal advice on the matter. Mulroy, who sponsored a similar ordinance protecting LGBT workers with the Shelby County Commission in 2010, said it was his opinion that adding sexual orientation did not violate the city charter. He also spoke against delaying the amendment for 30 days because he didn't think anyone would have the standing to challenge the action of the council until a city employee actually tried to sue the city for violation of the ordinance. He called the fear of potential litigation a "bugaboo."
Equality advocates were disappointed that the amendment didn't change the city's nondiscrimination policy immediately, but the Tennessee Equality Project's Anne Brownlee Gullick remained hopeful that proponents of adding sexual orientation would mobilize even more around the issue over the next 30 days.
"The future of Memphis will not be denied," Gullick said, speaking about the next generation of Memphians who may go to work for city government.
The usual opponents of adding sexual orientation were also present. Bellevue Baptist Church pastor Steve Gaines spoke at the meeting. He told the council that he didn't believe "homosexuals deserve civil rights protections." He also claimed that passing the amendment would open the door to the "long term agenda" of the Tennessee Equality Project, which he claimed was to force all business owners to have no choice in whether or not they should hire "homosexuals."
But equality advocates showed up in greater numbers. The roster of speakers from that side included minister Davin Clemons from Cathedral of Praise and the Rev. Joseph Wallace Williams of Grace-St. Luke's Episcopal Church, who told council members that he would personally absolve them of any guilt they may feel about supporting the amendment to add sexual orientation. That drew laughs from the audience. Also representing the equal rights side were Jonathan Cole of TEP, Jacob Flowers of the Mid-South Peace & Justice Center, a member of the Memphis Fire Department officer corp, a member of disability rights group ADAPT, and Chad Johnson, the executive director of AFSCME.
Occidental Dissent, a website with a black history month series highlighting negative stories about black people and a memorial wall for "victims" of the "war against white people," has denounced the Tennessee Equality Project as being "committed to destroying white Christian Tennessee."
The Tennessee Equality Project is dedicated to protecting and advancing the civil rights of LGBT people in the state. The Memphis chapter has pushed for non-discrimination policies in the city and county and were successful at the county level.
In the post on the racist website made on August 30th, Hunter Wallace called TEP a "genocidal organization" for what he considers the group's plan to dismantle the "Southern white Christian majority."
According to the post: "The goal of the 'Tennessee Equality Project' to make Tennessee less Southern, less white, less Christian, and less conservative through mass immigration and multiculturalism — what they call 'a strong commitment to diversifying the region' — in order to create a majority of hostile and resentful aliens that will allow liberals to dominate the state and redistribute the wealth of the existing white Christian majority."
(Note: Any reference to "white" on the Occidental Dissent website is capitalized, but those words were lowercased in this post.)