Each week since the counseling discrimination law was signed, we have heard about an elected official in some part of the country banning official travel to Tennessee or a conference pulling out of our state.  

I think everyone understands and is sympathetic to the motivation.  We can all see a certain logic in the approach.  It actually exhibits a great intention--challenging the destructive actions of our Legislature.

But does it work?  Is the message, in fact, received by those who need to hear it?  If we tell ourselves often enough “It’s the only language they understand,” does that make it accurate?

Thinking through cause and effect in advocacy is critical.  If we have a bad theory of what actions cause which effect, our strategy will misfire.

What do we know so far?  Nashville is getting punished for the actions of the Tennessee General Assembly.  Yes, Nashville is in Tennessee.  But Nashville’s legislative delegation resisted the counseling discrimination law and Metro Government embraces the LGBT community, like the other large cities in our state.

Let me be even more direct.  I am struggling to see how conservative legislators in Wilson, Williamson, Bradley, and other counties are concerned about Nashville losing the business of progressive conventions.  Is there some state revenue impact?  Yes, there is, but when you believe that government ought to be small enough to drown in a bathtub, as the conservatives say, you are not going to miss those dollars.  This is the same Legislature that brought about the end of the Hall income tax this session, after all.

And let me take the argument even further.  I believe the legislators who passed the counseling discrimination bill are probably glad that progressive conferences are not coming to Tennessee.  If they passed the bill, what makes you think they are going to miss a conference on LGBT youth?  Do the thousands who flocked to listen  to Franklin Graham’s hateful messages at the Capitol care about the economic loss of some liberal convention business? No, nor do the legislators they elect.  

Finally, let me take the argument as far as it will go.  These bills help many legislators raise money and they present some polling advantages  Last weekend I was talking to one Republican campaign staffer who cited the 80% North Carolina polling numbers on bathroom discrimination.  Those numbers are inflated, but (a) he believed them and (b) the real numbers on bathroom bills and religious freedom bills in many parts of the South are high enough that they are an important force in Republican primaries.

Every leader and every association planning a convention has to make their own decision.  So I would say to anyone thinking about coming to Tennessee or reconsidering your plans, you have a chance to speak against discrimination whatever your choice.  So take it.  And then take it further.  Think about how you can support the movement for equality in Tennessee.  Before making your final decision, weigh the advocacy opportunities that might be presented by actually coming to Tennessee and stirring up the conversation.

Are there boycotts and sanctions that might make a difference?  Yes, I think when companies, employers decide to pull out of a state because of discrimination, that makes a difference because citizens see the impact on jobs.  Imagine, for example, if Under Armour had decided not to locate its facility in conservative Mt. Juliet because Rep. Susan Lynn was pushing the anti-transgender student bathroom bill.  The other sanction that is effective is the likelihood of losing federal funds.  Tennessee’s budget is heavily dependent upon them.  Until Tennessee public opinion shifts decidedly against discrimination, that’s our best weapon against discriminatory bills.

But if that public opinion is to change in Tennessee, and I believe that is critical for the safety and well being of LGBT people here, then we need help.  Whether it comes or not, we will continue to resist the hate shaping our lives.  But as LGBT people and allies in Tennessee we can make it  clear that we need national allies fighting alongside us in ways that are smart and targeted so that we can prevail.  .

Chris Sanders is the Executive Director of Tennessee Equality Project, the statewide organization dedicated to advancing and protecting the civil rights of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people of the state. 

 

 

 

 

This article has been republished from Out & About Nashville, and was part of a series of first-person pieces written by the late Bobbi Williams.

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