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Antigay Tennessee Rep Resigns Amid Grindr Allegations

Rep. Bill Sanderson
Rep. Bill Sanderson

Rep. Bill Sanderson says he's leaving office to tend to family and business, but a blogger says he has a history of soliciting sex from men despite his anti-LGBTQ record.

An anti-LGBTQ Tennessee state representative has resigned amid allegations he had solicited sex from men on Grindr.

Rep. Bill Sanderson, a Republican, said Tuesday he was leaving office to spend more time on his winery business and with his family, The Tennessean reports. His resignation took effect at noon Wednesday. But a Tennessee political blogger has alleged that Sanderson, now 59, has been "soliciting sex with much younger men on Grindr" and possibly elsewhere during his entire time in office, which he assumed in 2011.

"Sanderson has voted in support of almost every anti-LGBT bill that has made it to the House floor," Cari Wade Gervin reports at her blog, The Dog and Pony Show. "Despite having a gay son with a longterm partner. Despite sending sexually explicit messages and pictures to men almost 40 years his junior."

Sanderson has denied all the allegations, according to Gervin, who has also covered politics for the alt-weekly Nashville Scene. She further says that he begged her not to run the story.

"I know the ethics of outing can be icky," she writes. "But I have long agreed with Dan Savage, the advice columnist and alt-weekly editor (who is also gay). He has written many times that it is not only acceptable but necessary to out closeted politicians who regularly cast anti-LGBT votes."

Sanderson in 2011 voted in favor of legislation that barred cities from adopting LGBTQ-inclusive antidiscrimination ordinances and nullified one that had already been enacted in Nashville, she reports. In 2016 he voted to allow licensed therapists to turn away LGBTQ clients and anyone else who offends their religious beliefs. He has signed on to a resolution denouncing the Supreme Court's 2015 marriage equality decision.

This year he had a mixed record on a series of bills that Tennessee LGBTQ activists dubbed the "slate of hate." He supported a bill requiring the state's attorney general to defend school districts that establish restroom restrictions for transgender students and one that would allow adoption agencies, even if they receive state funding, to turn away prospective parents because of religious objections. He did oppose the adoption bill in a committee hearing, however, Gervin reports. He abstained from voting on what activists called the "business license to discriminate" bill, which would prevent the state and municipalities from considering a company's antidiscrimination policies when awarding contracts. None of these measures have become law.

He also voted for an "indecent exposure" bill, redefining the public places that could be considered the site of an indecent exposure crime, including dressing rooms. That bill, which has become law, was largely aimed at trans people, according to activists, but the most egregious anti-trans portions were removed before its passage.

"During many, if not all, of these votes, Sanderson has been on Grindr (and possibly other apps)," Gervin writes. "In a Grindr profile from 2013, Sanderson, calling himself 'Brian,' describes himself as being in an 'open relationship.'" He has denied this. She also says that in 2014 a blog called The Dirty posted pictures and text messages reportedly sent by Sanderson to a male college student; the lawmaker has said those were faked. She further describes explicit text messages and nude photos on Grindr, which he denies sending, and says a Tennessee TV station interviewed a young man who said Sanderson hit on him at his winery several years ago, but the station decided to kill the story. "Sanderson, again, denies any of this has ever happened," she writes. "He says it is all a political hit job." She has promised to publish another post on Sanderson's rebuttal.

The Tennessean's story did not mention these allegations, but the paper did ask Sanderson if House Speaker Glen Casada, who is expected to give up his leadership post, "had threatened to release any compromising information on him -- as some around the legislature have speculated, given the timing." Sanderson answered, "Hell no."

Casada "faced scrutiny for sending sexually explicit and misogynistic text messages," The Tennessean reports. Casada was replying to a staff member who sent sexually charged messages about women; the staffer, Cade Cothren, had solicited sex from female interns and lobbyists and used derogatory terms to describe women in addition to calling police officers "cocksuckers." Cothren has now resigned as well.

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