Local Transgender Community Bands Together in Wake of Anti-LGBT Bills 

New transgender committee and political coalition form after rough year for LGBT equality in Tennessee.

Friedrich Nietzsche (or Kelly Clarkson or Kanye West) said it best: "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger." As LGBT Tennesseans (and especially transgender Tennesseans) faced one of the worst years for anti-gay and anti-trans legislation, the local trans community has begun to band together.

Last week, the Memphis Gay and Lesbian Community Center (MGLCC) hosted the first meeting of the center's new transgender committee, which was immediately followed by a transgender flag-raising ceremony.

The trans flag consists of five horizontal stripes — two in light blue, two in pink, and a white strip across the center.

"We had a transgender flag here before, but it was much smaller than the rainbow flag, and it was in rags and tatters," said Kayla Gore, the transgender service specialist at MGLCC. "We wanted to make sure the trans community felt welcome here. Now, from down the street, you can see our flag and know that you're welcome here."

click to enlarge The MGLCC raised a larger transgender flag last week. - BIANCA PHILLIPS
  • Bianca Phillips
  • The MGLCC raised a larger transgender flag last week.

Gore said MGLCC is starting a new support group for transgender men, who were previously lacking their own group, on Friday, April 29th. And she said the center formed its new transgender committee to help the community stay informed about future statewide political threats or local issues.

"It's good to have organization when there's so much stuff going on. If we're not organized, we're not going to be prepared for what's coming," Gore said.

The "stuff going on" that Gore is referring to includes a number of anti-LGBT bills that were considered (and passed) in the now-adjourned General Assembly this past session. A bill that would have banned transgender students at public schools and universities from using the restroom that corresponds with their gender identity was pulled by its sponsor, Rep. Susan Lynn, at the last minute.

But another bill, which has come to be known as Hate Bill 1840 by its opponents, that passed has potential to negatively impact the LGBT community in Tennessee. Governor Bill Haslam signed the bill into law on Tuesday, and it allows counselors to deny service to any client who conflicts with the counselor's "sincerely held beliefs."

The bill could have far-reaching impact, but Tennessee Equality Project (TEP) Executive Director Chris Sanders said the LGBT community is intended as the primary target.

"Conceivably, sexism and racism are sincerely held principles, too. At this point, it's so wide open, it's ridiculous, and it defeats the purpose of having a counseling code of ethics," Sanders said.

According to Sanders, the LGBT community in Tennessee has "never had a year like this" in regard to anti-LGBT legislation and says that's likely due to backlash from the U.S. Supreme Court decision last year legalizing same-sex marriage. Earlier this year, the Tennessee House passed an anti-same-sex marriage resolution condemning the Supreme Court decision.

Sanders said he's expecting the transgender bathroom bill to be back next session, and TEP is working to strengthen ties with religious organizations that may help them fight such bills in the future.

"We want to engage members of conservative denominations who are tired of religion being used for discrimination," Sanders said.

Next time around, TEP may have some help from a new political coalition that's forming in Memphis. The West Tennessee Transgender Political Coalition (TTPC) has started a Facebook page and plans to hold its first meeting soon.

"We'll meet once a month to update everyone on political news, and we'll be looking at local trans issues or school issues. We want to get people together to stand against any anti-trans legislation that comes up," said Victoria Hester, the assistant coordinator for the coalition.

The local coalition is affiliated with the statewide TTPC, which also has factions in East and Middle Tennessee. An older version of the West Tennessee group disbanded years ago.

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