The road to November

With several major GLBT-friendly initiatives on the table and control of both houses of Congress potentially up for grabs, it’s shaping up to be a national election year to watch. 

To watch, and to get involved in, say local activists who track the major issues for statewide organizations, adding that it’s not exactly a snooze at the local level, either.

“Depending on which week you’re watching the news, [the Employee Nondiscrimination Act] is either about to advance in the [U.S. House of Representatives] or it isn’t advancing at all,” said Chris Sanders, outgoing board chair of the Tennessee Equality Project. “We have to keep pushing our members of Congress on this, but the bottom line seems to be that this is a critical year for ENDA, and everyone needs to work hard to get it passed.”

Fresh off several conference calls on the subject, Dr. Marisa Richmond says the operative word is frustration.

“There have been too many delays, and everyone is tired of them,” says Richmond, president of the Tennessee Transgender Political Coalition. “It’s my understanding that a vote is going to be scheduled soon, and so we’ve been working really hard to solidify support. We’ve only got two votes out of the Tennessee delegation, but we’re working to make sure they are solidly committed. I’m sure that once they have the votes, [House Speaker] Pelosi will schedule a vote quickly.”

The battleground that the U.S. military’s ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy has become doesn’t look like it may clear anytime soon, either.

“It looks as though the Secretary of Defense has attempted to sabotage any real movement on that this year, but there are signs that Congress may resist those efforts,” Sanders said. “It’s the same situation; keep the pressure up on the president and on the Congress.”

Across Tennessee, there are races for the state House of Representative and Senate, not to mention dozens of county and municipal races that will set the political agenda for years to come. These may be the GLBT community’s best chance to get involved, because what happens locally often moves up the chain to the state house and beyond.

“Don’t get distracted by the gubernatorial race,” Sanders cautioned. “The real chance to have an impact on equality in Tennessee is in the legislative races. If either of the very right-wing Republican nominees becomes the nominee, then that’s a game changer, but if it winds up a McWherter-Haslam race then there’s not going to be enough of a difference for us to need to focus on it much.”

TTPC is putting its attention on the legislative races as well, Richmond said, but says that the three open U.S. House of Representative seats will merit GLBT attention as well.

“If we can replace some anti-GLBT incumbents in Tennessee or in Washington we’re going to do so,” she said. “In the state house we still want to advance our hate crimes and birth-certificate bills, and so we’re looking for progressive, inclusive candidates to support.”

Richmond and Sanders both note that the newly seated Tennessee State Legislature will be in charge of redistricting, so whichever party controls the Capitol will draw the maps in their favor — and they’ll stay drawn that way for 10 years, barring court challenges.

“If things don’t go well, then we’re going to be fighting defensive battles for at least 10 years,” Richmond said. “That’s one reason why these elections are so important. We hope that everybody across the state gets involved in these campaigns, and doesn’t just wait to see what happens. We have to make a difference.”

Photo by Margo Amala on Unsplash

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