The stakes are pretty high this November and LGBTQ people know that more than most. The COVID-19 pandemic has been spectacularly mishandled putting us all at risk. The attacks against transgender people at the federal level are enraging. The official resistance to the idea that Black lives matter has been a disaster. We are beyond spin and polite words. We know that leadership in public policy matters. Let’s look at what’s on the ballot in this general election because that is another chance for us to fight back.
President and Vice President: You all already know where you stand. I’ve seen more outrage directed at this President than at any other politician in my lifetime. Rightly so, given how many lives have been upended by his policies over the last four years! This race is motivating you and there’s not a thing I can tell you about it that you don’t already know. The great thing is that we can all use this race to get people to the polls so that they will also vote in all the down-ballot races. That’s a real opportunity this November that we shouldn’t miss.
U.S. Senate and House: In Tennessee’s Senate race to replace Sen. Lamar Alexander, Democrat Marquita Bradshaw faces Republican Bill Hagerty. Because of how red Tennessee has become, Hagerty is obviously favored to win. But no one should count out Bradshaw who on a small budget turned in a whopping win in the Democratic primary. I think our community has an important opportunity to press both campaigns on supporting the Equality Act and talk more about LGBTQ issues.
Of the nine congressional races in Tennessee, only the First District is open, that is, without an incumbent. Republican Diana Harshbarger and Democrat Blair Walsingham are vying to replace Congressman Phil Roe. Hotly contested races will be the Second District in which incumbent Republican Tim Burchett faces Democrat Renee Hoyos, the Fourth District in which Democrat Christopher Hale challenges incumbent Republican Scott DesJarlais, and the Seventh District in which incumbent Republican Mark Green faces Democrat Kiran Sreepada. LGBTQ people need to ask the candidates in both parties about their support of the Equality Act. We sometimes forget that an election is a great time to lobby. You may already know how you’re voting, but you can still shape the policy positions of all the candidates in a race. Make LGBTQ equality an issue, regardless of whether they bring it up or not.
State Legislature: Sixteen state senate seats and all ninety-nine state house seats are up for grabs this year. Incumbents generally have an advantage in the general election because of the way districts are drawn (meaning gerrymandered). Still, with the presidential race at the top of the ticket, voter turnout could swell and result in some upsets.
If you’ve heard of the Slate of Hate, then you understand how important state legislative races are. The Legislature will decide issues like gender-affirming care for transgender youth, whether transgender students can play school sports, whether public libraries can have LGBTQ programming, and the extent to which businesses can discriminate while using public funds. These bills and more like them could be filed in 2021 regardless of who wins the presidential election and regardless of what the Congress looks like. In short, voting in state legislative races is vital.
The Tennessee Equality Project (TEP) is surveying candidates in many state legislative races now so that you will have a better understanding of their positions on likely LGBTQ issues. You can read all the responses we receive via the TEP blog (tnep.org/tep_state_legislative_candidate_surveys_equality_on_the_ballot).
Here are four key state legislative races to watch on election night.
- State House District 18 in Knox County. Republican Eddie Mannis faces Democrat Virginia Couch. Mannis’ primary victory was challenged by ultra-conservatives, but the State Republican Party upheld his victory. He is a member of the LGBTQ community.
- State House District 49 in Rutherford County. Democrat Brandon Thomas takes on Republican State Representative Mike Sparks. The polling indicates a close race. I should disclose that Brandon has worked with me at TEP, so I am definitely biased in his favor. But objectively speaking, I think it’s fair to say that since Rep. Sparks always votes for anti-LGBTQ bills, Brandon, who is a member of our community, would be a strong advocate for equality in comparison.
- State House District 90 in Shelby County. Democrat Torrey Harris takes on incumbent Rep. John DeBerry. Rep. DeBerry has served many years in the House as a Democrat, but the Tennessee Democratic Party’s executive committee recently disqualified him. The Legislature passed a bill allowing him to run as an independent in the general election in response. Rep. DeBerry has typically voted for anti-LGBTQ bills, while Harris is a member of the LGBTQ community.
- State Senate District 20 in Nashville. There are no LGBTQ candidates in this race, but it is one to watch because it is projected to be close. Democrat Heidi Campbell is taking on Republican incumbent Sen. Steven Dickerson. Campbell has expressed support for the LGBTQ community by speaking out against the Slate of Hate, while Dickerson has spoken against these anti-LGBTQ bills on the Senate floor and used his powerful committee chairmanship to help stop bad bills.
Local races: By local races, I mean your city councils, boards of aldermen, city commissions, mayors, etc. There are dozens of cities holding elections for these offices in November such as Clarksville, Johnson City, Maryville, Mt. Juliet, Gallatin, Union City, and Oak Ridge. In Johnson City and Clarksville, members of the LGBTQ community are on the ballot. Don’t forget to ask questions of those running for these offices. They can set an affirming climate for LGBTQ people, decide issues like police reform, and set policies that have an impact on the right to protest, not to mention the tried and true zoning and property tax issues.
Those are some of the highlights. I know that if you’re reading this, you’re probably going to show up at the polls because of the presidential race. Some of you have been counting the days for months. Do yourself and our community three favors.
- Check your voter registration one more time at this link: https://proudvoter.org/partner/tep/.
- Ask at least one candidate in a non-presidential race about LGBTQ issues or whatever is important to you.
- Educate one friend about races down the ballot. Most people never take the time to learn and the pandemic has made it even harder for people to focus. But your friends will listen to you.
Early voting starts October 14. Election Day is November 3. Put on that mask and make it count!
Christopher Sanders is the Executive Director of the Tennessee Equality Project.