Cari Wade Gervin — a longtime political reporter who covers Tennessee news, politics and gossip site The Dog and Pony Show — has accused 59-year-old Tennessee state Rep. Bill Sanderson of “openly soliciting sex” and sending “sexually explicit messages and pictures to men almost 40 years his junior” while voting repeatedly in favor of anti-LGBTQ legislation.
Sanderson resigned today. He says he’s resigning to run his business, White Squirrel Winery, but Gervin claims that his resignation was partly in response to the revealing of his same-sex encounters.
In January 2014, the gossip blog The Dirty published messages Sanderson allegedly sent to an unnamed male Vanderbilt student in which Sanderson writes that he is a “state rep” representing Obion, Lake and Dyer Counties, his actual district.
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But while Grindr messages are easily faked, Gervin writes:
“The Grindr and text messages I have seen do appear to be authentic. They use Sanderson’s real cell phone number. Sources confirm having been told about the messages at the time by their friends who received them. And one man I interviewed said he met Sanderson at his farm in Kenton.”
In his alleged Grindr profile, Sanderson reportedly calls himself “Brian” and describes himself as being in an “open relationship.” He has reportedly sent images of his naked torso and genitals — photos which he claims were faked with images from his Facebook. He has allegedly asked men to contact him at a phone number connected to his winery.
Sanderson’s Grindr profile reportedly read:
“I’ve seen a lot and done a lot, but I really haven’t had a connection with a guy and I have a burning desire to have that relationship. I like down and dirty guy to guy play too! So, I guess you might say, nothing will be held back …”
Sanderson claims the profile, images and messages are fake. Gervin writes, “[Sanderson] says he was not in an open relationship and told me that if I published this story it would ruin his marriage. He denied being either bisexual or gay or having ever sexually touched a man.”
Gervin also writes that she has spoken with an unnamed UT Martin student who “connected with Sanderson on Grindr several years ago when he was 19.” The student says Sanderson met him at his winery and gave him a tour and wine to drink and take home. Later, he said Sanderson massaged his shoulders and “otherwise hit on him in a manner that made him feel uncomfortable.” Their meeting was allegedly interrupted when Sanderson’s wife unexpectedly returned home.
“He was pressured by the legislator to make up a story on the fly about why he was on the property,” Gervin writes.
In 2011, Sanderson voted against allowing cities to adopt anti-LGBT discrimination ordinances. In 2012, he voted for an abstinence-only sex-ed bill that banned discussion of “gateway sexual activity.” In 2016, he signed a resolution denouncing the U.S. Supreme Court’s gay marriage ruling and supported a bill allowing therapists to turn away gay clients (in violation of the American Counseling Association’s code of ethics).
This year, he voted to defend schools that refuse bathroom access to trans students, signed a watered down anti-trans bathroom bill and voted to allow adoption agencies to discriminate against same-sex couples.