Friday, June 26, 2015

US Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Marriage Equality

Posted By on Fri, Jun 26, 2015 at 9:15 AM


Gay marriage will now be legal in Tennessee and the other 49 states after a 5-4 decision this morning in favor of marriage equality by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The ruling reversed the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals decision, which included cases from Tennessee, Ohio, Kentucky, and Michigan, that had previously upheld marriage bans. Two plaintiffs in those cases — Ijpe DeKoe and Thom Kostura — live in Memphis.

Tennessee Equality Project will have a meeting to discuss the ruling at 5:30 p.m. at the Memphis Gay & Lesbian Community Center.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Memphis Couple Will Travel to D.C. for Supreme Court Same-sex Marriage Case

Posted By on Wed, Apr 22, 2015 at 11:56 AM

The Memphis couple and their attorney involved in the same-sex marriage case that will be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court were honored in a ceremony hosted by Freedom to Marry on Tuesday afternoon at the Memphis Gay & Lesbian Community Center.

MGLCC Director Will Batts, Southerners for Freedom to Marry Campaign Manager Amanda Snipes, attorney Maureen Holland, plaintiffs Ijpe DeKoe and Thom Kostura, and Tennessee Equality Project's Anne Brownlee Gullick and Skip Ledbetter
  • MGLCC Director Will Batts, Southerners for Freedom to Marry Campaign Manager Amanda Snipes, attorney Maureen Holland, plaintiffs Ijpe DeKoe and Thom Kostura, and Tennessee Equality Project's Anne Brownlee Gullick and Skip Ledbetter

Ijpe DeKoe and Thom Kostura, plantiffs in the Tennessee same-sex marriage case, and attorney Maureen Holland are flying to Washington D.C. this week. The high court will hear oral arguments in the case on April 28th. The Tennessee case is lumped with same-sex marriage cases from Ohio, Kentucky, and Michigan, all of which are on appeal after the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld marriage bans in the four states last year.

The Sixth Circuit's decision was a split from other appellate courts, the rest of which have ruled to overturn marriage bans. Marriage equality advocates believe the Supreme Court's decision in this case will decide the fate of marriage in the country.

"We come together today as hopeful that soon the harmful marriage ban and all of the marriage bans across the country are struck down, and the days of married couples being treated like strangers will be relegated to the history books," said Amanda Snipes, campaign manager for Southerners for Freedom to Marry, which hosted the ceremony Tuesday afternoon.

Holland said there are 48 lawyers working on this case, and she expects the Supreme Court to issue a decision by the end of June.

"My greatest wish for you is that by June, you are as married in this building as you are on the base," said Tennessee Equality Project's Anne Brownlee Gullick, addressing DeKoe and Kostura. DeKoe is on active duty in the Army Reserves, and since the federal government recognizes same-sex marriages, the couple is considered to be married when they visit a military base. DeKoe and Kostura married in New York in 2011.

DeKoe said they realize that they're at the center of what could be a ground-breaking case that has potential to end marriage discrimination across the country once and for all. 

"We're at the center of this giant hurricane," DeKoe said. "We realize how big it is. It's going to be a crazy day in Tennessee and across the country when this decision comes down in our favor. And I'm excited for it."

Although the high court is expected to rule in favor of marriage equality, Holland said that, in the case that it does not, there is a back-up plan.

"The lawyers don't stop. We'll continue to bring cases," Holland said. "We'll continue our fight, but we're hopeful that we will join the 36 other states that recognize same-sex marriage, so Thomas and Ijpe won't have to continue to engage in 'Are we married? Are we not?' when they cross a state boundary."

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Thursday, March 5, 2015

Oral Arguments in Tennessee Marriage Equality Case Set for April

Posted By on Thu, Mar 5, 2015 at 11:23 AM


The U.S. Supreme Court is scheduled to hear oral arguments in marriage equality cases from Tennessee, Kentucky, Michigan, and Ohio on April 28th.

These cases, which include a couple from Memphis as plaintiffs, are expected to possibly end discriminatory marriage laws across the country. If the high court rules that bans on same-sex marriage are unconstitutional, such bans would be overturned in states that still have them in place. The court is expected to issues its decision by the end of June 2015.

The case is being taken up by the Supreme Court following a November 6th, 2014, decision by the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals to uphold marriage bans in Tennessee, Kentucky, Michigan, and Ohio. That decision was in conflict with four other appeals courts across the country which invalidated marriage bans in other states.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Tennessee Scores Low On New HRC State Equality Index

Posted By on Fri, Jan 23, 2015 at 10:55 AM


Tennessee is one of 32 states lacking state-level workplace protections for all LGBT employees, and it's one of 14 states that still doesn't allow same-sex marriage. Those issues led to Tennessee ranking in the lowest-performing category on the Human Rights Campaign's (HRC) inaugural State Equality Index.

The national report, the first of its kind, looked at each state's LGBT-related legislation, and it highlights the fact that, although marriage equality is progressing nationally, many states still lack basic non-discrimination protections.

“Despite historic progress on issues like marriage equality, a majority of states still struggle to reach even a basic level of equality for LGBT people,” said HRC President Chad Griffin. “Most states lack statewide non-discrimination laws to protect LGBT people - putting countless individuals and families at risk, and creating inequalities in adoption and surrogacy, employments benefits, and youth safety and well-being.”

“Even worse,” Griffin said, “equality opponents continue to push deeply harmful laws forward, including those seeking to undermine critical protections in the guise of "religious liberty.”

The index assessed state legislation in the areas of relationship recognition, parenting laws and policies, non-discrimination laws, hate crimes laws, anti-bullying laws, and health and safety laws and policies. Based on that review, the index assigns states to one of four categories, and Tennessee, along with 29 other states, fell into the "High Priority to Achieve Basic Equality" category, the lowest-performing category in the study.

Tennessee scored well in the areas of joint adoption, hate crimes protection (but only for sexual orientation, not gender identity), and cyberbulling laws. The state received negative scores for its ban on same-sex marriage, the state religious freedom restoration act, restrictions on municipal protections for LGBT employees, HIV/AIDS criminalization laws, transgender exceptions in state Medicaid, and the fact that transgender citizens are not permitted to change their gender on state IDs (Tennessee is the only state that bans that).

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Monday, November 17, 2014

Former Love In Action Leader Marries His Same-Sex Partner

Posted By on Mon, Nov 17, 2014 at 1:37 PM


John Smid, the former director of Memphis-based ex-gay ministry Love In Action, has announced his marriage to partner Larry McQueen. The two married in Oklahoma on Sunday, November 16th.

Smid has been living as an out gay man for several years now, and he's been in a relationship with McQueen for one year. Gay marriage just became legal in Oklahoma last month. The couple live in Paris, Texas, where Smid moved from his Memphis home in the summer of 2013.

Smid's journey from ex-gay leader to happily out gay man has been a long one. He was promoted to the role of executive director of Love in Action in September 1990, and in 1994, the organization moved its ministry to Memphis. Love in Action operated here quietly until 2005, when protests over a youth "straight" camp called Refuge sparked a national media firestorm.

In early June 2005, Zach Stark, a White Station High School student, posted these words on his MySpace page: "Today, my mother, father, and I had a very long 'talk' in my room, where they let me know I am to apply for a fundamentalist Christian program for gays."

That fundamentalist program, described by Stark in a later post as a "boot camp," was Refuge, a two-week day camp where gay kids were taught how to become straight kids. After Stark's MySpace post, local LGBT equality advocates held a week of protests outside Love In Action, and the Memphis ministry made national headlines, including a story in The New York Times.

Love In Action eventually discontinued the Refuge program and moved to an adults-only conversion therapy model. All the while, Smid was struggling with his own beliefs. During the week of protests in 2005, Smid met Memphis filmmaker Morgan Jon Fox, who was working on a documentary about Love In Action. Smid told the Flyer in a previous interview that it was Fox's influence that helped open his eyes to the fact that conversion therapy was doing more harm than good.

"As we got together, we were willing to lay aside our agenda and get to know one another as people," Smid said of Fox. "That was very instrumental in my processing where I am today."

Smid eventually resigned as director of Love In Action in 2008, and he founded Grace Rivers, a monthly fellowship for gay Christians. At the time, he remained married to his wife. But they eventually divorced in 2011. Earlier this year, Smid told The Lone Star Q, a Texas LGBT news organization, that he couldn't continue living the rest of his life in a marriage that didn't feel right.

"I’ve believed in faith that something was going to happen, and it never did, and so at my age, right now in my life, I don’t have that many good years left in me, and I can’t live like this for the rest of my life, so I said no I’m not willing to keep pushing after something that’s not going to happen," Smid told The Lone Star Q, regarding his divorce.

Smid met McQueen three years ago, but they were just "acquaintances with common friends," wrote Smid in his Facebook announcement of their marriage Sunday.

"I gradually got to know him over time until we reached a place in our lives that we saw we wanted to get to know one another through a dating relationship. As we dated we shared our vision for life, our personal philosophies, and our faith values. We found a compatibility that was comfortable and exciting," Smid said.

He went on to say, "I realized this week that my relationship with Larry is a mirror I see in every day. For most of my life, the mirror I saw reflected my mistakes, shortcomings, and failures. The reflection I see today with Larry shows me the positive things in my life, my strengths, gifts, and talents. I see how I can succeed at a mutual intimate and loving relationship. For this, I am truly grateful."

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Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Pastor Defrocked After Performing Son's Same-Sex Wedding Faces Judicial Council In Memphis

Posted By on Wed, Oct 22, 2014 at 1:39 PM

Frank Schaefer
  • Frank Schaefer

The appeal of the Rev. Frank Schaefer, the former pastor of Zion United Methodist Church of Iona in Lebanon, Pennsylvania, who was defrocked last year after performing his son's same-sex wedding, was heard this morning in Memphis by the Judicial Council of the United Methodist Church (UMC). Schaefer is asking the UMC's high court to allow him to keep his ordination.

Schaefer officiated the wedding of his gay son last December, resulting in a 30-day paid suspension from ministerial duties. After the 30 days, Schaefer told the church that he could not promise to uphold the church's ban on same-sex unions. But a UMC appeals panel reversed the church's decision last June. In today's hearing, the church asked the Judicial Council to throw out the appeal decision and revert back to the church's original defocking of Schaefer.

“I have no regrets. I did what I did based on my heart and my conscience. The church doctrine put my son in harm’s way," said Schaefer after the hearing.

Three of Schaefer's four children are gay, and he said he didn't realize the harm the church's doctrine on LGBT issues was doing until one of his sons, the one whose wedding he officiated, came out to him. He said that son suffered from depression because church teachings made him feel as though he were sinful for being who he was. Schaefer said he now believes the church is wrong when it comes to issues of LGBT equality. He said he his hopeful the church will come around on these issues.

“We are created in the image of God. We have the same rights as everyone else. Stop putting us in a special category," Schaefer said.

The UMC Judicial Council is expected to rule in several days.

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Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Complaint Filed In DeSoto County Over Conversion Therapy Sexual Abuse

Posted By on Wed, Aug 27, 2014 at 1:45 PM

The National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) has filed a complaint with the DeSoto County Sheriff’s Department in Mississippi on behalf of Jeff White, a former student of Bethel Baptist School in Walls, Mississippi. White, now 32, alleges that he was raped and sexually assault at the school during conversion therapy counseling sessions.

White's parents enrolled him in the religious school after he came out in 1996 because it offered conversion therapy that they believed would "cure" their son's homosexuality. According to a release from the NCLR, White alleges that his teacher "began subjecting White to weekly 'counseling' sessions in which he regularly raped and sexually assaulted the teenager to convince him that being gay was more painful than suppressing his sexual orientation."

The NCLR has launched its #BornPerfect campaign to end conversion therapy in the next five years. White heard about the campaign and came forward with his story.

“After growing older and witnessing so many who are still harmed by the church and by efforts to correct homosexuality through traumatic and damaging tactics like the ones used against me, I finally realized that it is my duty to stand up against those who have harmed me,” said White. “By speaking out against the wrongdoings that were committed within the walls of Bethel Baptist School, I hope to shed light on the darkness that is so easily hidden within the church, and to help ensure that no one else suffers the pain that I had to endure.”

These days, White serves as the executive director of the Mississippi Gulf Coast Rainbow Center.



Thursday, August 21, 2014

Nashville Mayor Karl Dean Announces Support of Same-Sex Marriage

Posted By on Thu, Aug 21, 2014 at 4:47 PM

Karl Dean
  • Karl Dean

Tennessee may have the distinction of having the first judge to rule in favor of a same-sex marriage ban, but it also now has the mayor from its capital city announcing support for same-sex marriage.

Nashville Mayor Karl Dean became the state's first mayor to join the Mayors for the Freedom to Marry campaign, a coalition of around 500 mayors "who are making the case for marriage for same-sex couples in their communities," according to a release from the campaign earlier today.

The campaign now boasts at least one mayor from every Southern state.

“I believe that all people should be treated fairly and equally and that their individual dignity should be respected,” said Nashville Mayor Karl Dean in a statement. “Embracing and celebrating our growing diversity makes our city stronger. Nashville needs to continue in that direction, and it’s my hope that joining this effort will help us do that.”

The Flyer has contacted Mayor A C Wharton's office to determine whether or not he will also sign on to the campaign. We'll keep you posted. (UPDATE: One day after the contact with Wharton's office, there has been no response.)

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Thursday, August 14, 2014

Shelby County Commission Committee Approves Amendments to Non-Discrimination Policy

Posted By on Thu, Aug 14, 2014 at 12:58 PM

Kal Rocket and Ellyahnna Hall at the Shelby County Commission committee meeting
  • Jackson Baker
  • Kal Rocket and Ellyahnna Hall at the Shelby County Commission committee meeting

"Sexual identity," "gender identity," and "gender expression" may soon be added to the non-discrimination policy for Shelby County government employees. The Shelby County Commission will vote on the amendment in their full meeting on Monday, but yesterday, the commission's General Government committee approved the addition.

The commission passed a non-discrimination policy several years ago, but the terms "sexual identity," "gender identity," and "gender expression" were omitted from the final version in favor of the more generic "non-merit factors." The policy's original sponsor, Shelby County Commissioner Steve Mulroy, is now attempting to get those words inserted back into the policy's language.

The Tennessee Equality Project has posted a petition on their website urging the commissioners to vote in favor of the change on Monday.

Flyer political reporter Jackson Baker was at the commission meeting yesterday and has posted a full account on his Politics Beat Blog.

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Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Study Finds that Gay Marriage for Tennessee Would Generate $36.7 Million for State

Posted By on Wed, Aug 13, 2014 at 4:35 PM


The Williams Institute has released a study that estimates $36.7 million in spending could be added to the state's economy if Tennessee would extend marriage to same-sex couples.

Here's how they reached that number:
There are 10,898 same-sex couples living in Tennessee, according to the 2010 U.S. Census. The study estimates that about 50 percent of those couples would choose to marry here in the first three years after marriage was made legal. That's based on a pattern that has been established in states, such as Minnesota, that do have same-sex marriage.

They estimate that about 3,500 of those marriages would occur in the first year alone, resulting in $23.5 million in revenue for the state.

That dollar figure includes spending on wedding arrangements and tourism by guests of same-sex couples. The study also found that between 111 and 332 jobs would be created in the state's tourism and recreation sector if same-sex marriage were made legal.

Estimates do not take into account the impact of same-sex couples from other states who will travel to Tennessee to marry.

The full study can be viewed here.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Tennessee Marriage Equality Case to Be Heard in Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals

Posted By on Thu, Jul 31, 2014 at 9:47 AM

Ijpe DeKoe and Thom Kostura
  • Ijpe DeKoe and Thom Kostura

The largest number of marriage equality cases to be heard in a single day will include a case from Tennessee and will be taken up by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit on August 6th.

Other cases heard that day will include two cases from Kentucky, one from Michigan, and two from Ohio. The Tennessee case is Tanco Vs. Haslam, which seeks to recognize the same-sex marriages of three couples from Tennessee. One of those couples — Ijpe DeKoe and Thom Kostura — is from Memphis (read more about their story here).

This will be the fourth argument to be heard by a federal circuit court since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) last summer. Since that decision last June, every court that has considered marriage equality cases has ruled in favor of freedom to marry for same-sex couples. Those courts include federal and state courts in Utah, Ohio, Colorado, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Kentucky, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and Wisconsin.

Oral arguments will begin at 1 p.m. (Eastern time) at the Potter Stewart Courthouse in Cincinnati, Ohio.

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Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Chef John Currence's Big Gay Mississippi Protest Dinner

Posted By on Wed, Jul 2, 2014 at 11:57 AM

John Currence
  • John Currence

Buzzfeed posted a lengthy article by Wyatt Williams yesterday chronicling Oxford, Mississippi chef John Currence's recent Big Gay Mississippi Welcome Table dinner in New York City.

You can read the full article here, but here's a little background. Last month, the James Beard Award-winning chef from Oxford's acclaimed City Grocery restaurant was invited by Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant to cook in New York City for a lunch meeting between the Mississippi Development Agency (MDA) and site selectors for major corporations. The goal of the luncheon was to woo these corporations to move some or all of their operations to Mississippi.

But Bryant had recently signed into law Mississippi's Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which went into effect on July 1st and provides "that state action shall not substantially burden a person’s right to the exercise of religion.” Critics of the bill fear it will be used to protect business owners who choose to discriminate against LGBT customers by claiming that serving those customers would violate their religious freedom.

Currence has been outspoken about the bill. In a New York Times article, Currence was quoted as saying, "The law sends a terrible message about the state of consciousness in the state of Mississippi. We are not going to sit idly by and watch Jim Crow get revived in our state.”

But rather than turn down Bryant's invitation to cook for the MDA dinner in New York City, Currence went through with lunch. But he, Memphis chef Kelly English, and a handful of other celebrity chefs scheduled a protest dinner called the Big Gay Mississippi Welcome Table the next day in New York City. The Buzzfeed story recounts that affair (hint: Morgan Freeman made an appearance) in splendid detail.

According to Williams' story, when Bryant got word of Currence's Big Gay Welcome Table, he wasn't pleased. Here's an excerpt:

The response from the governor’s office was swift. The morning the news broke about the Big Gay Mississippi Welcome Table, Currence said, “I got a phone call, a dressing down by the governor’s office — they wanted to know why I would embarrass the governor like this. And then it fucking dawned on me: You assholes don’t fucking talk to me like a sixth-grader in the principal’s office, I’m a 50-year-old man. More to the point, I’m on the right fucking side of this thing. All you assholes have to do is come to dinner.”

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Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Memphis Has Highest Number of Single Lesbians

Posted By on Wed, Jun 11, 2014 at 11:58 AM


All the single ladies (who like ladies) call Memphis home, according to the Vocativ's first-ever Queer Index, which puts Memphis in the number-one slot for highest number of single lesbians.

The index looked at 100 U.S. cities and ranked them on LGBT-friendliness, fewest hate crimes, number of LGBT businesses, and even availability of hook-ups.

Memphis didn't appear to make any other lists, as far as we can tell. Los Angeles was the most LGBT-friendly city, but Chattanooga, the only Tennessee city to place in the top 35, came in at number 21.

If you're looking for a hook-up, New York is the place to go since the Big Apple topped both the "Hottest for Hook-ups" list and the "Easiest to Pay for a Lay" list. Providence, Rhode Island has the fewest hate groups, and Chattanooga ranked again for having the highest number of LGBT politicians. New York and L.A. have the most gay bars, and Chicago has the most influential LGBT media.

The Queer Index sources 32 data sets publicly available online (deep web, open databases, public sites and social network) to analyze the above-mentioned lifestyle metrics, according to a press release from Vocativ.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Former Backstreet Nightclub Owner Accused of Fraudulent Activities

Posted By on Fri, May 2, 2014 at 1:33 PM

Shane Trice
  • Shane Trice

Back in 2009, Shane Trice, who owned the popular LGBT nightclub Backstreet and several other gay bars, was arrested, and his club was shuttered after undercover Memphis Police officers say they witnessed illegal drug sales, illegal alcohol sales, and gambling inside the club on at least six occasions.

Trice owned two other bars in Memphis — Metro and Mary's — and they remained open for awhile after Backstreet's closure. But eventually, Trice closed both bars and left town. Now there is a warrant for Trice's arrest in Florida, issued by the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office. Trice is accused of opening credit cards and cell phone accounts using former employees' social security numbers and dates of birth.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

House Resolution Seeks To Defend Tennessee Marriage Amendment

Posted By on Tue, Apr 15, 2014 at 2:17 PM

Rep. Joe Car
  • Rep. Joe Carr

Tennessee Representative Joe Carr (R-Lascassas) is pushing a resolution (HJR839) that criticizes the federal courts for granting a preliminary injunction to recognize the same-sex marriages of three Tennessee couples who were wed in states with marriage equality.

The resolution urges the state attorney general to defend the Tennessee marriage amendment, which says that marriage is between a man and a woman, in court. But the attorney general is already doing just that.

In mid-March, a federal judge issued the injunction that forced the state to honor the legal (in other states) same-sex marriages of Memphians Ijpe DeKoe and Thom Kostura and two other Tennessee couples who last year filed a federal lawsuit against the state's ban on same-sex marriage. The state has appealed to the Sixth Circuit.

A Facebook status from the Tennessee Equality Project (TEP) says Carr's resolution "has no effect other than to express a desire to see discrimination continue."

"While Rep. Carr releases a last gasp of hate and discrimination before the 108th General Assembly goes home, the Tennessee Equality Project is preparing for marriage equality," reads TEP's Facebook post. "'Tennessee Ready for Marriage on DAY ONE' is our new initiative to make sure we are prepared for the inevitable march of real liberty in our state."

Through its "Tennessee Ready for Marriage on DAY ONE" campaign, TEP hopes to gather unwed Tennessee same-sex couples who would be willing to tie the knot on the first day that it's legal. Those interested can fill out this survey.

To view Carr's resolution, go here.

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