Nashville voters to elect mayor, vice mayor and council on August 2

Nashville’s GLBT community will have a chance to elect its first two openly-gay council members, a new mayor, vice mayor and city council, potentially changing the political landscape for Davidson County’s GLBT population.

Two local political leaders are split on whether or not the election will draw enough interest to push GLBT voters to the polls. One says interest in the election is high in the GLBT community, while another expressed doubt.

An astonishing 78.9 percent of Out & About Newspaper readers voted in the 2006 mid-term elections show a recent survey conducted by Community Marketing, Inc., and Out & About Newspaper.

“I do not think we will see a similar turnout in 2007,” said Marisa Richmond, president of the Tennessee Transgender Political Coalition, political historian and one of the local political pundits O&AN consulted about the upcoming elections.

“State-wide elections, with competitive races for the U.S. Senate and governor, tend to draw much bigger turnouts than local elections. In addition, we had the marriage amendment on the ballot last year, which was clearly targeted at the GLBT community. We do not have a referendum that so blatantly discriminates this time, so I just do not see the turnout being quite so high.”

Jim Schmidt, another local political pundit, said he felt the number of GLBT persons voting would be high, in-part because candidates have done extensive outreach to the community on the election, and because progressive voters are ready for local change.

“I think the community will turn out big,” Schmidt said. “I think the last election where the council became decidedly more conservative has woken up the progressives in this town.  I think you’ve got several candidates, like Briley and Neighbors, who have actively courted GLBT votes and are addressing issues of concern to the community’s voters. 

Schmidt said there continued to be little talk in the GLBT community about the election.

“I’m amazed there are people who don’t realize the election is just about a month away,” he said. “Since there’s been little TV so far, I think there’s some that just haven’t been paying attention. But in the end, I think the GLBT voters will show up and can make a big difference in an election that will be very low turnout overall.”

Regardless of the turnout, community leaders agree that the election could be a watershed moment for Nashville’s GLBT Community.

“We have the opportunity to elect two openly-gay candidates to council, but we also have the opportunity to elect many allies,” said local GLBT leader Christopher Sanders. “Our community has been courted by mayoral candidates as never before in our city's history.  This election determines the incline of the hill we have to surmount in order to get a non-discrimination ordinance in Nashville.”

Richmond echoed those sentiments, and stressed the importance of GLBT voters turning out to elect the right candidates.

"This election is important because there will likely be a second attempt to push for a non-discrimination ordinance,” Richmond said. "This time, it will be fully inclusive which the 2003 ordinance was not.  If the GLBT community wants to pass such an ordinance, and it does have a realistic chance of passage, people have to be involved in this election."

It was the failed 2003 ordinance that may have opened some eyes in the GLBT political community.

"The GLBT community has learned a lot politically," Richmond said. “We are better organized than before.  Also, the fiasco of the 2003 ordinance has taught some important lessons on organizing and alliance building.”

Sanders added that the community had matured in many ways since the 2003 city elections, and had grown into a factor that politicians had to account for.

"We have suffered some losses such as the marriage amendment, but we have learned to defend ourselves in the General Assembly,” Sanders said. “I think we have learned to discern which candidates merely want our votes and money and which ones want to work for our rights. Given the size and the connections of our community, we are now a factor in Nashville politics that smart candidates know they must take into account.” 

Schmidt agreed with Sanders assessment that GLBT voters needed to determine which candidates merely want GLBT votes and those who will work for the community.

“The GLBT community has a real chance to elect some people who will stand up and fight for a non-discrimination ordinance, partner benefits and equal treatment under the law,” Schmidt said. “Nashville isn’t some sleepy little southern town; it’s a major metropolitan area with people from all walks of life, all parts of the country and different values.”

Photo by Margo Amala on Unsplash

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