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TN School Board Removes LGBT 'Safe Space' Posters From Campus, Claims They Were Too 'Sexual'

Screen Shot 2013-08-23 at 4.11.44 PMThe Rutherford County Board of Education in central Tennessee is under quite a bit of fire from the state and national American Civil Liberties Union after deciding to remove all of GLSEN's 'Safe Space' posters (pictured) from classrooms at its Central Magnet School. The reason? The school board claimed the poster's content was too 'political' and 'of an inappropriate sexual nature' because it contained the words 'lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender.'

The ACLU, however, says the school board's claims are "obvious mischaracterization[s]" and "grossly misconstruing the nature of the poster." Additionally, the ACLU says that legal action may be required if steps are not taken to reverse the decision:

"Removal of these posters is a violation of the free speech rights of students and teachers," said Thomas H. Castelli, ACLU-TN Legal Director. "Permitting some student groups but not others to display posters amounts to unconstitutional, discriminatory censorship." 

GLSEN has also responded, stating that many students in Tennessee already feel unsafe at school because of their sexual orientation, which can cause absenteeism, lowered academic achievement, and poorer psychological well-being.  88% of LGBT students in Tennessee have been verbally harassed and 43% have been physically harassed in the past year because of their sexual orientation, according to GLSEN's "2011 Tennessee State Snapshot." 

"Removing a GLSEN Safe Space poster that promotes a positive learning environment free from harassment is alarming given that a majority of LGBT students in Tennessee report feeling unsafe in school because of their sexual orientation or gender identity," said Dr. Eliza Byard, GLSEN's Executive Director. "Every student deserves to feel safe in school and our Safe Space posters, a part of GLSEN's Safe Space Kit, play a vital role in conveying that very message. Students know they have an educator to turn to for support when they see our poster displayed in a school classroom or office."

The school board has yet to respond to the ACLU letter, which can be read here.

Tennessee is no stranger to silencing the voices of LGBT students and allies. The "Don't Say Gay" bill that was reintroduced in the Tennessee Senate earlier this year comes to mind...  

Church Youth Leader Uses Grindr To Reach Out To Gay Christians: VIDEO

Gay Youth Leader Szalapski

Hey, man. You looking...for a church to go to this Sunday? 

A lot of gay men may laugh when they hear that another guy only uses the smartphone app Grindr "just to chat". Perhaps that's how photographer and filmmaker Christian Hendricks felt when he encountered Michael James Alexander Szalapski, an openly gay methodist youth leader from Clarksville, Tennessee, who uses the app to reach out to gay Christians in his area.  

ChurchHendricks encountered Szalapski as part of a project called "South of Ohio", in which the filmmaker travels throughout the American South, documenting various interesting aspects of queer culture that he stumbles upon. Previously, Hendricks visited a Creation Museum and attended a PFLAG meeting in Kentucky. Upon discovering Szalapski and his unusual recruiting method, he set up his camera and sat him down for a video interview. 

Szalapski discussed a number of things during the interview, including his own struggles with acceptance in the Christian church, as well as his work as a youth leader in his current church in Clarksville. Towards the end, he finally brought up his unorthodox recruiting tool:

"Since I've been coming to the church, I've brought a number of people here who are also gay, usually on Grindr, because I'm quite clear on Grindr that I'm a Christian, and my real main purpose to be there is to be a Christian influence on Grindr, honestly. Because a lot of people think that God hates them, and he doesn't. And any little way that I can help let people know that he loves them is a good one. So people will message me and say, 'hey, you're a Christian? Me too.' And I'm like, 'hey, I've got a cool church that you can come to.'"

Szalapski didn't discuss whether he also used the app for dating or recreational purposes. Then again, the fact that we now have evidence of a church (in Tennessee, no less) that allows an openly gay man to work with young people, despite being open about the fact that he uses Grindr, is likely pretty groundbreaking for those of us familiar with anti-gay "Christians" such as Cardinal Timothy Dolan and the Westboro Baptist Church

"It's just amazing to see what difference a little sentence on an online profile can make for someone," said Szalapski. "Just that little glimmer of hope that the God that they knew as a kid, that they thought was a loving God and they were told was a hating God...and that one little sentence can give them hope." 

Watch the video interview AFTER THE JUMP. Szalapski starts discussing Grindr at around the 3:00 mark. 

(via HuffPost Gay Voices)

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Tennessee Church Kicks Out Family For Supporting Lesbian Daughter

Kat Cooper

The Coopers of Collegedale, TN had been members of the Ridgedale Church of Christ for over three generations. That all changed when they were photographed at a city council meeting that voted 4-1 to approve same-sex benefits to government employees. The Coopers' daughter, Kat, is a lesbian and a detective with the Collegedale Police Department and had been leading the cause to have those benefits extended to gay couples. Because they showed up to support her, the church met privately with Kat's parents, aunt, and uncle and gave them an ultimatum: repent for their sins and ask forgiveness in front of the congregation, or leave the church, the Times Free Press reports.

The sin of Kat's relatives, according to minister Ken Willis, is that of endorsing her 'lifestyle', which he says the Bible is explicit about. While Willis doesn't expect the Coopers to disown Kat, he says that while parents should still love their children they shouldn't support their sin; love the sinner, hate the sin. But it would also seem that loving a sinner is itself a sin, judging from the actions of Willis and the church authorities.

Willis insists that since Kat's actions and support from her family were made so public, they had no choice but to take action. The implication evidently is that if Kat had stayed in the closet or kept quiet about her lack of rights then the church wouldn't have had to punish her family for loving her.  After 60 years, the Coopers chose to leave the church rather than repent for a sin they did not commit. Kat's mother is still driven to tears by the events, but the family remains resolute in the support of their daughter. 

Related: as of this writing, it appears that the Ridgedale Church of Christ's Facebook page has been hacked and filled with gay-positive posts and pictures.

Tennessee Republican Rejects Young Girl's Request For Help While Crowd Cheers - VIDEO

Tenn Rep

The young girl, whose name is Josie, according to the video's description, was at the tea party event of over 200 people to ask a question about immigration reform. She looked Tennessee Republican Rep. Scott Desjarlais in the eye and asked "Mr. Desjarlais, I have papers but my daddy doesn't, what can you do to make sure he can stay?" 

JosieAccording to the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, the group that uploaded the video to YouTube, Josie's father is in the middle of the deportation process. "Since her father was placed in deportation proceedings, she's been going to therapy to deal with the anxiety," the group reports. Her apparent bravery unfortunately did little to sway Rep. Desjarlais, who thanked her for speaking before saying, "The fact still remains that we have laws and we need to follow those laws." Politics aside, Desjarlais' response would likely seem civil to most...if it wasn't for the fact that members of the crowd were enthusiastically expressing their support in the background. 

If Desjarlais's name seems at all familiar to you, Joe. My. God. can help you jog your memory:

"You may recall that Rep. Scott DesJarlais' (R-TN) campaign website bills him as working to outlaw abortion and as a defender of God-ordained man-woman marriage "and PROUD OF IT." But in typical Teapocrisy style, his own divorce papers revealed him to be an adulterer many times over who pressured one of his mistresses to abort his child."

Watch video footage of the entire exchange AFTER THE JUMP...

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Tennessee Conservatives Want Halt Marriage Equality To Protect Children From 'Humiliation'

David-Fowler-Family-Action-Council-of-Tennessee-212x300Earlier this month, the city of Collegedale, Tennessee became the first in the state to offer any sort of benefits to same-sex couples. Despite the fact that same-sex couples have been denied marriage licenses as recently as last week, conservatives in Tennessee are still anxious that their home state will soon join the growing list of states that allow marriage equality.

Among those conservatives is David Fowler of the Family Action Council of Tennessee, who recently authored an op-ed piece for Focus on the Family's Citizenlink. In his piece, Fowler attempts to shift the burden of proof on to marriage equality advocates. More specifically, he calls for them to respond to two specific concerns of his:

"First, to the extent that same-sex couples want to bring children into their relationship, they must believe the sexual, emotional, and psychological complementariness of the two sexes and the value of that complementariness to children are irrelevant.

"Second, that belief rests upon another belief, namely, that men and women are the same, that there are no distinct characteristics apart from anatomy. If you doubt me, then you haven’t given much thought to what is behind all the gender identity arguments that have arisen since the same-sex marriage debate began...

"So, the first dilemma same-sex marriage advocates face is whether they are willing to come right out and say for all to hear that (i) they believe men and women are interchangeable when it comes to what a child needs and (ii) they believe that because they also believe there are no differences between the sexes."

6a00d8341c730253ef019104a19f05970cWhat Fowler fails to explain, however, is exactly how a parent's ability to compliment their partner is at all tied to their gender. He also fails to pinpoint any specific instance of LGBT rights advocates arguing that men and women are, in fact, interchangeable in any sense. Let's also not forget that researchers have found no significant developmental or psychological difference between children raised by gay parents and children raised by straight parents. Some even suggest that kids of same-sex couples are actually better off in certain categories. Fowler's op-ed conveniently overlooks that data.

Instead, Fowler chose to cherry-pick a word from Supreme Court Chief Justice Anthony Kennedy, claiming that same-sex parents "humiliate" children. Once again, his statements make a key omission, mainly that Justice Kennedy was referring to the humiliation inflicted on families with same-sex parents by opponents of marriage equality

It is not yet known precisely how well-founded Fowler's fears of marriage equality are. At present, the ACLU and other groups have marriage equality lawsuits pending in states such as Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and Kentucky. Tennessee does not seem to be lining up at present. That said, perhaps marriage equality advocates in the state could take Fowler's comments as a good sign--since the opposition is already scared. 

Gay Tennessee Couple Denied Marriage License: VIDEO


Davidson County, Tennessee couple Jeff Laudieri and Will Peyton applied for a marriage license this morning and were denied, Out and About Nashville reports. The couple has been together for nine years.

"It's important that Tennessee get on board with the other 13 states that have done this ... we are at a serious economic disadvantage and a civic disadvantage for not being able to marry," Laudieri told reporters after he and Peyton were denied based on Tennessee law. "We just want the same piece of mind that every other married couple has always had and we want to do it in Tennessee where we live."

Chris Sanders, TEP Executive Director, told reporters this was a first step in the necessary court challenge to Tennessee's same-sex marriage ban. "It's going to require a court challenge. What happened today was a piece of that. This gives the couples that apply for marriage licenses, but are refused, more standing if they wish to challenge the state constitutional marriage ban in court . . . this is one part of a multi-pronged strategy to overturn Tennessee's state constitutional ban on same-sex marriage."


In more hopeful news out of the Volunteer State, Collegedale is the first city to offer benefits to same-sex spouses of government employees:

Four on the five-member commission voted to accept the new policy. Before he cast his supporting vote, Commissioner Larry Hanson said, “You don’t know how lucky we are to get to vote on this.”

The lone “no,” Mayor John Turner, said he voted for the 74 who had reached out to him opposing the policy.

“That’s what we’re supposed to do as elected officials, represent the people of our district,” he said.


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