A bill that has been dubbed the "Dignity for All Students" Act by the Tennessee Equality Project (TEP) was amended this week to become part of a bullying study to be conducted by the Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth and the Tennessee Department of Education.
The act, HB927, was an anti-bullying bill that would have included sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, disability, etc. in its list of things children could not be bullied for in public schools.
Chris Sanders, executive director of TEP, said the bill was amended to become part of the study because it did not have the backing of the majority of the House.
Yesterday, TEP released this statement on its Facebook page:
"We would like to thank everyone who worked so hard for HB927. We will continue to work for passage of a new Dignity for All Students Act. Tennessee students deserve it, but the majority of our legislators do not yet back enumerated policies that we consider essential. So more study, more work, and more discussion is required."
Nonprofit same-sex marriage advocacy group Freedom To Marry launched their "Southerners For Freedom to Marry" campaign a few weeks ago, and now they're asking Southern supporters of equality to sign a pledge. The $1 million campaign is designed to grow support for equal marriage in the South.
A March 5th Washington Post/ABC News poll found that 50 percent of Southerners support same-sex marriage and 42 percent remain opposed.
Lance Bass, the Mississippi-born N'Sync member and host of Sirius OutQ's "Dirty Pop" radio show, appears with his fiancee Michael Turchin in the campaign's latest video.
So far, the campaign doesn't have a Tennessee co-chair, but it does have co-chairs in Arkansas, Mississippi, Georgia, Alabama, Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas, and Virginia.
Senate Bill 2566, the bill designed to protect persons or religious organizations (both for-profit and non-profit) that choose to deny services or goods in conjunction with a civil union, domestic partnership, or gay marriage, has been shelved.
The bill was being sponsored by Senator Mike Bell after Germantown Senator Brian Kelsey pulled his sponsorship last week. Kelsey originally introduced the bill two weeks ago, and it has since made national headlines and even prompted Memphis chef Kelly English to proclaim on Facebook that he'd host a political fund-raiser for anyone who wanted to run against Kelsey in the next election.
The bill was scheduled to be heard in the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, but Bell told the committee that he was sending it to a subcommittee and will not try to pass the bill this year. The bill can still be called back up at any time though.
Less than a week after State Senator Brian Kelsey of Germantown filed his bill designed to protect persons or religious organizations (both for-profit and non-profit) that choose to deny services or goods in conjunction with a civil union, domestic partnership, or gay marriage, he has pulled his sponsorship.
In the last few days, the bill has made national headlines and evoked a backlash from equality advocates who have dubbed SB2566 the "Turn the Gays Away" Bill. The bill is moving forward though with a new Senate sponsor, State Senator Mike Bell of Riceville in East Tennessee. On the House side, the bill is sponsored by Representative Bill Dunn of Knoxville.
The bill has been placed on the judicial committee calendar, which Kelsey chairs.
This morning, Restaurant Iris and Second Line owner/chef Kelly English made an offer that anyone with political ambitions in District 31 might not be able to refuse. English posted that he'll host a political fund-raiser for whoever opposes Senator Brian Kelsey of Germantown in the next election.
Kelly's offer was a response to Kelsey's bill (SB2566) that would protect religious organizations (both for-profit and non-profit) that choose to deny services or goods in conjunction with a civil union, domestic partnership, or gay marriage. The Tennessee Equality Project has dubbed the bill the "Turn Away the Gays" bill, while Kelsey calls it the "Religious Freedom Act."
When contacted by the Flyer for a comment on why he's offering to support Kelsey's opponent, English said the following: "This is past politics. This is more a point of decency and rights as a human. I can not fathom someone who thinks this is okay to represent myself or our community. I will proudly support any good person opposing this way of thinking."
Senator Brian Kelsey of Germantown is sponsoring a bill in the Tennessee General Assembly aimed at protecting religious organizations that choose to deny services in conjunction with a civil union, domestic partnership, or gay marriage.
Kelsey's SB2566 "permits persons and religious or denominational organizations, based on sincere religious belief, to refuse to provide services or goods in furtherance of a civil union, domestic partnership, or marriage not recognized by the Tennessee Constitution." It's being co-sponsored in the House by Representative Bill Dunn of Knoxville.
It's not clear how far religious organizations could take this, if passed. But a post on the Tennessee Equality Project's website poses the question of whether or not medical institutions run by religious organizations could refuse medical services to someone in a same-sex relationship.
The bill was filed on February 5th, and so far, there has been no further movement with the bill.
Business owners across Tennessee who want to show customers that they support equal rights will soon be able to do so with Tennessee Equality Project Foundation's "Equality Means Business" window stickers.
The stickers are intended to show that a business does not discriminate in hiring and treatment of workers regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity.
Business owners can also add their names to TEP's list of businesses that support equality on the organization's public Facebook page.
The "Equality Means Business" campaign kicked off on December 30th in honor of TEP's 10th anniversary.
Honorary co-chairs for the initiative are entrepreneurs Martha Boggs in Knoxville and Randy Rayburn in Nashville and graphic designer Ray Rico (Ray Rico Freelance) in Memphis.
According to the Human Rights Campaign, 61 percent of Fortune 500 companies have non-discrimination policies that include sexual orientation and gender identity.
Business owners who would like a window sticker should email TEP's executive director Chris Sanders.
The national Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) took a major step ahead on Monday, after a decades-long struggle between progressive and conservative politicians.
On Monday, every member of the Democratic caucus and a few Republicans in the Senate voted to move forward with the bill that would make workplace discrimination against LGBT employees illegal on a national scale.
The bill is expected to pass the full Senate. Even hardcore conservative Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah voted in favor of moving the bill forward on Monday, but Tennessee Senators Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker both voted against the bill. The bill may face a tough crowd in the Republican-led House of Representatives.
In 1996, the last time the Senate considered passage of ENDA, the bill failed by one vote.
This morning, four same-sex couples, all of which were legally married in states that allow gay marriage, filed a lawsuit in federal district court in Nashville challenging state laws that prevent Tennessee from recognizing their marriages. One of those couples and one of the attorneys involved is from Memphis.
The lawsuit argues that Tennessee's laws prohibiting the recognition of these marriages is a violation of the Constitutional guarantees of equal protection and due process.
Ijpe DeKoe, an Army Reserve sergeant, and Thom Kostura are the couple from Memphis. The other couples are Dr. Valeria Tanco and Dr. Sophy Jesty of Knoxville, Kellie Miller and Vanessa DeVillez of Greenbrier, and Matthew Mansell and Johno Espejo of Franklin.
The attorneys representing the couples include Maureen T. Holland of Memphis, Regina Lambert of Knoxville, Abby R. Rubenfeld, William Harbison, Scott Hickman, Phil Cramer and John Farringer of the law firm of Sherrard & Roe in Nashville, and the National Center for Lesbian Rights.
"Fairness and equality are the guiding principles of our government, and as a member of the armed forces, I have fought and will continue to fight for those principles," said DeKoe, who served a tour of duty in Afghanistan. “After returning to Memphis with Thom, I was saddened to learn that Tennessee law does not live up to those ideals in the way it treats married same-sex couples.”
This week, Knoxville became the second Tennessee town to offer domestic partner benefits to city employees.
In August, the suburb of Collegedale near Chatanooga began offering such benefits to domestic partners. Knoxville is the first major Tennessee city to do so.
City employees with domestic partners, regardless of sexual orientation, would be required to prove their relationship status through financial documents and a signed affadavit of commitment.
Chris Sanders, long-time president of the Tennessee Equality Project (TEP) and former acting director, has been named as the organization's first full-time executive director. The announcement was made at TEP's Olympus gala in Nashville over the weekend.
Sanders' previous role as president was a volunteer role, but the new director position is a full-time paid gig. The executive director's role includes directing TEP's education, advocacy, media relations, community organizing, and fund development efforts.
"As you know, we have a lot of work to do in Tennessee before we can claim full equality, but I'm pleased to tell you that the work is already underway," Sanders said in a recent Facebook video about TEP's work on marriage equality, an anti-bullying bill for the state, employment nondiscrimination at the local and federal level, and other issues.
“The recent Supreme Court rulings on DOMA and Prop 8 are historic for our country, but we have to make sure that we’re not standing still in Tennessee. Having a dedicated professional to direct our efforts will allow us to achieve more in East, West, and Middle Tennessee. The gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community in our state deserves no less," said TEP vice-president Bleu Copas.
Prison Break star Wentworth Miller, who plays Michael Scofield on the series, recently came out in a letter posted to the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) website declining an invitation to the Saint Petersburg International Film Festival in Russia due to that country's anti-gay legislation banning "propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations."
Although Miller was born in England while his father, Wentworth Miller II, was studying at Oxford, Miller has family ties in Memphis. He's the great-grandson of Dr. Greene Forte Pinkston, one of the first African Americans to practice medicine in Memphis. Pinkston was the grandson of freed Mississippi slaves and died in 1963.
Wentworth Miller was in Memphis for a 2007 family reunion of Pinkston's descendants. Miller was named "sexiest deep thinker" by People Magazine in 2007.
Two local gay couples asked the Shelby County Clerk's Office for marriage licenses on Wednesday morning, only to be turned away because Tennessee doesn't allow gay marriage.
"They said they don't do them yet," said Aaron Thompson, one half of a couple who applied on Wednesday.
The couples, who participated in the action with the backing of the Tennessee Equality Project, expected to be turned away. The action was a symbolic way to show that gay couples in the state want the opportunity to get married and have the same rights as straight couples.
"I think everybody realizes that something is coming down the pike," Thompson said. "We just have to start stepping up and doing something. The first step is to get turned down."
Thompson and his husband Chris Snow married in Washington D.C. three years ago, but Thompson said they are "looking for the state of Tennessee to recognize [our marriage]." The men have been a couple for 13 years.
Thompson said they want the right to make medical decisions for one another at the hospital, a right that straight married couples have. And they'd like Tennessee to recognize their marriage for tax reasons.
"It's such a big commitment to have this piece of paper that says we are family," Snow said.
Amy Barton and her fiancee Lyndsay Gray were also turned down for a marriage license. The couple are planning a commitment ceremony in Arkansas, where many of their friends and family live, for October 2014. Like Tennessee, Arkansas also has a state ban on gay marriage.
Barton has three teenagers from a previous marriage, and she said she'd like for Gray to be their legal stepmother.
"We want to be a true structural unit. If something happened to me and I was in the hospital, I don't know if she'd have access to me and the kids," Barton said.
Collegedale, suburb of Chattanooga with a population of around 8,000 people, became the first town in Tennessee to approve benefits for same-sex spouses of government employees.
According an article in the Chattanooga Times Free Press, Collegedale's five-member governing commission passed the measure on Monday night with four "yes" votes. The lone dissenting vote came from Collegedale's Mayor John Turner. The charge to change the town's policy was led by detective Kat Cooper, who married her wife in Maryland this past spring.
Read the full story at the Times Free Press.
Chris Sanders, who has served in a volunteer role as president of the Tennessee Equality Project (TEP) for years, has been named acting executive director of the organization.
The TEP Foundation's board has determined the organization needs a full-time, paid executive director to lead the organization. Previously, it was run by volunteers. Sanders will fill the interim role while the board launches a search for the full-time position.
The executive director's role includes directing TEP's education, advocacy, media relations, community organizing, and fund development efforts.
“The recent Supreme Court rulings on DOMA and Prop 8 are historic for our country, but we have to make sure that we’re not standing still in Tennessee. Having a dedicated professional to direct our efforts will allow us to achieve more in East, West, and Middle Tennessee. The gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community in our state deserves no less," said TEP vice president Bleu Copas.
The board will also be appointing a new president of the organization to fill the role Sanders is vacating.
Sanders will begin his new responsibilities with an outreach tour around the state starting in Nashville on July 19th at a Forward Friday event at Tribe starting at 7:00 p.m., followed by TEP’s annual Ice Cream Sundae Social on July 21st in Memphis, completed by a gathering in Knoxville for the final vote on the Knox County non-discrimination ordinance on July 22nd.