Voting (D) isn't always the solution
It’s conventional wisdom that “the Democrats” are good for LGBT rights and that “the Republicans” are the problem. The Republican majority in the Tennessee General Assembly—a supermajority—is thus the impediment to progress on issues that matter to LGBT citizens, and if we could only shift the balance in favor of the Democrats, we could solve all of our problems.
In Tennessee politics, bringing about isn’t such a simple proposition, however, as recent events in the General Assembly, and local elected bodies, have so clearly illustrated. In 2016, the state legislature has considered, or passed, bills and resolutions targeting same-sex marriage, restricting transgender bathroom access, and or otherwise undermining the rights and liberties of LGBT citizens. City councils, county commissions, and school boards have done the same. In many of these cases, support for anti-LGBT measures include at least some “bipartisan” cooperation.
The case of House Joint Resolution 529—Republican Rep. Susan Lynn’s protest resolution criticizing SCOTUS’s Obergefell v. Hodges decision legalizing same-sex marriage—is particularly illustrative. The resolution is simple, at heart. By means of this resolution the Tennessee State House “expresses its disagreement with the constitutional analysis in Obergefell v. Hodges and the judicial imposition of a marriage license law that is contrary to the express will of this body and the vote of the people of Tennessee.”
As far as impotent protests go, it’s relatively straightforward. I expect that state governments across the South disagreed similarly with federal actions limiting and then disbanding slavery, ending segregation, making interracial marriage the law of the land, etc.
It is notable that HJR 529 passed the House with a vote of 73-18. Three Democrats didn’t bother to show up for the vote, Rep. David Shepard (Dickson) was present but did not vote, and most dishearteningly Reps. John DeBerry Jr. (Memphis), Kevin Dunlap (Rock Island), Joe Pitts (Clarksville), and John Mark Windle (Livingston) all voted in favor of the resolution. In the starkest terms: only 70% of Democrats in the Tennessee State House of Representatives voted against a measure that demeans the LGBT citizens of the state.
The fact is, even when the Democrats controlled the state legislature, the likelihood of such a measure passing would have been high. And so whatever the long term political strategy is for securing the place of LGBT people in civil society in Tennessee, “Vote Democrat” in and of itself is not the answer.
Even in Tennessee the matter of LGBT rights isn’t a cut-and-dry, party-line ideological question. Amongst the Republican throng, there are members of the General Assembly who will reliably hear the concerns of LGBT citizens and work against harmful legislation. Senator Steven Dickerson, for instance, has opposed and spoken out against anti-LGBT legislation, most recently the anti-trans bathroom bill moving through the legislature this session.
When it comes to securing LGBT rights long-term, a much more nuanced approach is called for. It is better to support Republican legislators who are willing to work with us against legislation harmful to our community than thoughtlessly throw our support behind an opponent simply because there is a (D) next to their name on the ballot. In each race it’s important to research, to ask questions, and ultimately to back the candidate, regardless of party, who will best serve the interests of the oppressed in our state.