The Supreme Court’s momentous decision overturning same-sex marriage bans across the United States did not end the legislative wrangling over marriage. But it has changed the game: in Tennessee many anti-marriage advocates have taken the fight very local and are using local legislative bodies, like the Washington County Commission, to send a pointedly anti-LGBT message under the banner of states’ rights [cue the banjos and cries of “The South will rise again”].
Many pro-LGBT advocates portray this campaign as costly and pointless as a way of dismissing such measures. When the Washington County Commission, like many others, considered its own version of the “let’s thumb our nose at the courts, and at the Constitution of the United States of America, because we are the real Christian America” resolution, it could not have been for any fiscally responsible reason. Larger businesses often won’t relocate or associate themselves with locales which exhibit this kind of bigotry – it’s just not good for employee recruitment and it’s terrible PR.
What’s more, the initial meeting scheduled to be held January 25, 2016, drew such opposition from the LGBT community that the meeting had to be postponed, because the Tennessee Equality Project (TEP) and its allies rallied a huge crowd and the facility used for the meeting was unable to accommodate citizens. This meant that all county business had to be put off for two weeks, and all because hatred must remain on the agenda. Rather than pull the resolution, the county is doubling down, the county is investing thousands to upgrade audio equipment and have overflow crowds in additional rooms so the meeting can go forward, according to News Channel 11 (WJHL).
“I honestly feel like our county commissions are deliberately wasting taxpayer's money and the county's valuable time to politically grandstand with these masturbatory exercises,” Beth Sluder said after the January meeting was canceled. “After the deferring of the Washington County commission meeting, several commissioners expressed irritation that there were many important county issues that needed to be handled Monday night that were delayed. Oddly, their annoyance seemed to be directed toward both the group who showed up to oppose the resolution and the commissioners who voted to defer the meeting in its entirety.”
And it’s no surprise they’d want to deflect the real blame. The scrutiny over this issue will show what the commissioners pushing these resolutions across the state are really about: hate at any cost, both to taxpayers and to the LGBT citizens they are also supposed to be representing.
“These county commissioners who insist on constipating county business with these ridiculous resolutions seem to act like LGBT folks just crawled out of the woodwork after the SCOTUS decision,” Sluder said. “They seem oblivious to the fact that we have always been their neighbors, their customers, their fellow church-goers, their friends and even their family. We were born and raised around here just like they were. These are our mountains too. We have the right to live and live freely in our home, just like they do. They talk about good ol' Tennessee values. Our values are good ol' Tennessee values too!”
The truth is, I believe, that these measures aren’t pointless – though they do cost a lot. They accomplish a real, if irrational goal via this tactic. If you can’t keep your neighbors from solemnizing their LGBT unions, you can sure as heck let them know their kind aren’t welcome here, and conservatives have shown time and again that sending this message is more valuable than taxpayer dollars. And it’s important that, in opposing them, we make the price tag high and tangible – to expose where these people’s values really are.
That’s why it’s important that, when groups like TEP put out a call for us to show up, be vocal, and wear some color of shirt we may not even have in our closet, we do so when we can. Showing up matters. Because dozens of people showed up in Washington County with their red shirts on, a group of commissioners wasn’t able to pass a hateful “protest resolution” without paying a price, and without showing themselves for who and what they are.
And even if in the end these measures prevail, it’s important to let the politicians behind them know that they aren’t unopposed, and to let the people they are designed to intimidate know that they have support.
When the Washington County Commission meets again on February 22, the goal will be be ready to accommodate the crowds so that they can shove hatred down their constituents’ throats. Perhaps a sea of anti-discrimination wearing red can show them there isn’t a public building in Washington County capable of accommodating us.
For more information on the upcoming Washington County Commission meeting, visit the event’s page. For more information on other opportunities to “Wear Red” in opposition to bad legislation across the state, follow the Tennessee Equality Project on Facebook.
Photo: marriage equality supporters, wearing red, came out in droves to the originally planned Washington County meeting, via WJHL