Accentuate the positive

The old song lyrics by Johnny Mercer go, “You’ve got to accentuate the positive. Eliminate the negative. Latch on to the affirmative. Don’t mess with Mr. In-Between.”

Mercer may have been talking about love and life, but he’s got a lesson for us as we fight for equality in Tennessee.

Let’s just be honest. It can be tough to be gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender in Tennessee. The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation’s 2008 Hate Crime Report just came out and it showed a 13 percent increase in hate crimes against gays, lesbians, and bisexuals over the 2007 numbers. Unfortunately, the report does not include hate crimes based on gender identity. We have also had to fight some nasty bills in the Legislature over the last few years. So we know equality is an uphill climb.

But let’s look at what has really happened so far this year with an important change in approach—advocating positive legislation. The Tennessee Transgender Political Coalition worked with Rep. Jeanne Richardson (D-Memphis) and Sen. Beverly Marrero (D-Memphis) to introduce a hate crimes bill that would add gender identity and expression as sentencing enhancement factors to our current hate crimes law. With a lot of hard work, twenty House co-sponsors signed on and the bill made it out of a subcommittee with bipartisan support.

The bill has since then met with significant resistance, but it is one of the few bills—positive or negative—of significance to our community to advance out of a subcommittee. The discriminatory bills such as the Don’t Say Gay bill and the adoption ban have stalled so far this session.

The lesson is clear. We must give citizens and lawmakers something positive to support. Even though the hate crimes bill was rolled until next year, consider the “wins.” We put the opposition on the defensive. They had to spend a lot of time on the hate crimes bill and they showed their true colors with the most obscene rhetoric and lies you can imagine. Another huge gain is the new allies our community won by asking legislators to be co-sponsors of the bill. TTPC did a great job of winning our community lasting allies in the Legislature who will no doubt help us on future legislation.

The same dynamic is at work in the recent fight for the County non-discrimination resolution. The Tennessee Equality Project and our allies didn’t get the full ordinance that we wanted, but the wins were significant. First, we got a resolution that can be used to protect gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender employees in civil service hearings and chancery court if they are wrongfully terminated based on bias. Second, a multi-racial, multi-faith coalition came together to stand for equality. Federal, state, and local officials endorsed the effort and allies like the NAACP were brought in.

That is exactly the kind of work that advances our rights and repels negative attacks. It gives the community a reason to take a stand for equality and keep fighting after the original battle is over. More than 500 people rallied the day before the vote in the Shelby County Commission and they will band together again to fight for our rights.

Let’s look for more opportunities to accentuate the positive in the coming months. It’s time for us to change the dynamic in Tennessee.

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Photo by Scott Webb on Unsplash

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