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Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Tennessee: Stop the needless bias, stop exporting your LGBT people

I was born in Donelson hospital. Spent my summers on Old Hickory Lake. Played baseball at Mount Juliet Little League. Got my stories from local news diva Demetria Kalodimos. I even graduated high school on the stage of the Grand Ole Opry.

I knew the words to Rocky Top before I knew how to read. As a kid, I ate my weight in moon pies and Goo Goo Clusters and fried just about everything.

In short: Tennessee is in my blood. I spent over two decades in the state, living and learning and laughing.

Tennessee is also where I developed an early love for politics. Not sure why, but I just found it all thrilling. In the fall, when I'd see the yard signs go up, I'd find myself intrigued by the local slate of candidates. Or whenever I'd over hear my mother, who was very involved in local school board politics, talk about this candidate or that candidate, I'd find myself unduly interested in topics well beyond my understanding.

One name that was omnipresent in this political world was Mae Beavers. Ms. Beavers, who hailed from my area, seemed to always be running for something. And even though I declared my allegiance to both the Democrats and Fleetwood Mac during the 1992 Clinton election and I knew Ms. Beavers was a Republican, I was always intrigued by her candidacy. As someone who was a feminist long before I was an LGBT activist, I loved that my small town had such a strong and viable candidate in Beavers.

That's why it pains me -- PAINS ME -- to see the same Mae Beavers, now a Tennessee state Senator, leading the current charge to keep discrimination alive and quite unwell in the Volunteer State (joining State Rep. Glen Casada in the state House). As you might have heard: Republican Governor Bill Haslam just signed Sen. Beaver's bill that does nothing more than eliminates county and city anti-discrimination laws. A bill that was was purposely designed to remove protections for LGBT Tennesseans. A bill that is now a law. In a state where there are no sexual orientation or gender identity protections. Tennessee's GOP-controlled legislature, led by Senator Beavers (and Rep. Casada), has just turned a blind eye to the very real problem of anti-LGBT discrimination across the state. Or not even turned a blind eye to it, really: They've emboldened it.

For the past decade I've lived in New York City. Now, I live here for a number of reasons -- excitement, opportunity, bagels. And I always knew I wanted to live here in Manhattan. Literally, when I watched Sesame Street as a child, I felt some strong pull to the gritty city. So regardless of my where I grew up, my personality most likely would've led me here.

But that being said: I also did know, quite plainly, from a very early age that I really had no choice but to leave Tennessee. Something there always told me, from my earliest memories, that my future, if I wanted to live it honestly, could not play out in the state of my birth. And the bill that Mae Beavers put into action and that the legislature and governor just put into law? Well, that is just more cultivation of the very climate that drove me out of the state of Tennessee. Or not even drove me out: It's a climate that always made me a little uneasy.

Look, I genuinely love Tennessee. I will tell anyone who listens that the Volunteer State is the most gorgeous one I've ever visited. But it would be disingenuous for me, someone who has experienced the state so closely and intimately, to deny the state's obvious problem accepting LGBT people. I have the scars to prove it. I have bonds that are more strained than they should be because of the state's ongoing problem incorporating LGBT people. Memories that are weightier than they should be because of this nonsense. And I have a home state that I feel less comfortable revisiting than I should, all because of the kind of anti-gay nonsense that elected representatives of the people are putting into state policy.

I will never lose hope that the state that gave me so much will smooth over the path it lays out for LGBT people But right now, there on Rocky Top? The dirt's too rocky. By far.

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