Bill Sanderson (R-Kenton) was elected to the Tennessee General Assembly in November 2010, and since then he has voted against LGBTQ rights in his home state—all while allegedly soliciting sex from younger men on Grindr.
Sanderson’s campaign website states:
He “is proudly pro-life and pro-family… [and] is leading the charge to defend the rights of the unborn and preserve the values that have defined our families for generations,” adding that he “knows that our nation was founded on conservative, Christian values.” His (now-deleted) campaign Facebook page describes Sanderson as a “Family Man, Small Business Man, Farmer, Public Servant” whose favorite activities include running, working in the yard and “spending time with my dear wife, Marjie (the person with the best heart of anyone I have ever, ever met).” (Sanderson has been married to Marjie since the fall of 2012. He has three grown children with his first wife, Valerie; they divorced in 2011.)
He resigned this week, citing “family and business demands,” reports The Tennessean. But others believe it is because screenshots of his Grindr messages were leaked to the public. The screenshots were posted on The Dirty back in 2014. They have since been removed, but can still be found on the Wayback Machine internet archive.
Rep. Bill Sanderson blowing his horn for the Sons of Confederate Veterans. https://t.co/zg7nvR47xh pic.twitter.com/ANlBbzFP4i
— PackYourTrashGlen (@TNVoteNoOn1) July 25, 2019
Political reporter Cari Wade Gervin did some more digging and is accusing Sanderson of “openly soliciting sex” and sending “sexually explicit messages and pictures to men almost 40 years his junior.”
Sanderson has denied ever sending the Grindr messages, claiming they are fake, but Gervin investigated and reviewed separate Grindr messages from the ones posted to The Dirty:
The messages instruct the men to text him at a phone number with a 731 area code. If you Google that number, you’ll find page after page connecting that number to either the White Squirrel Winery—which Sanderson owns—or sites where it is listed as Sanderson’s cell number. The texts I saw were sent by the same number. It is the same number I used to call Sanderson for comment on this story and have texted him on since. (Again, he claims that the texts were faked.)
Those texts, in addition to including the nude photo, are frequently explicit in terms of discussing sexual activity. I’m not going to quote from the explicit parts, as Sanderson (allegedly) exchanged them with a reasonable expectation of privacy. But I will note that in his 2013 Grindr profile, which could be seen by anyone using the app, he writes, “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 says he did not write this.)
Since 2011 Sanderson has introduced conservative bills such as mandating “In God We Trust” added to TN license plates, anti-abortion legislation, and he has supported almost every anti-LGBTQ bill that was introduced in the General Assembly. “Despite having a gay son with a longterm partner. Despite sending sexually explicit messages and pictures to men almost 40 years his junior,” Gervin reports.
Rep. Bill Sanderson, R-Kenton, has resigned from the state legislature, saying he needs to spend more time with his family and tend to his winery business.https://t.co/jDwr30Z1SN pic.twitter.com/s1lKS41A4y
— WBBJ7News (@WBBJ7News) July 24, 2019
Some of his votes include requiring abstinence-based sex education in public schools, denouncing the Supreme Court’s ruling legalizing same-sex marriage, HB 1151, which was a trans bathroom ban, and “HB 836, which would allow adoption agencies to discriminate against gay couples seeking to adopt.”
The now former representative claims his reason for stepping down is to focus full time on White Squirrel Winery: “It requires a full time (work),” he notes. “I’m going to have to be at home more.”