Reflecting on the top stories of 2007

It was a year of battles for the Tennessee GLBT community in 2007. Some were won, and some were lost, but all were fought with veracity.

Both the House of Representatives (in May) and the Senate (in September) passed hate crimes bills, expanding the categories covered by federal hate crimes. In the House, the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act (also called the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Act) passed 237-180 on May 3. The law would apply to crimes based on gender and sexual orientation and make it easier for federal law enforcement to help local efforts to prosecute the people responsible for attacks based on bias, O&AN previously reported.

Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), said in an email to HRC members in May, “The radical right is terrified of this bill – their attacks have been ferocious, and this vote will only intensify them.”

The Senate attached hate crime legislation to a Pentagon spending bill in September after a bipartisan vote, 60-39, in an effort to get it passed. Both Tennessee senators voted against the bill.  

Both pieces of legislation face a presidential veto if they make it to the White House.

“Congress has taken an historic step forward and moved our country closer to the realization that all Americans, including the GLBT community, are part of the fabric of our nation,” Solmonese said in a September article.

In August, Keith Durbin became Tennessee’s first elected openly-gay official. He won his bid for Metro Council district 18 receiving 1,692 votes and running unopposed. A write-in candidate received 32 votes.

“… I believe this victory shows that an out person in Nashville can gain the experience, nurture the relationships and be thought by the voters as a person capable of handling the responsibilities of elected office,” Durban said in an August article in O&AN.

It was an equally important but opposite milestone for one of Nashville’s gay icons. In July, the Chute closed its doors a final time after 24 years in business, bringing about the end of an era. The Chute served as a meeting ground for several community groups including the Smoky Mountain Rodeo Association (SMRA), The Conductors and the Music City Bears. Hundreds of people gathered at the Chute on Friday, July 27, to bid a grand farewell to the legendary bar and its equally well-known owner, Don Hartsfield.

Other bars also faced changes. A smoking ban law enforced by Gov. Phil Bredesen, banned smoking at bars and restaurants with the exception of those which only allow customers who are at least 21 years old. Play and Tribe went smoke free on October 1, while Blue Gene’s, Lucky’s and the Lipstick Lounge continue to allow smoking.

It was all smiles in April when O&AN publisher Jerry Jones signed a contract with DistribuTech in Nashville allowing distribution of the publication from several Kroger and Harris Teeter stores. But those smiles were soon flipped when officials at DistribuTech decided to pull O&AN from all Kroger and Harris Teeter stores only one month after the new distribution began.

Officials at DistribuTech, the company that owns and manages the free distribution racks inside Kroger, claimed further evaluation of the newspaper was necessary. Members of the GLBT community quickly asserted themselves to Kroger by telephone and email to ask questions and complain.

Officials at Kroger responded to the public outcry with messages that many people believed were inaccurate or misleading. In one emailed response, an official at Kroger said, “Please understand that publications are placed on the racks in our stores by approval only. Other publications in the past that were not pre-approved were removed, as in the case with Out & About.”

Refuting that claim, Jones said, “their response to our readers makes it appear that we placed our publication in their stores without approval from anyone. Nothing could be further from the truth.”

In another email, a Kroger official explained that their long-standing policy prohibits DistribuTech from distributing publications “that promote political, religious or other specific agendas. If a publication is offered that does not meet the guidelines mentioned above, we do ask the distributor to remove it. That is what happened in this instance.”

Brent Meredith, O&AN editor, and Jones maintained the newspaper promoted no more of an agenda than did the Nashville Scene or other similar publications distributed from the same stores.

Kroger officials reviewed O&AN, saying the review process was necessary for all new free publications distributed from their stores. They said O&AN had somehow skipped the review process and entered directly into the stores. Once the evaluation was complete just more than a month after the newspaper was pulled, officials at Kroger decided to let the publication back in eight inner-city stores chosen by Kroger officials and O&AN staffers.

During the review period, members of several GLBT groups including the Tennessee Equality Project (TEP), the Nashville GLBT Chamber of Commerce, HRC, PFLAG Nashville, Nashville Pride and the Tennessee Transgender Political Coalition began a “Save Your Receipt(s)” campaign to show the economic power of the local GLBT community.

Participants shopped at grocers other than Kroger and Harris Teeter and pooled their receipts. More than 255 receipts were turned in during the week of June 10, through June 17, totaling $15,132.99. Projected over a year, that total came to a potential loss of $786,879.08 for the grocers.

Christopher Sanders, president of TEP, said in a July O&AN article that the compromise was a victory for good business, dialogue and cooperation.

Other 2007 milestones for O&AN...

In August, rankings.com ranked the top fifteen GLBT newspaper Web sites in the nation and placed O&AN at the number nine spot. O&AN's Website receives more than a million hits each month and offers breaking news, local business, features and sports. Video clips from the NewsChannel 5+ TV show Out & About Today are also accessible from the site.

Then in October, members of the newspaper celebrated its fifth year anniversary and reflected on the publication’s growth since its humble beginnings.

Out & About Newspaper has given this community a voice and a place at the table with other local, statewide and even national media,” said O&AN Editor Brent Meredith in an October article. “They view us, whether they agree with us or not, as a part of the fabric of our city…”

Here's what our readers said:

We asked our hard working staff what they thought the top five stories of the year were, and then took those results and put them to a vote with O&AN readers in an online poll. Here are the results:

  • TEP, Gay Chamber organize fight to keep O&AN in Kroger/Harris Teeter 33 (44%)
  • The Chute closes after 23 years 19 (25%)
  • Nashville elects first gay council member 16 (22%)
  • The next mayor, gay, gayer gayest 5 (7%)
  • Bars prepare for smoking ban 3 (4%)

 

 

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