citybeat (2005-39)

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Out and Glad

Jade Esteban Estrada

Budget Cuts or ‘Storm War’ Bonds?

Duncan sees room for both

Most people couldn’t imagine being denied access to visit their spouse in the hospital, having their kids taken away, losing their job because of a trait that has no bearing on work performance, being discriminated against ruthlessly in places of business, being beaten, spit upon, hated. Those might sound like conditions in one of the “lawless” countries that America would try to enlighten with democracy, but such transgressions are still happening in Tennessee, against homosexuals.

To address those problems as well as to celebrate being “out,” Knoxville’s Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgendercommunity is holding an event called “Come Out Knoxville,” with activities spanning the next two weeks. The event’s organizer and president of the Rainbow Community Awareness Project (RCAP), Gary Elgin, has high expectations that the group’s efforts will raise area awareness and concern for the basic human rights of all people. “It’s my hope that this is just the beginning of a long line of socially conscious events,” he says. “This could lead Knoxville to becoming a more progressive city in the long run.”

Knoxville’s GLBT community’s activism has been in something of a hiatus for a few years now. Since Knoxville Pride dissolved as an organization last year, not much visible activity has occurred. Last year was the first year since 1991, according to activist Ed White, that there was no local celebration of National Pride Week. Before Knoxville Pride, there was a less-visible group called Knoxville’s 10%, which was active in the ’80s. RCAP and the Come Out Knoxville event mark the revival of a Pride Week tradition.

The kickoff evening, to be held at Metropolitan Community Church on Oct. 6, is a one-person cabaret performance called Icons: The Lesbian and Gay History of the World, Vol. 1 , in which nationally recognized performance artist Jade Esteban Estrada traces the history of GLBTs, morphing into a variety of roles such as Sappho, Oscar Wilde and Ellen DeGeneres. Other activities include speakers, support groups, round table discussions and a performance by Tori Sparks, a rock and blues artist from Nashville. Elgin points out that Sparks is straight, but that performing this event “was just a concept that appealed to her as a human being with a concern for equality.”

The event’s culmination on Oct. 15 will be a march around downtown and rally in Market Square. RCAP members are particularly excited that the mayor’s office has voiced its support by sending the Mayor Haslam’s senior policy director, Bill Lyons, to comment at the rally. Lyons says that it was Haslam’s wish to “send one of his city directors to be in attendance,” but he says he can’t speak to the city’s official stance on the issues of gay rights at present. Lyons confirms that the mayor’s office has received threats in reaction to its gesture of support. “There has been some correspondence from folks who are not happy with the mayor’s decision, but there have been some folks who are happy about it.”

Despite the lingering presence of a Bible Belt mentality in Knoxville, Elgin thinks it’s ready to embrace the gay community. “Cities are ready for what their leaders lead them to,” he says. “This year we have the support of the mayor’s office, and that means a great deal because we’ve never had the eye and the ear of the mayor.” State Rep. Harry Tindell will also be present at the rally.

One reason it’s so important to get politicians on board is to revise policies to provide GLBTs recourse when rights are violated, Elgin says. Namely, RCAP is pushing to have the language “sexual orientation” added to the city’s non-discrimination clause, which protects against racial and gender discrimination. Elgin says such an addition would not only boost the city’s reputation as being forward-thinking, but it would also rein in potentially valuable community members who, for the moment, feel ostracized. “Give us our basic human rights, and we become good citizens,” he says. “If you allow [people] to be who they are, they will participate in growth and prosperity of society. We need to all be welcome at the table.”

Donna Dearmon, president of UT’s Lambda Student Union, echoes Elgin’s call for revision of policy at the collegiate level. Lambda works to promote an open environment for students to come out in college, and Dearmon says this would be a much easier task with the help of the administration. “UT’s non-discrimination clause does not include sexual orientation,” she explains. “How can you come out when you’re not even protected by your university?”

Dearmon relates the story of one Lambda member whose roommate had him kicked out of his room upon learning that he was gay. The roommate’s parent had contacted the university and made the request, and since there wasn’t any precedent nor any language pertaining to it in school policy, the request was granted. “You hear stories like that, and it’s gonna make you scared as hell to say, ‘Hey, I’m gay,’” says Dearmon.

Knoxville still has a long way to go, GLBTs say, in that discrimination against homosexuality is probably more the norm than open-mindedness. “Knoxville’s not progressive,” says Ken Palmer, RCAP member who moved here from Chicago. “We found people very apprehensive of us as a couple when my partner and I got here. The fear is just ingrained in people, but they really have nothing to fear.”

Some folks may never be able to let go of their prejudices, but it’s the hope of RCAP to educate those who perhaps haven’t yet formed those fears. In 50 years or so, people might look back on discrimination against gays with the same abhorrence and embarrassment that we do slavery and segregation, Elgin and others say.

“We’re hoping to attract a variety of people,” Elgin says. “And we’re expecting all people who believe in diversity and basic human rights to show up and march—straight or gay.”

 

Budget Cuts or ‘Storm War’ Bonds?

Does the federal fiscal commitment to rebuild the ravaged coast of the Gulf of Mexico have negative implications for federal projects already approved for the Knoxville area? Probably not, says Congressman John J. Duncan, whose 2nd District includes Knox and several adjoining counties.

“We’ll have to see how much the bill is on this latest hurricane,” Duncan says. But would that pricetag affect the $110 million windfall this area gained in the 2005 federal transportation reauthorization act? That act includes money enough to see to completion the downtown Knoxville Transit Center, finance highway and greenway projects in Knox and Blount counties and provide for transportation research at the University of Tennessee.

“I don’t think so,” Duncan says, despite the Bush administration’s stance that no new revenues will be raised to fund the infrastructure restoration in Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas, following the devastation wrought by hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Estimates range beyond $200 billion for those hurricane costs. And House Speaker Tom DeLay insists that other lines in the federal budget can’t be cut to make that kind of money available. That leaves government borrowing as the only source to finance the massive relief program.

Duncan says he disagrees that cuts aren’t possible in the budget. “There are plenty of places we could reduce spending,” he says, but there are no infrastructure projects on his short list. That list includes “stop[ping] spending so much in Iraq and Afghanistan,” reducing foreign aid across the board and perhaps delaying, but not repealing, the Medicare prescription benefit program set to go into effect this coming January.

Duncan says he could support a suggestion advanced by Rep. Hal Rogers, a Kentucky Republican, and picked up by Middle Tennessee Democrat Jim Cooper and other House members on both sides of the aisle, that government bonds be issued to cover some or all of the hurricanes’ costs. They’d be roughly the equivalent of the “war bonds” issued to help pay the U.S. costs associated with World War II.

“I’d be in favor of something like that,” he says, “but I’m not convinced it would raise all those billions [of dollars], so much has already been contributed by the American people.” He concedes that bonds would be an investment, rather than a contribution, returning 4 percent or a little more, and that they would keep the government’s new debt in the hands of its citizens, rather than shipping more overseas, where he says 44 percent of the national debt now resides.

“I’ll bring it up with the chairman of Ways and Means [Rep. Bill Thomas, R-Calif.] when I meet with him later this week,” said Duncan, adding, “If I have the opportunity, I’ll be speaking for it [on the House floor].”

SEVEN DAYS IN SEPTEMBER

Wednesday, Sept. 21

Thursday, Sept. 22

Friday, Sept. 23

Saturday, Sept. 24

Sunday, Sept. 25

Monday, Sept. 26

Tuesday, Sept. 27

 

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