Shelby Democrats to Elect New Chairman; “Bathroom Bill” Peters Out 

Shelby County Democrats have a contest on their hands for the chairmanship of the party. In party caucuses at White Station High School last Saturday, members were selected both for the party's local executive committee and for its grassroots assembly. And four people were nominated for the top job to succeed Corey Strong, who had indicated for some time, largely on account of his military reservist duties, that he would not be seeking re-election.

Jeff Etheridge, Michael Harris, Erica Sugarmon, and Allan Creasy were the nominees, but Sugarmon and Creasy, each of whom made some well-noticed races last year (Sugarmon for a Memphis City Council vacancy, Creasy in a close race against GOP incumbent state Representative Jim Coleh) quickly turned down their nominations. Both are certain to be heard from again.

Meanwhile, it is a two-man race for Democratic chair, to be decided this coming Saturday at noon at Lindenwood Christian Church.

The two contestants: Jeff Etheridge, the former owner of Dilday's TV Sales and Service, has been running for several months and is essentially using his retirement from business as an opportunity to help revitalize the Shelby County Democratic Party. Michael Harris has been involved in the same process, working in the party's outreach effort.

• The Tennessee General Assembly's seemingly annual attempt at passing a "bathroom bill" — construed as an effort to keep transgender individuals out of gender-specific bathroom spaces — has suffered the same fate as all previous versions. This year's bill, however, is on the way to earning its defeat by the unusual and paradoxical fact of actually being passed.

Which is to say, the bill has now been amended to the point of being moot. It no longer seeks to define "indecent exposure" in the context of a person designated at birth as a member of one gender using a bathroom (or "rest room, locker room, dressing room, or shower") reserved for members of another gender.

Antonio Parkinson - JB
  • JB
  • Antonio Parkinson

In fact, an amendment added to the bill (HB1151/SB2097), before scheduled deliberations on it on Tuesday in both House and Senate committees, stripped it of any reference to genders at all. The bill now merely names the aforementioned venues as places where indecent exposure can occur and be properly penalized.

This development underscored previous objections to the bill in the House by Representative Antonio Parkinson (D-Memphis), who pointed out in debate that, inasmuch as indecent exposure was illegal everywhere, therefore any and all spaces and places — even, as he put it, a hallway, a janitor's closet, or the speaker's chamber — could as easily be named as off limits.

The bill was scheduled for hearing in House Judiciary last Tuesday but was held over until the committee's Wednesday session by committee chairman Michael Curcio (R-Dickson) on grounds that the Tuesday morning session's hour-long time limit did not permit proper discussion.

Representative Karen Camper (D-Memphis), the House minority leader, protested that the postponement was unfair to the Rev. Alaina Cobb, a transgender herself, who had traveled all the way from her home in Chattanooga in order to oppose the bill.

Cobb would have that opportunity in the Senate's Judiciary Committee, which met later Tuesday and heard the bill as its first order of business. To the surprise of some attendees, who were unaware of the new amendment transforming the nature of the bill, the bill passed unanimously on an 8-0 vote and has now been referred to the Senate Calendar Committee, one step away from floor action. The House Judiciary Committee followed suit a day later after Senate Judiciary action.

Chris Sanders, executive director of the Tennessee Equality Project, which had opposed the bill as discriminatory, professed himself as unconcerned about the bill in its amended form, though he wondered aloud, perhaps with tongue in cheek, if the new genderless version might open the way to charges of same-sex indecent exposure in sports teams' locker rooms.

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