A stirring testimony

A  nationwide viral campaign designed to empower LGBT people and encourage their acceptance in society has a local connection.

The Courage Campaign, founded by Oak Ridge, Tenn. native Rick Jacobs, has partnered with the Tennessee Equality Project for a new video project featuring Academy Award-winning filmmaker Dustin Lance Black (Milk).

A progressive organization based in California, the Courage Campaign has amassed 700,000 members since its formation in 2009.

Jacobs' experience as a gay youth growing up in a largely conservative climate motivated him to make a difference in the lives of LGBT people.

"I wrestled for years with my homosexuality," he admits. "I knew that I was gay, but all of us were taught to think being homosexual was unnatural and not good. I do have great parents and I appreciate them, but it just wasn't lexicon. I had to leave Tennessee to deal with myself. I kind of severed my ties with a great part of the country, but I felt like I was never able to be at home (there)."

The Courage Campaign recently sought out people to record 1-2 minute video testimonies briefly detailing their lives as healthy, happy members of society. These videos will be shared with Black, who will select his favorite stories for use in a national television advertisement.

"It's all about encouraging people to tell their story," Jacobs says. "The official channels seem to be closed to GLBT people in Tennessee. But anybody that can tell their own story and give a testimony about their lives. We all have our role models and we all have to understand that our sexuality is normal, and that it's possible to have a normal life. There's a lot of progress in many places, and I care deeply about that."

The political landscape in his home state has further motivated Jacobs to make a difference. Like many LGBT activists, he expresses disappointment about Tennessee's recent rash of anti-equality legislation.

"There have been a lot of regressive laws," Jacobs says. "Tennessee is an outlier. But a lot of this country consists of people who don't know gay people. The country is moving forward, but we have to do the local work. On issues like this, political leaders are really saying that LGBT people are scary and should be kept down and put in the cellar not just the closet. It reinforces what people have heard about them (LGBT people)."

As the powerful first step towards full equality, Jacobs encourages everyone to contact their local politicians and communicate their displeasure about the latest laws. Hopes are high that the current dialogue will also engage those whose spiritual lives are about acceptance, not anger.

"Tennessee is a very religious state of course," Jacobs says. "What religious leaders say matters greatly, and there's only one way to change that: the more people who are believers who come forward, the more progress we'll make. The more we get to know each other, the more the boundaries crumble."

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