What do post-election results really mean for our community?

By Chris Sanders
TEP President and Contributor

I was sitting at West Meade School on Election Day in a borrowed lawn chair holding signs for two different candidates. “Are they in cahoots?” one man asked me after he voted. “No,” I smiled and said, “but I’m in cahoots with both of them.” It felt great to have so many good candidates to support this year.

The election and runoff are over. Everyone wants to know what the results mean for our community. Here are a few thoughts.

First, anti-gay campaigning does not work very well in Nashville. Anna Page won her Council race despite the fact that someone put up signs sayings “Gays and Lesbians for Anna Page” in an apparent attempt to create a wedge issue. In Old Hickory Johnny Ellis and Darren Jernigan were targeted for their affirming stances. Someone printed up fliers and distributed copies of Out & About Newspaper touting the fact that they were endorsed by GLBT organizations. Jernigan ended up winning by a solid margin in the runoff.

Second, candidates not only didn’t avoid GLBT endorsements, many actively sought our support. We see the same phenomenon in the Memphis City Council elections. The climate is changing. Despite passage of the marriage discrimination amendment to the State Constitution, smart politicians look on our community as an important voting block.

Third, being gay isn’t necessarily a hazard to getting elected. Keith Durbin deserves everyone’s congratulations as the first openly gay elected official in Tennessee. Also deserving of our admiration is Shane Burkett, who waged a hard campaign in a conservative district and still managed to win hundreds of votes. Keith and Shane have both made it easier for the next cadre of out politicians in Tennessee to pursue their dreams of public service.

Fourth, the community experienced a transformation in the level of our engagement with candidates. The Nashville GLBT Chamber did the community a great service in hosting a superb forum for the mayoral candidates. Out & About’s election coverage kept our community informed. And I have to brag on TEP PAC for the thorough job they did of vetting candidates prior to making their endorsements. 6 out of 7 of TEP PAC’s endorsed candidates won in the runoff.

Fifth, we have a new administration and Metro Council with whom we can work constructively. TEP PAC surveyed candidates on policy issues which provided the basis of our endorsements. We didn’t engage in guesswork. The candidates we endorsed had to affirm that they wanted our endorsement and that they supported some specific policy changes. Unlike in the General Assembly where we often have to fight negative bills, we hope to introduce positive legislation in Metro Council in the coming months.

The lobbying effort ahead is exciting. Part of our community is prudently advising that we proceed cautiously and “do it right this time.” Others seem to be ready to print the banners today and march in the streets. Now that the election is over, TEP is having initial conversations with lawmakers about the prospects for an ordinance. As far as we can tell, we are better positioned than ever before.

The good news of the election should not make us hasty, though. We need to give Council members time to build their relationships with one another before introducing ordinances that might be contentious. Given the controversial nature of non-discrimination ordinances, any effort to pass them will necessarily draw criticism and hence require a public side to the campaign. However, any public campaign must support the lobbying effort and not detract from it.

The election provides us with a new set of opportunities. If we can recognize one another’s strengths and run a smart campaign that supports the core lobbying effort, then there is no reason we can’t make advances in Nashville. I hope we can all do our part.

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