ACLU ramps up GLBT advocacy efforts in Tennessee

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The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Tennessee is looking for stories from people in Tennessee’s GLBT community that can talk about GLBT discrimination in the workplace.

Christine Sun, who is leading the ACLU’s GLBT rights work in the south, said it was important to gather stories from Tennessean’s as part of a national campaign to end workplace discrimination.

Sun said she wants to hear from community members, leaders and activists throughout Tennessee to brainstorm about making Tennessee a better place to live for the GLBT community.

“I will be traveling to meet with local community activists and leaders throughout the state to brainstorm about what we can do to make Tennessee a fairer place to live for GLBT folks,” Sun said. “As part of the ACLU’s outreach efforts, I would like to hold town hall meetings where folks can discuss issues such as relationship recognition, adoption and foster care, nondiscrimination ordinances, and the rights of GLBT youth.”

Sun added that the ACLU’s ultimate goal is to encourage, organize, and support efforts to get ordinances or other local laws passed that would prohibit sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination in employment, in housing, in education, and in businesses. 

Part of that effort is collecting stories about GLBT discrimination so that Sun can show lawmakers and other leaders that the issues of GLBT discrimination are true.

“I think there are some folks who genuinely, but wrongly, believe that discrimination doesn’t exist anymore or that it’s ‘not that bad.’ It’s essential for GLBT Tennesseans to share their stories to dispel those mistaken beliefs, and to show the devastating consequences of discrimination,” she said. “It’s not enough to say that the law is unfair, you need to show how it’s unfair. It’s those human stories, possibly more than anything else, that will be the backbone of successful advocacy for nondiscrimination laws.”

Sun said the ACLU would also be at the Nashville Pride Festival with a booth and would be handing out information on the campaign and encourages those who have faced workplace discrimination to share their story.

In February of this year the ACLU, the Human Rights Campaign and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force announced that the three groups would be working together on a national campaign to collect stories from GLBT people who have faced job. Those stories will be used to boost lobbying efforts for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, a federal bill which would protect GLBT people against workplace discrimination.

The groups have set up an online survey, available at www.aclu.org/lgbt, www.hrc.org, and www.thetaskforce.org that encourage GLBT people who have experienced job discrimination to share their stories. They are looking for people from all walks of life that have held all kinds of jobs: from fast food and construction workers to teachers and brain surgeons. The groups acknowledge that proof of anti-GLBT bias will be important to persuading lawmakers but note that proof can come in many forms.

Sun said the ACLU has also teamed up with Public Interest television to create www.10couples.org, which shows what happens when same-sex couples are denied the basic protections for their families. 

With the Tennessee Equality Project having a strong equality network in place throughout the state, Sun said she hoped the ACLU could team up with them and other community groups to begin laying the groundwork of having domestic partnership registries passed at the county and municipal level.

Christopher Sanders, president of the Tennessee Equality Project, said the group welcomed Sun and her expertise to the South.

"TEP welcomes another experienced, professional advocate to our community," Sanders said. "Her presence alone will increase awareness of our issues and her expertise will be a tremendous boost in the effort to gain protection and recognition for GLBT people in the South." 

“The ACLU is also interested in partnering with community groups to get domestic partnership registries passed on the local and municipal level,” She said. “Being registered as a domestic partner is often a gateway to benefits such as employer health insurance and retirement benefits for same-sex partners. The ACLU is already helping community organizers in Eureka Springs, Arkansas and Lawrence, Kansas with their DP registry advocacy and we hope to be doing the same here in Tennessee.”

The advocacy efforts won’t end there. Sun said the ACLU hopes to team up with local businesses, labor leaders, religious leaders and traditional civil rights groups to talk about sexual orientation and gender identity issues.

“I think most folks believe that everyone deserves a fair shot,” She said. “The ACLU is dedicated to working to ensure that the law reflects our common values of fairness and equal opportunity.”