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Tennessee is one-step closer to criminalizing public drag shows

LGBTQ advocates & drag performers said the bill will target vulnerable communities and may have a chilling effect on artistic performances

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Tennessee Capitol Building in Nashville (Photo Credit: State of Tennessee)

NASHVILLE – Republican lawmakers on Thursday passed House Bill 9 which would ban would drag performances from public property or in a location where they could be viewed by minors.

The legislation classifies “male and female impersonators” as adult cabaret performers and bans “adult-oriented performances that are harmful to minors,” as defined under the state’s obscenity law.

HB9 was sponsored by Rep. Chris Todd, (R-Madison County) who led an anti-LGBTQ+ campaign against Jackson Tennessee Pride last October 8. The Pride festival was scheduled the to be held at Conger Park, but after Todd stepped in opposing the venue and in particular the scheduled drag show, organizers shifted it to the Civic Center running a check IDs of those who want to re-enter to ensure drag show attendees were 18 or older.

Todd and his supporters were able to take the Pride organizers and the city into court were an agreement was reached.

Rep. Chris Todd, (R-Madison County)
(Screenshot Memphis TV Station WJHL 11)

In the case of the legislation, Memphis TV Station WJHL 11 reported

House Bill 9 and Senate Bill 3 would ban those performances from public property or in a location where they could be viewed by minors. The bill addresses performances like “topless dancers, go-go dancers, exotic dancers, strippers, male or female impersonators who provide entertainment that appeals to a prurient interest.”

The bill passed as amended with 74 in favor and 19 against. News Channel 11 reached out to the office of Governor Bill Lee regarding the bill. A spokesperson for Lee said he intended to sign it when it came to his desk.

The bill now returns to the state senate for a procedural concurrence vote before heading to the governor’s desk, possibly as soon as Friday.

LGBTQ advocates and drag performers have said the bill will target vulnerable communities and may have a chilling effect on artistic performances. At least one Republican on the committee also raised questions about the potential impact on other types of entertainment, such as professional wrestling and major performing artists.

Rep. Gloria Johnson, D-Knoxville, argued Thursday the state already has profanity laws on the books.

“If you’re obscene in front of children, that’s illegal, right? If you wear leather pants and you’re obscene in front of children, you’ll get arrested, right?” Johnson said.

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Tennessee

New Tenn. law allows refusal to conduct same-sex marriages

Republicans control both chambers of the state house & have been advancing what Tennessee Equality Project called a “slate of hate” bills

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Tennessee’s Republican Governor Bill Lee signing legislation. (File photo credit: Office of the Governor)

By Rob Salerno | NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Tennessee’s Republican Governor Bill Lee signed a law Wednesday that allows people to refuse to solemnize a marriage if they disagree with it, a measure critics say was designed to allow officials to refuse to solemnize same-sex marriages.

Bill HB 0878 adds a single section to the Tennessee Code, stating “A person shall not be required to solemnize a marriage if the person has an objection to solemnizing the marriage based on the person’s conscience or religious beliefs.” The bill was given an emergency clause, making it come into effect upon the governor’s signature.

Under existing Tennessee law, couples get a marriage license from a county clerk before having their marriage solemnized by a notary public, government official, or religious figure. Religious figures already have protections under the first amendment allowing them to deny solemnizing marriages contrary to their faith.

Chris Sanders, executive director of the Tennessee Equality Project says his organization is ready to fight the law in court.

“Half of this bill is unnecessary because clergy are already protected. The other half is discriminatory because it allows public officials to turn away couples who have obtained a valid marriage license. Public officials should serve the entire public. We would be glad to work with organizations seeking to bring a legal challenge to the law,” he says.

Tennessee Equality Project is encouraging anyone who has a public official refuse to solemnize their wedding to contact them.

The law has the potential to affect more than the LGBT community. Under the law, officials could refuse to marry interfaith or interracial couples. While couples may have the opportunity to find alternate officials to solemnize their marriages in larger cities, couples in smaller or rural communities may be forced to travel far simply to find someone willing to solemnize their legal marriage.

The bill passed the Tennesseee state house 74-22 last March and passed the state senate 27-5 on Feb 12.  Only one house Democrat supported the bill; no Republicans voted against it.

Republicans control both chambers of the state legislature and have been advancing what Tennessee Equality Project has called a “slate of hate” bills this session. 

Also on Wednesday, a bill that would ban any flag but the flag of the United States or the state of Tennessee from being displayed in any school narrowly advanced out of the senate education committee. The bill is one of many copycat bills being introduced by Republican legislators attempting to ban the Pride flag in schools.

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A companion bill in the House has had an amendment added which would allow the display of certain other flags, including the flags of other countries, Native American tribes, and military flags. The Tennessean reported that during debate, the house education committee attorney said it was unclear if the Confederate flag or the Nazi flag would be banned from schools under the amended bill.

Another bill is scheduled for consideration in the senate judiciary committee that would bar the department of children’s services from requiring that foster parents support a policy on sexual orientation or gender identity that conflicts with their beliefs. The bill would essentially require the department to place queer and trans foster kids with non-affirming parents.

The legislature is also considering bills to bar trans people from using a gender-appropriate bathroom, removing the concept of “gender identity” from state law, forcibly outs trans students to their parents, and creates a separate marriage procedure for same-sex couples.

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Rob Salerno is a writer and journalist based in Los Angeles, California, and Toronto, Canada.

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Tenn. Senate approves ‘refuse to officiate same-sex weddings’ bill

A measure that would allow officiants to decline to perform weddings, passed the Tennessee Senate without debate along party lines

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Tenn. State Sen. Mark Pody, (R-Lebanon) (L) pictured with two members of the extremist anti-LGBTQ+ group, Moms 4 Liberty. (Photo Credit: Office of Sen. Mark Pody/Facebook)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – A measure that would allow officiants to decline to perform weddings, passed the Tennessee Senate without debate along party lines on Monday evening and was sent to Republican Governor Bill Lee.

While it is not known if Lee will sign the legislation, he has signed numerous anti-LGBTQ+ bills into law including Senate Bill 1440, which redefines sex in Tennessee’s legal code in a manner that excludes transgender individuals from legal protections, measures that criminalizes gender-affirming care for transgender youth and a law that could be used to stop all drag shows on public property or in the presence of anyone under the age of 18.

Lee also signed Lee signed Senate Bill 2153, which “prohibits males from participating in public higher education sports that are designated for females.” The law also requires Tennessee colleges to determine a student-athlete’s gender using the student’s “original” birth certificate.

Senate Bill 596, which the House version was passed last legislative session in 2023, states: “A person shall not be required to solemnize a marriage if the person has an objection to solemnizing the marriage based on the person’s conscience or religious beliefs.”

The Tennessean reported that the bill, sponsored by Sen. Mark Pody, (R-Lebanon) and Rep. Monty Fritts, (R-Kingston) wouldn’t just apply to wedding officiants and religious leaders — it also amends Tennessee Code Section 36-3-301, which applies to public government officials, including county clerks who handle marriage licenses. The legislation would allow those individuals, too, to refuse to “solemnize” a marriage based on their own religious convictions.

Pody told members of the Senate Judiciary Committee this month that the goal of his bill is to provide clarity on whether officiants are required to perform marriages.

Journalist Chris Walker reported that Fritts has asserted that any opposition to the bill being anti-LGBTQ is misplaced because the bill doesn’t mention such marriages at all, dubiously claiming that the bill merely exists to clarify “the rights of the officiate or officiates of wedding ceremonies” to refuse to perform marriage ceremonies based on religious convictions, rights that already exist within the state and that aren’t being questioned or challenged.

Pody has a long documented history of anti-LGBTQ+ attacks according to journalist Joe Jervis:

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Moms for Liberty school board member resigns after theft charges

Blair ran her 2022 campaign as a conservative supporting parent choice and with criticism of perceived “social agendas” in public education

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Collierville Schools board member Keri Leigh Blair- booking photo. (Photo credit: Collierville Police Department TN)

COLLIERVILLE, Tenn. – A Collierville Schools board member backed by anti-LGBTQ+ extremist group Moms for Liberty has resigned after being charged with seven counts of property theft from the Collierville Target retail store located at 325 New Byhalia Rd.

Keri Leigh Blair, 43, was booked into the Shelby County jail Friday, January 5, charged by Collierville Police of shoplifting at Target seven times over a 26-day period on November 25, 30, and then on December 3, 6, 13, 18, 20. According to police, Blair stole $728.61 worth of merchandise by “skip scanning items at the self-checkout.” She would arrive each time in the same car and used a debit card in her name, arrest records show.

The amounts ranged from $63.38-$140.49 and the investigation was launched on Dec. 27, a week after her last alleged theft. She was released from custody on a $7,500 bond.

In a statement the Collierville Schools announced Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2024, that Blair had resigned the day before as a school board member:

Late yesterday afternoon, School Board Chairman Wright Cox received notice from Board Member Keri Blair of her resignation from the Board of Education for personal, family reasons. Ms. Blair was serving her first term, having been elected to School Board Position 4 in November 2022. Chairman Cox wishes to express his thanks for Ms. Blair’s service to the community and her commitment to public education in Collierville.

State law requires that Ms. Blair’s replacement be appointed by the Collierville Board of Mayor and Aldermen (BMA). The BMA has worked closely with the Board of Education in the past when selecting a new board member, and the School Board looks forward to continuing in this spirit of cooperation. The appointed board member will serve in the position until the next municipal election on November 5, 2024.

Blair ran her 2022 campaign as a conservative campaign supporting parent choice and with criticism of perceived “social agendas” in public education, The Memphis Commercial Appeal reported.

For the most part, Blair self-financed her campaign but also received contributions from community members including Patricia Woodard, treasurer for the Shelby County chapter of Moms for Liberty. The national conservative political group has grown in recent years and successfully supported school board candidates in recent elections, the Memphis Commercial Appeal noted.

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Tennessee lawmaker files bill to ban ‘political agenda’ Pride flag

Latest effort to ban Pride flags leads to the possibility Tenn. could be one of the first states to ban political flags in all public schools

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Florida Republican U.S. Senator Rick Scott with Republican Tennessee State Rep. Gino Bulso, June 2022. (Photo Credit: Office of Rep. Gino Bulso/Facebook)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Republican State Rep. Gino Bulso (R-Brentwood) has filed a bill to ban all flags in schools that aren’t the official Tennessee or United States flag.

In an interview with ABC News affiliate WKRN 2 in Nashville, Bulso said that he filed the proposed measure after discussions with his constituents who expressed concern over the LGBTQ+ Pride flags displayed in classrooms.

“I had some complaints from Williamson County parents and a Williamson County School Board member, in particular, about pride flags in some of our schools in Williamson County,” Bulso told WKRN. “The whole idea is that a school is a place where a child goes to learn, not a place where a child goes to be indoctrinated. So you’re focusing on just one purpose of the bill having to do with political statements regarding transgender ideology and other similar issues.”

“Certainly, you know, 50 years ago we had a consensus on what marriage is; we don’t have that anymore. One-hundred years ago, we had a consensus on sexual morality; I don’t think we have that anymore. So the values that I think most parents want their children exposed to are the ones that were in existence at the time that our country was founded,” he added.

The Republican lawmaker, a trial lawyer specializing in Real Estate, on his campaign website claims that he is staunchly pro-life and pro-family. In 1992, he founded the National Lawyers Association a national association of pro-life attorneys to advocate for the unborn rights and battle abortion rights.

Bulso told WKRN that the pride and trans flag represent ideas he disagrees with, like the 2015 Supreme Court Obergefell v Hodges decision, saying the 14th Amendment requires states recognize same-sex marriage.

“That’s one issue that I think that flag represents this idea that, somehow, the 14 Amendment has an equal protection clause that extends this protection, which is obviously something I very much disagree with,” Bulso told WKRN. “And I think a lot of parents and I would be included in that group, really think that this transgender ideology is probably the most dangerous one that comes under that pride flag.”

He conceded that the measure is subject to amending as it works its way through the legislative process, but he told WKRN state flags or flags from other countries will likely be added as exceptions, but not ones that promote an “agenda,” like the Pride flag or Black Lives Matter flag.

Brian Sullivan of the Tennessee Equality Project told WKRN they are already watching this bill and is nervous about its broad implications and the message it sends to students.

“We live here; this is our home; this is our state; the capitol is as much our building as it is anyone else’s, and we’re not going anywhere,” Sullivan said.

In a recent open letter, the American Civil Liberties Union labeled efforts by lawmakers and others such as school boards in numerous jurisdictions a disturbing trend.

“The U.S. Constitution also guarantees robust free expression rights upon which the flag bans unlawfully infringe. While speech in public schools may be subject to more restrictions than other arenas, the Supreme Court has repeatedly held that First Amendment protections extend to ‘teachers and students,’” ACLU attorney Li Nowlin-Sohl wrote.

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Ordinance banning public homosexuality reaches libraries

In Murfreesboro, Tennessee, a new city ordinance targeting public homosexuality is hitting libraries targeting LGBTQ+ books

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A March meeting of the City Council Murfreesboro, Tennessee. (Screenshot/YouTube)

By Erin Reed | MURFREESBORO, Tenn. – A municipal mandate enacted this past June in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, is now being used to target books in the local library system. The ordinance, outlawing “indecent behavior” in public and prohibiting “indecent materials,” is alarmingly vague in its delineation of indecency.

This definition used in the law links back to a city statute that explicitly bans public homosexuality or materials promoting homosexuality. The code has already been used to target local Pride events. Now, the code’s enforcement has reached the local library system, where at least four books, all containing LGBTQ+ themes, have been pulled from the shelves.

The ordinance in question is city ordinance 23-O-22. The ordinance states that the community “has the right to establish and preserve contemporary community standards.” It goes on to state that “indecent behavior” or “display” of “indecent materials” would be banned by the new provision.

Importantly, the definitions of indecency link back to the city codes definition in section 21-71 of Murfreesboro city codes, which states that “sexual conduct” barred under the provisions includes “homosexuality.”

The city ordinance further states that any “behaviors, materials or events that are patently offensive to the adult community” in Murfreesboro would also be banned. Finally, it gives police officers the right to enforce the provisions and states that anybody using city funds for the banned events or materials could be charged with further crimes.

You can see the particular provisions in the ordinance here:

Though the ordinance was not immediately enforced, in recent months, various city officials have begun using it to target the LGBTQ+ community in a variety of ways. The Rutherford County Library Board, chiefly composed of appointees from Murfreesboro’s city council and the Rutherford County Commission, met in August to remove books that might infringe upon the new statute.

At a packed meeting in August, library authorities resolved to withdraw four titles: “Flamer,” “Let’s Talk About It,” “Queerfuly & Wonderfully Made,” and “This Book Is Gay,” all of which feature LGBTQ+ content. Following that, the council moved to enact a tiered library card system, where most nonfiction content will be gated behind the adult-only library card. This system will go into effect in 2024.

On Monday, however, the library board met to discuss a new resolution: the removal of all books in the library that could possibly violate the Murfreesboro ordinance. The fiery meeting featured multiple board members stating that they had the right to “enforce community standards” and ban books. Speeches against the proposal were passionate, including one passionate speech by local activist Keri Lambert, who pointed out that the law was already being challenged in court and asked, “when have the people who ban books ever been the good guys?”

November 2023 Steering Committee Meeting:

The attacks on the library system have not been the only usage of the new city ordinance. According to court filings challenging the ordinance, in 2022, Mufreesboro City Manager Craig Tindall stated that he would refuse permits to BoroPride after claiming that the Pride festival “intentionally exposed children” to sexual conduct. Meanwhile, according to the filing, the city council crafted a ruling behind the scenes to target LGBTQ+ events and material. Specifically, they connected the new provisions to a 1977 definition of obscenity that included homosexual conduct:

  1. “Still worse, the Ordinance incorporates an earlier provision that defines ‘indecent behavior’ as including not simply masturbation and sexual intercourse (which most would agree are inappropriate in public), but also any acts of ‘homosexuality’ as a whole. Thus, under the Ordinance and the incorporated definition, any acts that are ‘homosexual’ in nature or any material or event even suggesting homosexuality, could be considered indecent and subject to civil and criminal penalties.”

The challenge to the ordinance is under way by American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee, ACLU, Ballard Spahr, and Burr Forman on behalf of BoroPride, which was allowed to go forward after organizers reached an agreement with the city government.

Tennessee’s legislative landscape this year has been marked by the passage of several anti-LGBTQ+ statutes, particularly those banning gender affirming care and drag performances. While the ban on gender-affirming care has been upheld by the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, the prohibition of drag shows has been blocked as unconstitutional.

Meanwhile, local governments have been reactivating decades-old obscenity laws in attempts to ban LGBTQ+ expression. The ordinance in Murfreesboro is the latest manifestation of an ongoing campaign targeting LGBTQ+ rights, signaling a broader trend of restrictions to free speech and expression for the community within the state.

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Erin Reed is a transgender woman (she/her pronouns) and researcher who tracks anti-LGBTQ+ legislation around the world and helps people become better advocates for their queer family, friends, colleagues, and community. Reed also is a social media consultant and public speaker.

Follow her on Twitter (Link)

Website here: https://www.erininthemorning.com/

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The preceding article was first published at Erin In The Morning and is republished with permission.

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Olivia Hill is elected as first Out trans official in Tennessee

A Nashville native, Hill graduated from Hillwood High School in 1983. She served in the U.S. Navy and saw combat overseas during Desert Storm

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Newly elected Metro Council member Olivia Hill. (Photo Credit: LGBTQ+ Victory Fund)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Voters in the City of Nashville and surrounding Davidson County made history Thursday as Olivia Hill won an at-large seat on the Metro Council, making her the first openly transgender official elected to public office in “the Volunteer State.”

The Tennessean reported that Hill secured one of the Council’s five at-large seats in Thursday’s runoff election with 12.9% of the vote, as of 10 p.m. Thursday night. She joins a historic number of women elected to the Council. All five at-large members will be women, as well as 17 district councilmembers. That adds up to 22 women — a majority of the 40-member council.

“I want to say that I am elated,” Hill told The Tennessean after the historic win. A Nashville native, Hill graduated from Hillwood High School in 1983. She then served in the U.S. Navy from 1986-1995 and saw combat overseas during Desert Storm.

Mayor Annise Parker, President & CEO of LGBTQ+ Victory Fund, released the following statement after Hill was elected:

“Nashville voters clearly reject the hateful rhetoric that has grown louder in Tennessee politics lately. Olivia’s victory proves that transgender people belong everywhere decisions about them are being made, including local office. I know Olivia is well-prepared to take her seat on the Metro Council and work to make Nashville and Davidson County a more welcoming place for all.”

The Metropolitan Council (officially the Metropolitan Council of Nashville and Davidson County) is the legislative body of the consolidated city-county government of Nashville, Tennessee and Davidson County.

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Vanderbilt sued over sending trans records to Tennessee AG

Vanderbilt says the clinic performs about five surgeries per year on patients under 18 — all with parental consent- none genital procedures

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Vanderbilt University Medical Center (Screenshot/YouTube WTVF News Channel 5 Nashville)

NASHVILLE – Two transgender patients have filed a lawsuit against Vanderbilt University Medical Center for sharing their health records with the office of Tennessee Attorney General Jonathan Skrmetti in connection with its investigation into the provider’s billing practices.

The plaintiffs’ lawsuit argues Vanderbilt should have removed their personally identifying information in consideration of how hostile Skrmetti and other elected Republican leaders in the state have been toward gender affirming care and transgender people more broadly.

Earlier this month, an appeals court ruled Tennessee’s ban on gender affirming care for minors can go into effect pending the outcome of litigation challenging the restrictions.

State lawmakers paused all gender affirming surgeries for minors a month after anti-trans conservative pundit Matt Walsh published footage of a provider claiming the procedures are “huge money makers” for hospitals.

Vanderbilt says the clinic performs about five surgeries per year on patients under 18 — all with parental consent and none receiving genital procedures.

Plaintiffs will seek class certification for all patients whose records were collected by authorities, a total of more than 100, according to their lawsuit.

Last month, the Los Angeles Blade confirmed the documents were shared in compliance with the attorney general’s orders for information as part of its probe into the clinic’s management of TennCare payments.

The investigation began in September 2022, with Vanderbilt beginning to turn over patient records a few months later, according to a spokesperson for Skrmetti’s office who added, “We are surprised that VUMC has deliberately chosen to frighten its patients like this.”

The Tennesseean reported that parents of trans children called a local LGBTQ advocacy organization in a panic after the medical center went public about its compliance with the attorney general’s investigation.

Likewise, the patients’ lawsuit says following the disclosure they were “terrified for their physical safety, have had significant anxiety and distress that has impacted their ability to work, has caused them to increase home security measures, and drop out of activities in which they normally would participate.”

A Vanderbilt spokesperson said, “the decision to release patient records for any purpose is never taken lightly, even in situations such as this where VUMC was legally compelled to produce the patient records.”

Disclosure of the requests came after another court case revealed their existence.

Plaintiffs contend, however, that the clinic caused emotional damage by negligently failing to redact patient information and acted in violation of privacy and consumer protection laws.

The Associated Press reports their lawsuit seeks “monetary damages, improved security procedures, an injunction blocking further release of their records without notice, an acknowledgement by Vanderbilt that it violated its own privacy policy, and an admission that the policy inadequately informs patients of their rights regarding disclosures.”

The complaint was filed Monday in the Nashville Chancery Court.

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Vanderbilt turns over trans youth patient records to Tennessee AG

“They’re terrified- They don’t know what’s next, they don’t know how this will be used or whether they will be targeted in some way”

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Vanderbilt University Medical Center (Screenshot/YouTube WTVF News Channel 5 Nashville)

NASHVILLE – Hundreds of private medical records of transgender adults and youth treated for gender-affirming care at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, (VUMC) were released to the Tennessee Attorney General as part of an investigation into billing practices for TennCare payments for trans health care services a spokesperson for VUMC confirmed Tuesday.

“VUMC received requests from the Office of the Tennessee Attorney General as part of its investigation seeking information about transgender care at VUMC. The Tennessee Attorney General has legal authority in an investigation to require that VUMC provide complete copies of patient medical records that are relevant to its investigation. VUMC was obligated to comply and did so,” John Howser, VUMC’s chief communications officer, said in a statement.

Screenshot of an email sent to a trans patient at VUMC notifying them of the compliance with the request for their records by the Tennessee Attorney General’s office.

The Tennessean reported that it had reviewed a VUMC notice informing patients of the move, which the facility said was the result of an investigation into “billing for transgender care services provided to individuals enrolled in State-sponsored insurance plans.” The state requested medical records from Jan. 1, 2018 to the present.

As the news broke of VUMC’s actions, the Chief of Staff for Attorney General Jonathan Skrmetti’s office, Brandon Smith, responded:

“We are surprised that VUMC has deliberately chosen to frighten its patients like this.”

Smith said that the office had been investigating potential medical billing fraud by VUMC since September 2022, and the VUMC started providing patient records in December 2022.

“The Office does not publicize fraud investigations to preserve the integrity of the investigative process. The Office maintains patient records in the strictest confidence, as required by law. The investigation is focused solely on VUMC and certain related providers, not patients, as VUMC is well aware.”

Chris Sanders, executive director of the Tennessee Equality Project, an LGBTQ advocacy organization, told The Tennessean three different parents of transgender children called him in a panic since Monday after they were told by Vanderbilt that their child’s medical records were released to the attorney general as “part of an investigation.” Sanders said the parents had no other details.

“They’re terrified,” he said. “They don’t know what’s next, they don’t know how this will be used or whether they will be targeted in some way. They feel like their privacy has been violated.”

Speaking with The Blade Tuesday evening, Lance Preston, the founder and executive director of the Indianapolis-based Rainbow Youth Project said that today, June 20, 2023, between 10:45AM and 8:30PM EST, RYP crisis team members responded to 376 acute mental health crises involving LGBTQ+ young people, between the ages of 14-19, residing in Tennessee and Kentucky.

Based on self-reports from those youth and their parents, the common denominator was clear the fact that Vanderbilt University Medical Center had been forced to release transgender patient records to the Republican Tennessee Attorney General’s Office badly frightened them.

Preston told the Blade that his team of counselors relayed that all of these young people presented with varying degrees of mental health crises including a rapid increase of intense fear, agitation, hopelessness, isolation, and sense of worthlessness. Many were already experiencing depression and were withdrawn from friends and family due to the recent political climate regarding transgender health care for minors.

More worrisome according to Preston was a majority demonstrated a level of mental health crisis that included suicidal ideation or, at minimum, put them in jeopardy of harming themselves.

He told the Blade that 98 of the young people were referred for immediate mental health counseling – although he noted that 77 of those expressed concern about speaking to a therapist in their state [Tennessee] due to fear of investigations.

“They prefer to speak with a therapist in a state other than their own which will be tricky,” he said but noted that RYP does have resources to accomplish those requests.

Information provided by RYP to the Blade revealed that the organization responded to an average of 112 crisis calls monthly from LGBTQ+ young people in Tennessee between May 1, 2022 – March 1, 2023.

However, the crisis contacts began a steady increase in March 2023 after Republican Governor Bill Lee signed legislation prohibiting gender-affirming care for minors. However, the highest volume of calls from Tennessee recorded in a single day since March 2, 2023 was 67.

Rainbow Youth project staff noted that conversely similar increases were documented from young people in Texas in March of 2022 when Republican Texas Governor Greg Abbott ordered the Department of Family & Protective Services to investigate parents of trans youth for potential child abuse. A second increase from Texas followed in December 2022 when it was publicly disclosed that Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton had sought data on Texans who had changed their gender identity on their driver licenses.

The law banning trans youth healthcare is currently being challenged in U.S. District Court in Nashville by the U.S. Department of Justice, Lambda Legal, the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Tennessee, and Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP.

The state’s new ban on gender-affirming care for trans youth is set take effect in less than two weeks on July 1 barring action by the federal court.

The law prohibits doctors from providing gender-affirming care to anyone under the age of 18, including prescribing puberty blockers and hormones.

It allows doctors to perform these medical services if the patient’s care had begun prior to July 1. However, that care must end by March 31, 2024.

Last October, VUMC announced that it was pausing all gender-affirming surgeries. This following Republican Governor Bill Lee’s call for an investigation into the clinic at the Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt in a statement after reporting by transphobic and homophobic far-right pundit Matt Walsh on his Daily Wire show.

“The ‘pediatric transgender clinic’ at Vanderbilt University Medical Center raises serious moral, ethical and legal concerns,” Governor Lee said in his statement. “We should not allow permanent, life-altering decisions that hurt children or policies that suppress religious liberties, all for the purpose of financial gain. We have to protect Tennessee children, and this warrants a thorough investigation.”

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Pride on display in Tennessee’s more than 100 Kroger stores

“I watch the news, usually with my jaw on the floor. They have lost their minds and they don’t represent this state anymore”

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Typical Kroger grocery store chain storefront (Screenshot/YouTube)

GREENBRIER, Tn. – As Tennessee lawmakers go nuclear attacking LGBTQ rights- attempting to mute drag queens and their shows, preventing trans youth from getting supportive transition care, barring LGBTQ school groups, banning books with LGBTQ themes from public libraries and allowing discrimination against same sex couples seeking to adopt a child- Some small but powerful pushback gestures are popping up all around the state, with rainbow stickers on business doors, bumper stickers on cars, and Love Wins posters in yards. 

But perhaps the most visible and daring show of support is from Kroger, the grocery store chain that has more than 115 locations in 56 cities throughout the state. 

At one Kroger store in Greenbrier, a two-stoplight town in rural Robertson County situated about 30 miles north of Nashville on the Kentucky border, Jaxon, who requested that their last name not be used, was seen re-stocking the store’s Pride Merch display.

“This stuff sells quite a bit, but it’s just a little expensive for most people. They look at it and see $18 T-shirts and walk away, but I’ve noticed kids my age buy it anyway,” said the 17-year-old grocery worker.

Kroger ‘Pride Merch’ display (Photo by Troy Masters)

A store manager, who also asked for anonymity said: “I don’t know if these are out in every store or not, but I know we have plenty of customers who are gay and lesbian. I see them here and I want them to feel happy.” He added, “things are hard enough here for them so this is a little reminder that there is some love for them here.”

“I’m Christian, you know,” he said, looking away briefly “but I know God welcomes everybody.” When asked what he knew about the Tennessee’s legislative actions against trans youth, drag and LGBTQ+ people, he said “I watch the news, usually with my jaw on the floor. They have lost their minds and they don’t represent this state anymore.”

The likelihood of pushback will be difficult for Kroger, but it’s inevitable.

Alice T. lives in nearby Springfield said; “I am not a homophobic person, but I have 3 children who don’t need to see this stuff. I don’t want to explain it to them, either, and I shouldn’t have too,” she said as the Blade interviewed her by a stand in the store’s pharmacy area that displayed Magnum condoms and several lube options.

Another Greenbrier Kroger shopper, Marqus E. expressed a more neutral sentiment, saying he didn’t think the display should be removed. “I ain’t bothered by it. I don’t understand homo life, but they probably don’t understand rednecks either,” he laughed. “We ain’t botherin’ nobody, you know.” 

He compared it to other things the store does to mark occasions. “Hell, I bought a Lily here a couple of weeks ago for Easter.” 

“It’s not holiday,” said Lisa G. as she stood by eavesdropping. “It’s grooming. These people need to be stopped,” she said as she stormed out of the store, kids in tow.

It’s unlikely Kroger would remove the displays, however.

The Cincinnati-based grocery chain has taken a stand against Tennessee’s local LGBTQ+ community previously and learned a painful lesson.

In 2007, Nashville’s LGBT newspaper, Out and About, was told by its distributor that Kroger would no longer allow the paper to be distributed in its 34 local Kroger stores and three of the company’s (now closed) Harris Teeter stores. The move dealt a major blow to the  newspaper’s distribution, impacting advertising revenue and readership.

“I believe there has been a call from some people in the religious community who have said take it out or they’re going to make waves,” Out & About wrote in reporting the story, quoting an executive who negotiated the contract for distribution at the two grocery chains. 

The newspaper was shocked by Kroger’s response. 

Kroger’s Nashville spokeswoman Melissa Eads said at the time. “We have had a long-standing policy in place that prohibits the third party from distributing publications that promote political, religious or other specific agendas. If a publication is offered that does not meet the guidelines mentioned above, we do ask the distributor to remove it. That is what recently happened when this publication was placed on our free rack.”

The publisher of the country’s then largest gay newspaper, New York City’s Gay City News, who happens to be a native Nashvillian, emailed Kroger representatives to dispute the claim that company policy prohibits publications that push a particular point of view on social issues. He cited articles in several newspapers the stores distribute that violated their policy, yet distribution of those publications continue. 

After receiving no response from Kroger, he contacted New York City’s comptroller’s office, which has a policy prohibiting the city from investing in any company that engages in discrimination. 

The comptroller’s office contacted Kroger executives informing them that the New York City’s teacher’s union had a $90,000,000 stake in their company that they may be forced to sell unless distribution of the newspaper was allowed. 

Within days Kroger executives flew out on the company jet from Cincinnati to Nashville to apologize to Out and About’ publisher Jerry Jones and to inform him that the publication was welcome in all Kroger stores.

Back at the Greenbrier Kroger, Laurence W. from Gallatin, said he was in town to help his best friend prepare for a drag show. “This means so much to me. You know, Tennessee is not such a bad place. What’s happening here is old people shit. They can’t stand our entire generation or new comers. But soon they will find out we are the majority, I hope.” 

A 2022 Vanderbilt graduate, he winced a little and clarified: “Well, it will take a while and there’s going to be a lot more shit to come down.”

When asked if he thought the Kroger display was something to be proud of, he said. “It is but I am also surprised by it. It means so much to me that in this storm we have powerful allies.”

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Tennessee

6 killed in shooting at Christian school in Nashville

The shooter was identified as Audrey Hale, 28, of Nashville who, according to police, identifies as transgender

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Covenant School, Covenant Presbyterian Church, on Burton Hills Dr. in Nashville, Tennessee (Photo Credit: Nashville Metro Police Dept.)

NASHVILLE – In a press conference Nashville Police Chief John Drake told reporters that earlier Monday morning a 28-year-old local female armed with two “assault-type rifles and a handgun,” was killed by responding officers.

“At one point she was a student at that school,” Chief Drake told reporters hours after the shooting at The Covenant School. “But unsure what year […] but that’s what I’ve been told so far.”

The shooter was identified as Audrey Hale, 28, of Nashville, who according to the chief, identifies as transgender.

According to Drake three children and three adults were killed in the shooting at The Covenant School on Burton Hills Boulevard, a private Christian school.

Children’s Hospital Vanderbilt University Medical Center spokesperson John Howser told reporters “We can now confirm 3 children and 2 adults from the school shooting were transported to our Adult Emergency Department (The 2 adults) and (The 3 children) to the Pediatric Emergency Department at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital,” Howser said adding “All 5 patients have been pronounced dead.”

Police identified the three slain students as Evelyn Dieckhaus, Hallie Scruggs, and William Kinney, all age 9.

The three faculty members killed were Cynthia Peak and Mike Hill, both 61, and school head Katherine Koonce, 60.

At his only scheduled public event at the White House, President Joe Biden called the shooting “sick” and renewed his call for Congress to ban assault weapons.

President Biden speaking on the Nashville shooting Monday morning via NBC News

Chief Drake noted that the shooter was killed on the school’s second floor by his officers acknowledging that the victims were students and staff members of the school.

Nashville Police Chief John Drake speaking on the Nashville shooting Monday morning via NBC News

The school has students from preschool through sixth grade and on a normal day has about 200 students and 40 staff members on campus.

In a statement, Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee tweeted: “I am closely monitoring the tragic situation at Covenant. As we continue to respond, please join us in praying for the school, congregation & Nashville community.”

NBC News reported that just days ago, a 17-year-old suspect wounded two administrators at a Denver high school before he was found dead.

In February, three students were gunned down at Michigan State University. And in January, two students were fatally shot at a charter school in Des Moines, Iowa.

The Washington Post and other media outlets reporting that Rep. Andrew Ogles (R-Tenn.), who represents the Nashville district where the Covenant School is located, said Monday in a statement that he was “utterly heartbroken” by the mass shooting.

Gun reform activists including Fred Guttenberg, whose daughter Jamie was killed in the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, on February 14, 2018, have called out Ogles for his hypocrisy posting tweets of Ogles posing with his children all carrying assault rifles in a 2021 family Christmas card photo:

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