Memphis LGBT center struggling

From staff and wire reports

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — A nonprofit center that has provided services to gays and lesbians in Memphis for 22 years is facing possible closure.

Like other nonprofits struggling in the weak economy, the Memphis Gay and Lesbian Community Center is seeing fewer donations and grant opportunities. It already has cut back its $125,000 budget.

Board chairwoman Christy Tweddle told The Memphis Daily News that even laying off the executive director would not save enough money to keep the center open for long.

The center was founded in 1989 by a group of citizens who wanted to make Memphis safer for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered community members. They also hoped to foster an environment of acceptance and equality.

The center offers several programs including free HIV testing and sexual health counseling, referrals, education and community outreach.

Although the center is partially funded by grants, much of that money is restricted to use on specific programs, Tweddle said.

“We rely on community and individual donations to do things like pay the executive director and the basic bills, and to basically keep the center open,” she said.

Tennessee Equality Project board chairman Jonathan Cole, who is a former board member at the Gay and Lesbian Community Center, said the nonprofit’s youth programs are at the heart of its work.

Cole said he knows a young man who was thrown out of his home by a parent due to his sexual orientation and was rejected by several shelters.

The center can provide temporary food, shelter and clothing for youth with no place to go, he said.

“Sadly, because many in our community don’t really understand GLBT kids and turn them out into the world, they’re often left quite vulnerable at an age where, without some social support from adults, they’re not going to succeed in life,” Cole said. “You may not access these services yourself, but there are people in this community who desperately need it. It will be a travesty for the center to close for lack of funding.”

A fundraising drive seeks to raise $45,000 by the end of May.

For more on the center or to make a donation, go here.

—  John Wright

What’s Brewing: Corpus Christi school refuses GSA; Hawaii governor signs civil unions bill

Nikki Peet, 17, wants to start a chapter of the Gay Straight Alliance at Flour Bluff High School in Corpus Christi. But school officials won’t allow it.

Your weekday morning blend from Instant Tea:

1. In an apparent violation of federal law, Flour Bluff High School in Corpus Christi is refusing to allow students to start a chapter of the Gay Straight Alliance. After reading the story, go here to get contact info for the school, then give them a call.

2. Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie signed civil unions into law Wednesday, making Hawaii the seventh state in the nation to offer the legal status to same-sex couples. The law takes effect Jan. 1. “E Komo Mai: It means all are welcome,” Abercrombie said in remarks before signing the bill into law. “This signing today of this measure says to all of the world that they are welcome. That everyone is a brother or sister here in paradise.”

3. Two GOP lawmakers in Tennessee have introduced a bill that would prohibit schools from discussing any sexual orientation other than heterosexuality. “The Don’t Say Gay bill raises all kinds of issues about anti-gay bias, free speech and government overreach,” said Ben Byers with the Tennessee Equality Project. “It limits what teachers and students are able to discuss in the classroom. It means they can’t talk about gay issues or sexuality even with students who may be gay or have gay family.”

—  John Wright

Is it OK to eat at Cracker Barrel?

Cracker Barrel, which has long ranked right up there with ExxonMobil Corp. on the list of well-known businesses that are considered anti-gay, improved its score on this year’s Corporate Equality Index by 40 points, from a 15 to a 55. Tennessee-based Cracker Barrel is cited in the 2011 CEI report, released Monday by the Human Rights Campaign, as one of 12 companies that increased their score by more than 30 points:

“Cracker Barrel Old Country Store Inc., once in the news for delivering pink slips justified by ‘The employee is gay,’ has implemented a non-discrimination policy and diversity training that includes sexual orientation and has even gone as far as to provide a cash grant to the Tennessee Equality Project,” according to HRC.

If you’ll remember, Cracker Barrel’s anti-gay history goes back at least as far as 1991, when the company instituted a policy requiring employees to display “normal heterosexual values which have been the foundation of families in our society.” From Wikipedia:

The company refused to change their policy in the face of protest demonstrations by gay rights groups. After ten years of proposals by the New York City Employees Retirement System, a major shareholder, the company’s shareholders voted 58 percent in 2002 in favor of rescinding the policy. The board of directors added sexual orientation to the company’s nondiscrimination policy.[3]

The Tennessee Equality Project, the recipient of Cracker Barrel’s donation, is applauding the company’s improved score on its website, going so far as to print “Equality — Now Being Served” under a Cracker Barrel logo.

Well, not quite.

Unlike 76 percent of companies rated in the CEI, Cracker Barrel still doesn’t prohibit discrimination based on gender identity; unlike 79 percent of companies in the CEI, Cracker Barrel still doesn’t have written gender transition guidelines and/or cover gender identity as a topic in diversity training; and unlike a whopping 95 percent of companies in the CEI, Cracker Barrel still doesn’t offer domestic partner health coverage.

In short, as tasty as it may sound, we’re not quite ready to order up an Apple Steusel French Toast Breakfast at one of Cracker Barrel’s eight locations within 50 miles of Dallas Voice’s zip code.

—  John Wright