An LGBT Nashville Election Guide
The 2015 election cycle is shaping up to be an interesting one, and there isn’t a presidential race in sight. It isn’t even time to shake up the House of Representatives again, yet. No, this year, Nashville is home to a hot, seven-way race for mayor, and a field of city council hopefuls numbering in the low six figures. But seriously, 122 people are officially seeking forty-two metro offices.
With seven candidates, we have an overflow of riches. The seven men and women seeking office all have their own individual strengths and skills that we must recognize. But this is also a historic year for Nashville politics: no woman has run for mayor of Nashville since Betty Nixon did in 1991, after twelve years on the council, and this year two are in contention. Could this be the year when Nashville truly remakes its own history by putting a woman in control of the mayor’s office for the first time?
In order to help LGBT and allied citizens get a better feel for the race, O&AN sent questionnaires to every candidate for whom we could find a reliable contact. Having assembled those responses, our senior leadership compared them and considered the candidates’ public record on the issues, if there was any, and where possible we came to an agreement on our endorsements, which we present to you here.
In some cases there were many worthy candidates for our endorsement, and the decision was hard. We thank all the pro-LGBT candidates, even those we did not endorse, for your commitment to justice and equality, and we wish them the best of luck.
Barry has spent the last eight years as a Metro at-large councilwoman. During her term, she has served has chaired the Budget and Finance Committee and the Education Committee, and she currently serves on the Codes, Fair and Farmer's Market Committee, the Public Works Committee, and the Rules and Confirmations Committee. During her terms, she has shown herself to be a solid and constant supporter of Nashville’s LGBT community.
“I have been an ally and advocate for the LGBT community throughout my entire professional and political career,” Barry wrote. “Recently, I was awarded the LGBT Chamber of Commerce Ally Award for my efforts to promote equality in Nashville. As an Ethics and Compliance Officer by profession, I understand the importance of diversity and inclusion.”
Barry isn’t a newcomer to the fight, and her promises aren’t lip-service. “I have actively worked to make Nashville welcoming for the LGBT community, for example through sponsoring Nashville’s first non-discrimination ordinance and co-sponsoring our domestic partners benefits bill.”
These of course represent the most well-known examples, but Barry also has made more recent strides in behalf of the LGBT community. “In addition, while Nashville has become more accepting and inclusive of LGBT residents, our LGBT youth still suffer from an unacceptable amount of bullying and abuse in school. In January, I sponsored a resolution with GLSEN of Middle Tennessee to recognize the dangers of bullying and implement ‘No Name-Calling Week.’”
Barry has clear and concrete plans for continuing to work with Nashville’s LGBT community, with particular emphasis on bullying, youth homelessness, and trans rights.
CHARLES ROBERT BONE
Bone has practiced law in Nashville at Bone McAllester Norton PLLC for over a decade, with an emphasis on “mergers and acquisitions, corporate governance and advising emerging businesses, entrepreneurs, corporate offices and directors, and government entities.” Bone also considers himself an “entrepreneur at heart” and has ties to a number of Tennessee-based entities.
In responding to *O&AN*’s candidate questionnaire, Bone affirms that, “with an ever-changing federal and state landscape, we must affirm that discrimination in any form on the basis of race, religion, creed, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, national origin, color, age, and/or disability in our hiring and employment practices, or in admission to, access to, or operation of our programs, services and activities will not be tolerated.” While this must make Bone sound like the lawyer he is, it’s notable that he includes gender identity as well as sexual orientation.
Bone also pledges to work with and support the work of Just Us and other such programs as mayor, as well as to work to ensure that city government reflects the community it serves (he explicitly adds that this includes “the LGBT community”). He also explicitly addresses healthcare, adding “As Mayor, I will support the directives of the CDC and others to ensure that the city is ‘considering the needs of LGBT people in programs designed to improve the health of entire communities’ and recognizing that ‘there is also a need for culturally competent medical care and prevention services’ that include the LGBT community.”
Fox is running for mayor under the banner of “businessman, little league coach, all-around good guy, running for mayor”—and it’s darn appealing. You can even get on his site and set up a personal, ten-minute phone call with the man, or “mayoral speed-dating.” Fox is also promoting something called “The Nashville Way,” the kind of giving spirit that he thinks is the true heart of Nashville, which he believes is threatened by poorly managed growth and its consequences.
All of that sounds better than focusing on his history as a hedge fund manager, or playing up the conservative foundations of his platform. Indeed, much of his campaign seems run by the Republican oriented, Stampede Consulting. Rachel Barrett is handling his fundraising, and she has organized such efforts for everyone from Mitt Romney to Bill Frist and Elizabeth Dole (she began her career as Communications Director for the Tennessee Republican Party, which might make Tennessee’s LGBT citizen’s a bit wary, given the company she must have kept).
Nevertheless, there are no doubt many in the LGBT community to whom Fox’s genteel conservativism will speak. And at least from his responses to our questions, it does not seem that his views on government responsibility and social equality are cut from the same cloth as, say, the Republicans on the hill.
Fox wrote, “I expect the issue of gay marriage will loom large in the upcoming year, but I am sure other critical issues also will be important – good learning environment in schools for LGBT students, inclusion of LGBT residents in all areas of Metro government, attractive business climate affecting all Nashville residents. I believe the head of a government agency must take the initiative to ensure that all citizens, especially those historically exposed to discriminatory behavior, are afforded equal protection and opportunity.”
This is a belief Fox promise to act upon: “I will be clear as Mayor that discrimination based on LGBT status is unacceptable. I am intolerant of disrespectful behavior toward others, will create an environment throughout Metro that prioritizes respect, and will urgently address any concerns that come to my attention.” He also said, “job discrimination against transgender residents is unacceptable and that the work environment must be free of intimidation. I will seek to model the behavior we expect from all Metro employees in this regard.”
Bill Freeman is a Nashville real estate mogul, whose company, Freeman Webb, employs over 500 people and manages over 15,000 apartment units in the Southeast. Freeman is also active in his community, having sat on boards of organizations from the Nashville State Community College Foundation to the Nashville Public Television Council and beyond. He has also been an active fundraiser for democrats, including Barack Obama.
Given that one major concern of this election is the rate of growth and development in Nashville, some voters may worry about putting a real estate developer at the reins of the city. The potentials for conflict of interest seem enormous. One wonders how Freeman managed, as an owner of income properties and with family in real estate securities, to avoid such conflicts when he served as director of Downtown Urban Development for the Metropolitan Nashville Development and Housing Agency. But assuming he did manage to avoid those conflicts, Freeman may have some unique insights into how to effectively grow Nashville.
Freeman’s position on LGBT rights in Nashville is clear. Where he has the power, he will act in behalf of the community; where he does not, he will be an advocate for change at higher levels of government. “In the event that the U.S. Supreme Court strikes down Obergefell v. Hodges (Tanco v. Haslam), I will continue to call for an end to Tennessee's same-sex marriage ban, through legislation or referendum,” Freeman said. He also pledged to work to help strengthen safeguards for teens in schools and LGBT employees in government, including insuring that trans people have adequate access to medical care, including coverage for transitioning.
Perhaps most innovative, Freeman is looking into a possible work-around for the state legislation countering Metro’s non-discrimination policy. He said he is “exploring a proposal to require that tax-increment financing be denied to any company relocating to Nashville if that company does not have a non-discrimination policy in place. (They can still do business with Metro per the state's wrongheaded nullification of Metro's non-discrimination ordinance, but would not be eligible for tax incentives.)” Whether it works or not, that is some out-of-the-box thinking in support of LGBT rights.
Gentry is currently the Davidson County Criminal Court clerk, but that is not his first publicly elected office. Gentry has won three races for countywide public office: he was Metro’s first African-American councilman-at-large and Nashville-Davidson County’s first African-American vice mayor. Gentry also ran for mayor in 2007, barely missing the runoffs.
In addition to his history of government service, Gentry also has experience in business and a noble record of community service. In addition to building up his own insurance business, Gentry also served as CEO of Backfield in Motion, a non-profit aimed at helping inner-city boys, as well as the Nashville Chamber Public Benefit Foundation.
With his focus on social equity, Gentry is deeply sympathetic to the challenges LGBT people face. “As a person who grew up in segregated Nashville and faced discrimination, I do understand there are special challenges that our LGBTQ citizens face. I have heard those concerns and shared them over the years.”
In order to prioritize such concerns in the halls of power, and in keeping with his goal of making sure Nashville becomes “a better Nashville, not just a bigger Nashville”, Gentry proposes, “One of my priorities is to implement an Office of Social Equity. One of its functions will be to conduct outreach with the LGBTQ Community to hear your many concerns and to make sure that Metro government is responsive throughout each department and the city in terms of safety, fairness and all the issues that LGBTQ people face in different ways from straight people. Within that Office of Social Equity will be an LGBTQ person who will be the point person for the community. That person will likely have additional duties according to his/her field of specialty.”
Kane touts himself as having “been recognized as a leader in building partnerships between public schools and community, faith, and business organizations.” A graduate of Stanford University and Vanderbilt University, Kane has taught in public and private schools, and even served as a speech writer for Senator John Kerry. But Kane’s reputation in Nashville is tied to his role as founder and former CEO of LEAD Public Schools, a Nashville-based charter organization.
In 2006, Kane lobbied hard to get his charter approved for a school in North Nashville, and LEAD Academy was unanimously approved by the school board as the city’s first charter high school. By the time Kane stepped away as CEO, LEAD was approved to run six schools in Nashville, an organization with over 200 employees and a budget to match.
Kane brings the same enthusiasm that drove his expansion of LEAD to the issues facing the LGBT community: “When we finally get national marriage equality, we will not rest on our laurels here in Nashville. We must do everything we can to support LGBT families, starting with funding affordable childcare and PreK. We need to support LGBT students in our schools, individuals in our workplaces, and families in our places of worship. Most of all, we need to celebrate the successes of the LGBT movement while acknowledging that much remains to be done, particularly for areas of concern to trans individuals and LGBT people of color.”
Of all the candidates, each of whom stated support for the trans community, it is Kane who was most explicit and emphatic. “Securing the rights of transgendered citizens in Nashville,” Kane wrote, “starts with recognizing that most trans people are not like Caitlyn Jenner. They don’t have the support, platform, and resources she is lucky enough to have. Too many of our transgender citizens find themselves on the streets or ignored in their communities. Securing their rights starts by securing their representation: in my administration and on the Council. We can also use city government as a model for private business by fully respecting, endorsing, and supporting any city employee's decision to transition should they choose to do so.”
LINDA ESKIND REBROVICK
Rebrovick is a career businesswoman of the highest caliber: she has held senior positions at major international tech firms Dell and IBM, among other companies. For the past five years, she has helmed her own firm, Consensus Point. Specializing in marketing research technology, Consensus Point has been named as one of the ten most innovative companies in software, and serves some of the world’s largest global market research firms with its “prediction analysis platform and innovation management” software.
When it comes to the issues, one of Rebrovick’s top concerns resonates with Nashvillians: transportation. Anyone who has ever lacked for a car and tried to route a bus outside of city center has seen the monster Rebrovick is trying to slay. And she is bringing the same innovative spirit that she brought to her career in technology to this problem.
“Nashville’s government needs to be as diverse as its population,” Rebrovick wrote, “and I’ve been very vocal about that. It’s not only the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do, because diverse organizations produce better results. Becoming more diverse from top to bottom includes diversity of background and thought, and the LGBT community is an important part of that.”
Rebrovick approaches the problems of the LGBT community with the efficiency of a manager: “As a city, we must lead by example. This means diversity becomes everyone's responsibility and is integrated into everyone's goals and daily performance. Management and leadership teams will have responsibility in their performance goals and evaluations for diversity, and this fundamental guiding principle will improve the operating atmosphere of Metro government.”
The Out & About Nashville endorsement
When it comes to LGBT issues, every candidate openly and directly committed to promoting non-discrimination and upholding the rights of LGBT citizens. This development is most promising for our city, and we salute the candidates for their bold and affirming stands.
In the end, however, O&AN has chosen to endorse Megan Barry for Mayor. Only Gentry rivals Barry in knowledge of local government, but Berry’s solid commitment to working for LGBT rights through the offices of local government is unparalleled and undeniable. Every candidate has leadership skills in spades, but business acumen is no substitute for Barry’s experience in working through the council.
Barry’s skills and commitment make us confident in her ability to realize her pledge, “To make all of our students feel safe in our schools”, “to update our anti-harassment and anti-discrimination policies, create district-wide anti-slur policies, and educate administrators on LGBT+ and other student issues”, and “to do a better job of incorporating transgender citizens into our government.”