The High Stakes of the 2020 Elections

Local and LGBTQ Community Leaders Address Speak Out


This election year comes at a time of extreme social upheaval, fomented by four years of erratic “leadership”—or as I prefer to call it, self-serving, lightly directed chaos, helmed by a man who has embraced every wrong in our history and held it up as a model. It is impossible to overstate the import of elections in normal times, and these aren’t normal times. This is even more true today, as the world just learned last night, as of this writing (September 19, 2020), of the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. 

A week ago, I wrote to many city and state leaders, from LGBTQ community leaders, to state and local legislators, to activists, asking them to discuss what they thought were some of the highest stakes in this year’s extraordinary election cycle. Below are their own words. They share some themes, though each has a quite different perspective, and all are informative.  

Thank you all in advance for voting: take advantage of early voting if you can do so, or vote on election day. If for safety’s sake, you use mail-in voting, DO NOT WAIT until the deadline. Return your ballot immediately upon receiving it. 

Each of the following represents the opinion of its author, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of O&AN or its publishers.


Christopher Sanders, Executive Director of the Tennessee Equality Project 

Chris Sanders. Executive Director, TEP
photo by Jennifer Sheridan

The rage against the President is an opportunity to achieve a record turnout of LGBTQ people and that may drive results in down-ballot races. That should help allied candidates and LGBTQ candidates in Tennessee. There are three LGBTQ people running for the Tennessee House of Representatives and I’ve recently learned that members of our community are running for local government offices in Johnson City and Clarksville. 

Read more from Sanders on the 2020 election.


Brandon Thomas, Democratic Candidate, Tennessee State House District 49 

Brandon Thomas
Brandon Thomas

One of the biggest stakes for our community is one that not a lot of people are focusing on, because it’s a little more technical, but it’s incredibly important and is one of the main reasons I chose to run for State House again this year. 

In the state of Tennessee, it is the state legislature that redraws state and federal district maps. Basically, this process allows politicians to draw their own districts and ensure that they stay in power for as long as possible without any real challenge. This is called redistricting, and happens after each censuswhich means it will happen next year. 

If the Republican supermajority wanted, they could redraw the 5th Congressional district to push Representative Cooper out of office and ensure that Nashville is represented by a Republican. They could also wreak havoc at the state level, removing Democratic representation in the State House and State Senate. We need as many Democrats as possible in the legislature next year, to bring balance to this process and advocate for fair redistricting. 

When elected, I will fight to ensure that voters continue to pick their legislators, and not vice versa. If there isn’t balance in this process, we could lose LGBTQ-supportve representation in both the U.S. Congress and the Tennessee General Assembly. We cannot allow that to happen. 

Thomas, an LGBTQ candidate, faces anti-LGBTQ extremist Mike Sparks in November. 



Joseph Woodson, Founder of Woodson Results, and Former Nashville Pride President 

Joseph Woodson

The last few years, and 2020 particularly have proven to be ‘NOT NORMAL’ … and ‘not normal’ actions require ‘not normal’ reactions, particularly with what our nation is seeing normalized. So I think for the remainder of 2020, our community’s main focus is broad but simpledo not act NORMAL.  

The same safe political conversations with our friends are not enough, social media posts are not enough, voting for a candidate who doesn’t have a chance is not enough, and as Eleanor Roosevelt said famously, it’s never enough to “curse the darkness,” it’s high time to “light a candle.” 

Talking won’t make change; thoughtful action will. This year I have challenged myself and I challenge our community to get out of our comfort zones (we’ve already been pulled out whether we realize it or not), get involved, and stop acting normal… here are some starter ideas: 

  • When, not if, you see something wrong – anywhere – speak up. Especially when the people doing something wrong look like you, and even more importantly when everyone in the room does.  
  • Look inward. Challenge your own discomfort with or denial of racism, xenophobia, transphobia, bisexual erasure, fat- fem- single- bottom- shaming, whatever it is. Face it, sit with it, and deal with it. And if you have the privilege to “tune things out” you also have a responsibility to act for those who don’t share that privilege.  
  • Help register people to vote. Make sure your friends and loved ones have a plan to vote and, if they’re (or you’re) voting by mail, that they DO IT NOW. Recruit people to join digital fundraisers, and make calls for candidates you support. If you can, give money. It matters. Every dollar.  
  • Most importantly, though, stay aware and active until the end. The other side is NOT intimidated by what we think is “not normal.” There are more folks than we’d like to admit in America, in our own neighborhoods, who are comfortable with ignoring science even if hundreds of thousands die. Who are not phased by our black and trans siblings being killed and beaten in the streets or their own homes. People who will justify or – just as culpably are willing to turn a blind eye – as families are separated and caged again in our country due to xenophobia. There will sadly always be those who would like for these things to continue becoming … normal. 

Remember, elections aren’t over until they’re over. Polls are just fancy guesses, and nothing is ever “in the bag.” These are all things worthy of fear, but from fear comes courage. So, step outside of that comfort zone, and get active. In 2020, please don’t be normal. 


Councilman Brett Withers, Nashville Metro Council District 6 

Brett Withers headshot for web.jpg
Brett Withers

I believe that the biggest stakes that the LGBTQ+ community has in the 2020 election is the makeup of the courts, particularly the Supreme Court. Many of our civil rights were won in the courtroom, and when local or state legislatures do pass equality protections, preemption efforts by higher bodies also often require legal challenges. One of the most diligentand actually competent and strategicactivities that the Trump administration has been to appoint judges who are not pro-equality or to replace those who are. So that is why the office holder of the President and the makeup of the Senate are such pressing issues for our community in this year’s election. 

Written prior to the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg 


Senator Sara Kyle, Tennessee State Senate District 30 

State Senator Sara Kyle in Session
State Senator Sara Kyle in Session

Dignity and respect are on the ballot in 2020. At every turn, the Trump administration and the conservative supermajority in the Tennessee General Assembly have worked to dehumanize and demean LGBTQ people.

At the federal level, Trump has nominated many anti-LGBTQ judges with horrific records to lifetime appointments, eliminated programs for LGTBQ rights and even erased representation questions on forms and websites.

In Tennessee, we’ve seen a new law attacking adoption rights for LGBTQ families and vile legislation targeting transgender students and their families.

No matter who you are or what you look like, no one should have to suffer this harassment, especially from people who are elected to represent everyone.

This year we must reject the conservative politicians who only seek to divide our families and we must join together to ensure our country is a place that supports liberty and justice for all without exception.


Brandon Marshall, LGBTQ Liaison, Office of Nashville Mayor John Cooper 

Brandon Marshall
Mayor’s Office, LGBTQ Liaison / Digital Director

On a national level, one of the biggest stakes communities has approaching would be to vote in the November 2020 Election. Participation is critical. On a smaller scale, when it comes to the 2020 Census, I believe this is one of the biggest stakes residents of Davidson County have in 2020. Within my circle of friends, I have made sure they are both registered to vote and have filled out the Census before the September deadline. I hope people will think about the long-term effects not participating in either the election or Census will have in our communities. 




Elizabeth Madiera, Democratic Candidate, Tennessee State House District 63 

I think the biggest stakes for us both nationally and locally are both the coronavirus, and the growing spread of lies and disinformation that further divide us as neighbors and a community. 

Madiera faces disgraced Republican former-Speaker Glen Casada in November. 



Councilmember Nancy VanReeceNashville Metro Council District 8 

Nancy VanReece
Nancy VanReece

In 2020 things inverted in on itself.  I speak out loud my gratefulness every morning for both of my jobs (at Metro Council and and for Joan’s work as a crisis counselor. I am overwhelmed at times by obligation, but committed to doing the work each day to make some sort of difference.  My mom, before she passed said, ”Do something every day that will matter tomorrow.  If you do, all of your tomorrows will matter.” 

I turned 56 in 2020.  I was in kindergarten when the Stonewall Riots happened.  My entire life has led up to being in a place where I can bring a voice form our community. We are so diverse and multicultural and multi-ethnic and multi-gendered, there is no possible way that one person, or even a few people, can speak for all of us.  We need to encourage each other to speak out, tell our stories. Tell them now, don’t wait.