Of course Tennessee would be the state to break the winning streak for the pro-equality movement.
Yesterday, Roane County Circuit Court Judge Russell E. Simmons became the first judge to rule that a state's gay marriage ban was constitutional since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the federal Defense of Marriage Act in June 2013.
Simmons of Kingston, Tennessee, ruled that the state's ban does not violate the U.S. Constitution's equal protection clause. His reason?
"Marriage simply cannot be divorced from its traditional procreative purposes. … The promotion of family continuity and stability is certainly a legitimate state interest," Simmons wrote.
Yep, Simmons upheld the state's gay marriage ban on the basis that marriage should be about having babies. Nevermind that gay couples have babies all the time, whether through artificial insemination, co-parenting with someone of the opposite sex, or adoption. Nevermind that plenty of straight couples either opt not to have children or, because of a medical issue, cannot procreate. And nevermind that Simmons' decision contradicts at least 30 other court decisions, including two federal appeals court decisions, ruling against same-sex marriage bans.
The case involved Frederick Michael Borman and Larry Kevin Pyles-Borman, a couple who legally wed in Iowa but lived in Rockwood, Tennessee. The pair later decided to divorce, but in Iowa, residency for a certain period of time must be established before divorce is allowed. And since gay marriage wasn't legal in Tennessee, they couldn't get divorced in this state either. That's how the case wound up in Simmons' court.
Last week, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals heard a Tennessee same-sex marriage case seeking recognition for three couples that legally wed in states with marriage equality but live in this state. One of those couples is from Memphis. That three-judge panel hasn't issued a ruling yet, but some believe it also might rule against same-sex marriage.
If that happens, it could force the issue into the U.S. Supreme Court, where the high court would be tasked with solving the issue once and for all.
We’ve learned something about The Commercial Appeal’s management this week: They don’t think much of gay people. The newspaper won’t take sexual enhancement ads on the grounds that some readers might be offended. But it will run full page advertorials — advertisements that look like articles — warning readers of the homosexual agenda to seduce and convert heterosexual children, as it did last Sunday when it ran an ad titled "The Whole Truth About Homosexuality."
CA Editor Chris Peck issued this written response to complaints about the anti-gay ads: "The Commercial Appeal fully supports the rights of people to express opinions, even opinions we or others might find objectionable. This right to express opinion is fundamental to a free press and the First Amendment. And it's why we accept advertising that doesn't necessarily reflect our newspaper's editorial page positions. In relation to homosexuality, the newspaper editorial board actively has opposed any kind of discrimination based on race, gender, or sexual orientation, and will continue to do so. These two core principles will continue to guide us as we consider future advertising and news coverage."
Compare Peck’s defense to comments by the CA’s president and publisher George Cogswell from the article “Certain Ads Declined,” published July 13, 2012: “The Commercial Appeal has stopped accepting ads from a national vendor whose products are promoted as sexual enhancements.
"While the products are legal and protected under free speech laws, we recognize the sensibilities of those who find the ads to be of questionable taste," said George H. Cogswell III, president and publisher. "We have made the decision to discontinue publishing the ads out of respect for our readers."
What can be concluded by the fact that the CA refuses some ads because they may offend valued readers but accepts ads that make Jim Crow-style accusations that an entire group of people are engaged in conspiracy and perversion?
Memphis Loves Gays posted an interview with Center City Commission (CCC) president Paul Morris as part of their "Straight Ally Spotlight Series." In it, Morris talks about making downtown safer, engaging the arts community, and his mission to "show downtown off as gay-friendly." To watch the full video, click here.
Morris, who claimed he once helped hang a rainbow flag over the G.E. Patterson rail trestle for a gay pride-themed South Main Art Trolley Tour, said, "If you want to create a vibrant, diverse, densely-populated area in this city, in this country, in today's times, you have to be open to the gay population."
In the video, Memphis Loves Gays blogger Michael Hildebrand commended Morris for the support he received from the CCC when he organized the March for Gay Rights back in October 2010.
And Morris had this friendly piece of advice for any homophobes: "You can't be intolerant and be successful."
Go Paul Morris!
On an unrelated note, Morris makes clear in the first few minutes of the video that he's not the same Paul Morris who recently wrote a letter-to-the-editor of the Memphis Flyer in support of strip joints. :-)
The nation's largest ex-gay organization, Exodus International, recently released a controversial, free iPhone app offering everything from links to the latest ex-gay news, a calendar of "change ministry" events, podcasts, FAQs about Exodus, and even advice on dealing with bullies.
Interestingly, their bully advice article touts tolerance, and then goes on to say, "Uphold the belief that homosexual, bisexual, or transgender behavior and/or identity are outside of the intentional design of human relationships and sexuality, and therefore aren't what's best for us." Um, that pretty much sounds like intolerance to me. How can you tell straight kids not to bully gay kids when you teach people that being gay is wrong?
Needless to say, the LGBT-advocacy community isn't happy with Apple for offering such an app. A change.org petition has gathered over 20,000 signatures calling for Apple to pull the app from the App Store.
From the petition site:
Apple doesn't allow racist or anti-Semitic apps in its app store, yet it gives the green light to an app targeting vulnerable LGBT youth with the message that their sexual orientation is a "sin that will make your heart sick" and a "counterfeit." This is a double standard that has the potential for devastating consequences.
To sign the petition, go here.
In my last post on the closing reception at Caritas Village's "[choice] Life Over AIDS" exhibit, commenter Neondragon wondered why I hadn't posted anything on the Senate's vote to repeal "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."
For the record, my editor Bruce VanWyngarden did put up a post on his blog on Saturday, shortly following the long-awaited vote. But I think have a pretty good excuse as to why nothing was posted on this blog until now.
On Friday, I made the mistake of petting a stray cat that had been hit by a car. We were taking the injured animal to the emergency vet, and for some reason, I thought petting the cat would take its mind off of the pain. Bad idea. The cat bit me, resulting in a nasty infection in my right index finger. Due to the swelling and pain, I was unable to type (or use my right hand for anything) on Saturday and Sunday. The finger is still swollen and stuck in a bent position, but I'm now able to type with my remaining four fingers (yes, I did go to the doctor). But I'm sorry I missed posting on Memphis Gaydar on such a monumental occasion.
As for the Senate's vote, I'm absolutely elated. I'm saddened that Tennessee Senators Bob Corker and Lamar Alexander voted against repeal, but thankful their closed-minded opinions were in the minority. President Barack Obama is set to sign legislation repealing the outdated, discriminatory military policy at 5 p.m. today. It may take up to 60 days before the new policy takes effect. For the first time in awhile, I'm proud to be an American.
Earlier this month, 12-year-old Hernando Middle School student Randi Foster said she was beaten by a group of classmates because her name sounds like a boy name.
Ironically, the attackers were leaving a Fellowship of Christian Students meeting. Foster told WREG, "They started talking about me like I was a man. That I shouldn't be in this world. And my name was a boy name." She said she was kicked in the ribs and leg, hit in the face, sat on, and thrown into a cafeteria table. DeSoto County Schools released a statement that "fighting is not tolerated and that disciplinary action will be taken to the fullest extent of the law." You can watch the video at the Mississippi Safe Schools Coalition website.
Here's the thing — Foster was abused because her name sounds like a boy name. We don't know if Foster is gay or straight, but regardless, she was beaten because her classmates perceived that she could be gay because of the name her parents gave her. That's a perfect example of "gender expression."
The Memphis City Council is considering an ordinance that would protect city workers based on sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression. At council committee meetings, some people on the opposition have expressed concern over the "identity or expression" part. But what they must not realize is "gender expression" can be something beyond one's control — the sound of your name, your tone of voice, your stature. It could even apply to a heavy guy with man boobs.
The non-discrimination ordinance opposition really ought to take a look at Randi's story. Unlike Randi's "Christian" peers, one would hope that the religious-based groups opposing the ordinance would show a little more respect for people who cannot control who they are or what they look like.
By the way, the second reading for the city's proposed employment non-discrimination ordinance is scheduled for Tuesday, Nov. 23rd.
The fight for equality rights has come a long, long way in the past decade or so, but opinions on how to gain those rights differ within the LGBT community. Some folks want all (rights for gays, lesbians, and transgender people) or nothing. Others (most notably the Human Rights Campaign) are willing to take baby steps.
Tennessee Equality Project president Chris Sanders takes a balanced look at incrementalism in his post on the Grand Divisions: News and Comment on TN Politics blog (read the whole post here). He opposes baby steps when it comes to the federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act, meaning he wants job protections for both sexual orientation and gender identity added at the same time. Some gay rights advocates support the idea of leaving out gender identity for now to help move the bill along. Transgender issues tend to be a sticking point for some more conservative lawmakers.
But Sanders points out that incrementalism worked in the case of Nashville's 2009 ordinance protecting metro government employees on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. The original ordinance would have extended protections to the private sector (just as Shelby County's original non-discrimination ordinance was intended to do), but before passage, the metro ordinance was scaled back to only protect government employees. The following passage from Sanders' Grand Divisions post illustrates the difference between the two types of incrementalism:
I don't believe we could have gotten half the support for an ordinance that would have applied to the private sector. Since no law (although there was a resolution in Shelby County and a Metro Schools policy) had ever been passed granting job protections in TN based on sexual orientation and gender identity, the territory was just too new. That's a sad statement on the state of equality in Tennessee, but it's where we are. Although the ordinance only applies to Metro government employees, it includes both sexual orientation AND gender identity. We wouldn't compromise on that point.
Gawker.com posted this funny guide to gay male stereotypes ... just for fun. If you have trouble differentiating the Gay-listers from the Show Queens, this guide is for you. Click here.
Every year, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) releases a buyer's guide to help consumers make LGBT-friendly shopping choices. Companies are ranked according to whether or not they have policies supporting LGBT employees, such as domestic partner benefits, anti-discrimination protections, diversity training, and trans-inclusive benefits.
The new 2010 HRC Buyer's Guide might be handy when choosing holiday gifts this year. For example, Barnes & Noble, Target, and GameStop all made perfect scores for LGBT equality. However, Wal-Mart, Office Depot, and Radio Shack scored low, and HRC recommends that consumers avoid spending money at those stores. Petsmart, Kohl's, and Williams-Sonoma were among a group of low-scoring companies that did not respond to HRC's request for information.
The guide includes other businessess, such as restaurants, pet food companies, and gas stations, as well. To download the free guide, go here.
Several years before I moved to Memphis in 2002, my friends and I made monthly pilgrimages to the Bluff City to hang out at Amnesia, the popular gay club housed at 2866 Poplar (now home to Senses).
Memories are fuzzy, but a few things stand out. One time, when the club hosted an amateur strip night, I recognized a guy from my high school baring it all. I also have fond memories of the pool, located where Senses' patio is now. And I was once stranded outside the club after closing time when one of my best buds took off for a one-night stand with a hot lawyer. I waited and waited on the club's front steps after everyone else had cleared out. Eventually, an off-the-clock drag queen exited the club and warned me that the area wasn't safe after dark. Thankfully my friend returned within the hour, and I made it back to Arkansas in one piece.
Senses, which has primarily been a straight club for years, is bringing the old gay club back with Retro Amnesia Nights on Thursdays and Saturdays. With Backstreet temporarily closed, the club saw a massive turnout last weekend. And though the pool won't be making a comeback, a few things have changed for the better — clean bathrooms and mod, funky decor beat Amnesia's crusty old interior any day.
Thursdays are Beer Bust Nights from 10 p.m. to midnight with a $5 cover. Saturdays feature plenty of dancing and a drag revue for a $10 cover ($15 for those under 21). For more, check out Senses' website.
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.
Yesterday, I got this flyer in my e-mail inbox from Backstreet's mailing list:
I didn't pay a lick of attention to the hot shirtless man pictured. I did think to myself, "It's been too long since I've paid a visit to Backstreet. I should go on Fridays for the cheap beer."
If I was more of a film buff, however, I would have noted that the hot shirtless man was none other than Fantastic Four's Chris Evans. Radar Online noticed and had this to say about Backstreet's use of Evans' image:
It may be his brother who is gay, but it's Fantastic Four's Chris Evans who is getting the most attention on the gay bar scene. In a flyer obtained by RadarOnline.com, a photo of the shirtless actor is front and center in the promotion for Memphis bar Backstreet.
With a jacket slung over his shoulder and a simmering glare, we can see the appeal!
A rep for the actor has yet to comment.
Hmmm.....I wonder if his brother is that hot....
Homicides against LGBT people nationwide rose 28 percent last year and, according to a report by the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs released earlier this month, anti-gay killings are at their highest rate in 10 years.
A blog posting on Change.org cites a few high-profile LGBT murders, including the murder of local transgender woman Duanna Johnson in Memphis last fall. Johnson was found dead near Hollywood Street in North Memphis. Though no ones knows the motive or even the killer responsible, many have theorized that her gender identity could have come into play as it did earlier in the year when she was beaten by a Memphis Police officer.
Why the increase in anti-gay murders? Sharon Stapel, director of the New York City anti-violence project, told the Associated Press (AP) that it could have something to do with backlash over gay rights fights — same-sex marriage debates, non-discrimination legislation, and the fight to repeal the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy.
"The more visibility there is, the more likely we're going to see backlash, and that's exactly what we see here," Stapel told the AP.
Does that mean gay rights advocates should back off? Absolutely not. Though it's tragic that homophobia is causing an uptick in gay killings, the sooner equal rights are established, the more likely that homophobia will wane. It may not happen the day after gay marriage is legalized, but after a generation of kids grows up in a society that treats LGBT folks as equals, homophobia will go the way of racism and sexism. That's not to say that racism and sexism no longer exist, but both ways of thinking are far less acceptable in mainstream society than homophobia.
Year after year, the Mid-South Pride celebration never disappoints. Sure, it's not NYC Pride with thousands of long-lashed drag queens, bare-cheecked leader daddies, and rainbow mohawk-sporting grannies (check out NYC Pride's webpage for picture proof the amazing 'hawk). But Memphis' annual Pride parade and festival is something the city should be, well, proud of.
Why? Because small as though our LGBT community may be, there's a cohesiveness that comes out on Gay Pride Day. All the catty quarrels and pointless disagreements are put aside for a day to show the city of Memphis "we here, we're queer, get used to it." Memphis Police block off streets to traffic and local LGBT groups show off their flashy floats and wave rainbow flag after rainbow flag in the annual Saturday parade.
After the parade, hundreds of people file into the almost-too-small Peabody Park for cold beer, karaoke, funnel cakes, and freebies (by the way, Whole Foods had the best giveaways this year — Rawolution energy bars and reusable totes!). In a much-needed nod to racial unity, Mid-South Pride joined the African-American gay pride group, Memphis Black Pride, for a picnic in Overton Park on Sunday.
I've never seen an anti-gay protester at a Mid-South Pride celebration. That's not to say that Memphis doesn't have it's share of homophobes, but for some reason, they tend leave the community alone on Pride Day. And so the Mid-South Pride celebration is rarely wrought with controversy or tension.
I'd bet larger Pride celebrations across the country suffer from more protests and inner-LGBT community strife than our little Mid-South Pride celebration does. The lack of negativity on Pride Day in Memphis makes the local LGBT community appear strong and unified, both necessary qualities for a community attempting to gain civil rights in these changing times.
When the gay community appears strong and determined, the straight community is more likely to listen and sign on with their support. Memphis seems to have that part down pat. Now if we could only drag Wyatt Bunker down to next year's parade, maybe he'd see the light.