Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Issues

Negative, prejudicial public attitudes are the root cause of many social and legal struggles experienced by gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) individuals in Middle Tennessee and across the country. These struggles can range from marital and family rights issues to cases of employment and housing discrimination. Community prejudice likewise gives rise to violence, school bullying, and hate crimes. Resources are needed not only to meet the unique needs of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender persons, but also to support important work designed to change the harmful attitudes that encourage and maintain damaging social attitudes and public policies.


Discrimination in the Workplace

Inequality at work remains a central issue for the LGBT community. Tennessee is one of 29 states in which employees can be fired on the basis of their sexual orientation, and one of 34 states in which termination can be based solely on gender identity (glaad.org).

One Middle Tennessee university was rocked with scandal when, in 2010, soccer coach Lisa Howe was fired after telling students that she and her partner were expecting a child. Due to an outcry from the university community and growing public suspicion that Howe was terminated due to her sexual orientation, Belmont later changed its nondiscrimination policies to include sexual orientation.

Soon after, the Metropolitan Council of Nashville and Davidson County passed a bill prohibiting contractors from discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation—a bill which was later nullified by the State Legislature on the basis that it would "hurt businesses by creating different standards in different places." Legal suits have been filed by Howe and others to overturn the legislature’s decision (EDGE Publications).


Family and Social Challenges

On June 26, 2015, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled 5-4 in favor of marriage equality, legalizing same-sex marriage in all 50 states. Prior to this ruling, however, Tennessee did not recognize gay marriage— or any type of legal partnership between gay and lesbian individuals. This failure to grant or recognize domestic partnership status, civil unions, or marriage equality created barriers for gay couples when it came to paying taxes, obtaining health insurance, estate planning, retirement planning, owning property, and determining inheritance. Before these rights of same-sex couples were established by the Supreme Court, same-sex marriage was banned by law in Tennessee, and simple family issues—including adoption, custody, and the right to pick up one’s child from school—were exponentially more complicated than for couples of the opposite sex. Couples were often forced to establish costly legal documentation to clarify their most basic legal rights while still facing discrimination on a number of fronts, including housing and public accommodation.


Violence, Bullying, and Hate Crimes

Violence against the LGBT community is all too prevalent in our schools and communities. At a time when sexual discernment is confusing at best, students report verbal and physical abuse as a result of their sexual orientation. The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation Hate Crimes Report includes sexual bias as a root cause of hate-related violence, though the state does not support anti-bullying laws and supports hate crime laws on the basis of sexual orientation only.

David is a successful accountant in a traditional marriage, and is thankful for his moms. He was adopted as a toddler after his biological mother lost custody due to child neglect. “All I knew growing up [was] that I was wanted and loved," David said. As an adolescent, David remembers confusion at school when two moms showed up for parent-teacher conferences, and how they needed special paperwork for health care decisions. David’s family attended church and sporting events and made sure he received oboe lessons until he quit playing in 9th grade—no one was sad when David gave up the oboe.

What David did not remember, until his mom told him, is friends not attending early birthday parties because their parents thought the house would have AIDS.

Jacob Rogers, a Cheatham County teenager, committed suicide in December 2011 after being subjected to anti-gay bullying at school for nearly four years— bullying which, according to Jacob’s friends, high school officials recognized and did little to prevent.

"He started coming home his senior year saying 'I don't want to go back. Everyone is so mean. They call me a faggot, they call me gay, a queer,'" Jacob’s friend Kaelynn Mooningham is quoted by MSNBC as saying.

Groups in Middle Tennessee including ACLU Tennessee, the Tennessee Equality Project (TNEP), and others are working to influence and change the harmful attitudes and public dialogue that encourage and maintain such damaging public policies.




LGBT Youth Issues

There are 1.6-2.8 million homeless youth in the United States, and an estimated 20-40% of these youth identify as LGBT, vs. 5-10% of the overall youth population. Many times, when young people come out to their families, their parents react by kicking their child out of the house. Alternately, in order to avoid this confrontation, gay or trans youth may flee their homes. Because of their gender or sexual identity, they are often too uncomfortable or afraid to seek refuge at a shelter, or have tried, and faced discrimination in these supposedly safe spaces. With nowhere else to go, these young people are forced to live on the streets. Homeless LGBT-identified youth are subject to higher rates of abuse and victimization as well as substance abuse issues.

13: The average age gay and lesbian youth now come out after self-identifying as gay or lesbian as young as ages 5 to 7.

62 percent: The portion of homeless gay and transgender youth who experience discrimination from their families, compared to 30 percent of their heterosexual peers.

42 percent: The portion of homeless gay and transgender youth who abuse alcohol, compared to 27 percent of heterosexual youth.

62 percent: The portion of homeless gay and transgender youth who attempt suicide, compared to 29 percent of their heterosexual homeless peers.

8.4 times: How much more likely gay and transgender youth are to attempt suicide if they are rejected by their families in adolescence compared to if they are not rejected by their family. They are also 5.9 times as likely to have experienced depression, 3.4 times as likely to have used illicit drugs, and 3.4 times as likely to have had unprotected sex.


LGBT youth are also subject to harassment in school, which is especially problematic in states like Tennessee that do not support anti-bullying laws. This harassment, whether verbal or physical, contributes to high drop-out rates for young people who identify as gay, lesbian, or trans.


86 percent: The portion of gay and lesbian students who reported being verbally harassed at school due to their sexual orientation in 2007.

44 percent: The portion of gay and lesbian students who reported being physically harassed at school because of their sexual orientation in 2007.

22 percent: The portion of gay and transgender students who reported having been physically attacked in school in 2007. Sixty percent say they did not report the incidents because they believed no one would care.

31 percent: The portion of gay and transgender students who report incidents of harassment and violence at school to staff only to receive no response.

Two times: How much less likely gay and transgender students are to finish high school or pursue a college education compared to the national average (Center for American Progress).


Battles Over Anti-Gay Legislation

According to ACLU Tennessee, the need to protect the civil liberties of gay and lesbian persons is now greater than ever due to increased pressure from the radical right and various special-interest groups that sway elected officials to introduce ordinances and legislation restricting LGBT rights “in areas ranging from adoption and child visitation rights to domestic partnerships and health care decision-making, future marriage rights, and the right to assembly. These officials and groups don’t just want to roll back the clock; they want to prevent the clock from going forward as well" (ACLU Tennessee).

The most recent example, commonly referred to by opponents as the “Don’t Say Gay Bill," worked its way through the Tennessee legislature in early 2012. The original legislation proposed to effectively prohibit public elementary and middle schools from providing “any instruction or material that discusses sexual orientation other than heterosexuality." It would, among other things, prevent school counselors from being able to answer questions about or candidly discuss homosexuality with students who come to them for support or guidance. An amended version, which passed a House subcommittee, limited discussion of sexuality to “natural human reproduction science," but did not define these terms (USA Today).

Advocates from across the state were able to successfully stall the bill’s advance in the 107th General Assembly, and it was finally abandoned by lawmakers.

In 2014, the Metro Nashville Council voted 27 to 7, with two abstaining, in favor of extending health insurance and other benefits to same-sex partners of Davidson County employees. The benefits have been available to eligible employees since January 1, 2015 (Human Rights Campaign).

On June 26, 2016, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled 5-4 in favor of marriage equality. Same-sex marriage is now legal in all 50 states (New York Times).


Gay, Lesbian, and Transgender Health

Gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender individuals face unique challenges navigating our health care system which can be detrimental to health, including finding doctors with whom they are comfortable and who have had training in the specific health issues that they face. Many health care professionals do not ask about sexual orientation when taking personal health histories.

Factors that can prevent LGBT individuals from obtaining good health care include:

  • Being scared to tell one’s doctor about his/her sexuality or sexual history.
  • A lack of culturally competent care.
  • Having a doctor who is unfamiliar with specific disease risks or issues that affect people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender.
  •  A lack of health insurance related to the inability to obtain domestic partner benefits, which are usually available only to married couples.
  • A lack of knowledge about the risk for sexually transmitted diseases and certain types of cancer.

For these reasons, many LGBT individuals often avoid routine health exams or even delay seeking health care when feeling sick.

But accessing high-quality, culturally competent care is especially critical for this population. According to the Centers for Disease Control, social inequality of any kind is frequently associated with poorer health status, and sexual orientation has been associated with multiple health threats. “Differences in sexual behavior account for some of these disparities, but others are associated with social and structural inequities, such as the stigma and discrimination that [LGBT] populations experience" (CDC).

According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, LGBT health requires specific attention from health care and public health professionals to address disparities including:

  • LGBT youth are 2 to 3 times more likely to attempt suicide.
  • LGBT youth are more likely to be homeless.
  • Gay men are at higher risk of HIV and other STDs, especially among communities of color.
  • Lesbians and bisexual females are more likely to be overweight or obese.
  • Tennessee has neither a ban on insurance exclusions for transgender healthcare nor does it provide transgender-inclusive health benefits to state employees (Human Rights Campaign). 
  • Tennessee has no laws or policies that facilitate gender marker change on driver’s licenses or birth certificates (Human Rights Campaign). 
  • Transgender individuals have a high prevalence of HIV/STDs, victimization, mental health issues, and suicide, and are less likely to have health insurance than heterosexual or LGBT individuals. There are high rates of unemployment and poverty in this population, partly because of the difficulty navigating the working world as a gender-nonconforming person.
  • Many transgender individuals choose to take hormones so that their bodies more fully match their gender identities. This hormone treatment is often under the care of a primary care physician, and sometimes an endocrinologist.
  • There are a number of surgical options available to transgender individuals, though many decide not to go that route as the surgeries are extremely expensive (American Medical Student Association).
  • Elderly LGBT individuals face additional barriers to health care because of isolation and a lack of social services and culturally competent providers.
  • LGBT populations have the highest rates of tobacco, alcohol, and other drug use.

LGBT individuals come from all races, ethnicities, religions, and social classes. Luckily, attitudes and policies are slowly changing to become more accepting of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender individuals, and small successes are achieved every day! Still, resources are needed not only to meet the unique needs of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender persons in Middle Tennessee, but also to support work designed to change the harmful attitudes that encourage and maintain damaging public policies.


The Facts

  • Same-sex couples live in 99 percent of all U.S. counties (The Urban Institute).
  • A 2012 Gallup report finds that 3.4% of U.S. adults identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (Gallup).
  • More than 36,000 gay men and lesbians actively serve in the military (The Urban Institute).
  • In more than one in 10 same-sex couples, one partner is 65 years old or older. Same-sex senior couples are more likely to still be making mortgage payments when one dies. Combined with other financial losses, this higher debt burden puts surviving partners at greater risk of losing their home. Even before a partner's death, these seniors risk losing their home when an elderly partner enters a nursing home, as Medicaid law permits a married spouse to remain in the couple's home, but not an unmarried partner (The Urban Institute).
  • LGBT women are as likely as non-LGBT women to be raising children. Analyses show that raising children under age 18 in the home is as common among LGBT women as it is among non-LGBT women. In both groups, about a third had children (Gallup).
  • Attracting same-sex couples is good for business, communities, and the high-tech economy. Increasingly, cities are working to attract gay and lesbian residents to enliven the culture. Diversity enhances innovation and creativity by allowing different perspectives to be heard. Cities have discovered that gay people are often more willing to move into and devote income to improving distressed neighborhoods, which attracts others and begins a cycle of improvement (The Urban Institute).
  • Out & About, Tennessee’s LGBTQ newspaper, prints 15,000 papers per edition; the publication receives an additional 12,500 views online.
  • Hate crimes motivated by a sexual bias increased slightly from 2010 to 2011, according to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.
  • 16.1% of all reported hate crimes in Tennessee were based on sexual orientation in 2011, compared to 13.3% of reported hate crimes in 2010. In 2012, 15.2% of all reported hate crimes were motivated by a sexual bias, versus 13.5% in 2013.
  • In 2006, Tennessee passed a constitutional amendment defining marriage as a union between one man and one woman.


How You Can Help

  • Work to prevent prejudice in your community.  Speak up when anti-GLBTQ rhetoric is used or harmful attitudes are expressed.
  • Support organizations working to reduce violence against the GLBTQ community and to reduce school bullying.
  • Support school efforts toward creating welcoming environments for students of all sexual identities and for helping parents understand diverse family structures.
  • Attend one of the Tennessee Equality Project’s “Advocacy 101" Workshops, or encourage others in your community to do so.
  • Support the Brooks Fund at The Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee, which supports LGBT nonprofit organizations in Middle Tennessee, and those addressing LGBT issues.
  • Find a nonprofit organization on GivingMatters.com that is addressing the root causes of bias and intolerance and support them.


Links and Resources

For referrals to services, visit www.GivingMatters.com, or call United Way’s “2-1-1" hotline.

ACLU Tennessee news, handbooks, and resources: http://www.aclu-tn.org/LGBT.htm

Tennessee Equality Project: http://tnequalityproject.org/

Nashville LGBT Chamber: http://www.nashvilleLGBTchamber.org/

State Laws and Policies: http://www.hrc.org/resources/entry/maps-of-state-laws-policies

Information on Marriage Inequality: http://www.hrc.org/marriage-center

Pew Forum research on Gay Marriage: http://www.pewforum.org/gay-marriage/

Adoption, Parenting, and LGBT Parenting: http://www.hrc.org/issues/parenting

Suicide Prevention: http://www.thetrevorproject.org/

Safe Schools: http://community.pflag.org/Page.aspx?pid=1011

For Parents, Family & Friends: http://community.pflag.org/Page.aspx?pid=194

Coming Out: http://www.hrc.org/resources/category/coming-out

Oasis Center "Just Us" Program: http://justusoasis.org/ 

Updated July 2015