by Chris Sanders
TEP President & Contributor
After every match, the Nashville Grizzlies Rugby Football Club gets together to watch a tape of the event to see how we can improve. We laugh at the funny moments, make faces when we relive the injuries, and cheer all over again when we score or just get a good tackle.
Our coach talks us through the plays with wit and encouragement and gives us a better sense of strategy using examples from the match. These discussions go even better when beer and pizza are involved.
So why can’t we do this sort of post-game analysis with politics? We’ve just suffered a big loss on the marriage discrimination amendment. Like the Grizzlies, shouldn’t we be huddled together carefully reviewing the play-by-play while scarfing down comfort food?
A week after the election we launched a series of Town Hall meetings around Tennessee to simulate this sort of experience. I’m pleased to say that we’re getting insightful feedback from you, the most important players on the “team.”
We’ve relived some of the injuries—stolen and defaced yard signs, a straight ally being called a “homo,” our poll workers mocked, candidates saying privately they support us while publicly distancing themselves from our cause. I could go on, but you already know we’ve been through some tough times.
We’ve also talked about the bright spots—the number of religious leaders and newspapers around Tennessee endorsing our campaign, endorsements from the Davidson and Shelby County Democratic parties, winning precincts, getting good results in counties around the state such as Davidson, Knox Anderson, and Montgomery, the formation of a GLBT group in Bedford County, a statewide radio campaign, and the Stand for All Families event in October. Campaign manager Randy Tarkington, his staff, and all our volunteers made these successes possible.
The discussion of how we go forward with integrity as a community and build the movement for equality has been fascinating. We have heard many good suggestions that we will consider and implement with your help.
Our most difficult challenge in the next round is how to come to terms with the way that fundamentalist Christians, who are a large segment of Tennessee’s population, shape the debate on family and sexuality in our state. As a Christian, I find myself pained by the narrow way fundamentalism defines words like family and sexuality in our policy discussions. I think there is a basic educational issue at the root of fundamentalist views of the Bible that we must find a way to address if we wish to make progress.
Let’s think of it this way. Imagine you’re a high school student in a typical Tennessee small town and the member of a youth group in a local fundamentalist congregation. One of the subjects you take in school is English. Why is it that your high school English teacher makes you sweat bullets as you attempt to interpret a Robert Frost poem written just 60 years ago in English (the same language you speak) while your youth minister leads you to believe you can just open up the Bible (written thousands of years ago and in ancient languages!) and immediately find easy answers to controversial political topics? The point is not that English classes ought to be easy. It is rather that we ought not believe that interpreting – much less applying – the Bible is easy. That strikes me as an educational problem that affects the way thousands of people vote in Tennessee.
Fundamentalism’s influence won’t decline any time soon. The question for those advocating equality is how we can fruitfully gain more allies in mainline religion and develop a dialogue with those whose readings of the Bible are shaped by fundamentalism. That doesn’t sound like conventional politics. But when you lose an election by the margin that we did in Tennessee, you begin to look for new approaches.
Another new approach that we will take is to advance the message that discrimination hurts Tennessee’s economic competitiveness. With more businesses and organizations like Nissan and Vanderbilt University offering partner benefits, we know that inclusion increases an employer’s competitiveness in the struggle to attract and retain a talented workforce. Discrimination closes an organization to some of the best employees. It also affects the perception of our state by businesses considering relocating to Tennessee. We hope that message resonates with more of our fellow citizens.
We have a lot of work to do over the next ten years. In the short term you can help by joining us on February 20 for the third annual Advancing Equality Day on the Hill—an event in which we speak to our legislators about the issues that are important to us. Visibility and conversation are going to be essential approaches in our effort to protect our rights.
While discouraging, these election results are past us now. What we do in the aftermath is in our hands. Based upon the response we’re getting from you in every corner of Tennessee, we will rise from this defeat seasoned for the struggle ahead in the General Assembly and prepared to have a new dialogue with our fellow citizens.