TheTennessee Equality Project’s annual Advancing Equality Day on the Hill on March 2 brought GLBT activists from around the state to Nashville, and led to some first-time meetings with legislators from upper East Tennessee.

That’s important as the organization works to include all corners of the state in its efforts to ensure quality legislation and to stop discriminatory efforts, says Chris Sanders, TEP Board Chair.

“We had the best coverage we’ve ever had for East Tennessee, and were able to meet with most of the senators and representatives from there, so we were able to educate them about some of the bills we’re watching,” Sanders said. “It was nothing earth shattering, but it’s all part of the process of inching things forward.”

All told, TEP members and their supporters met with almost a third of the House of Representatives and more than half of the state Senate, and found most to be cordial and, on occasion, willing to engage in policy discussion.

While many bills are moving slowly, if at all, due to the state’s dire financial situation, there are a few, such as those regarding hate crimes, adoption and the ability to make changes to original birth certificates, that might see some action during the session. TEP members meeting with their legislators to discuss these and other issues provided in many cases an initial conversation, and that may come in handy down the road, Sanders said.

“There are almost no legislators who agree 100 percent with us all the time, but almost all of them do agree with us on at least one bill we’re monitoring, and that’s with both parties,” Sanders said. “That was a discovery, and means that it will be possible to put together coalitions to fight the negative bills, and I think we’ll be able to do that regardless of what the 2010 elections bring. It’ll be tough, but I think still doable. Many of those lawmakers had not had a visit before, so meeting with their LGBT constituents and our straight allies who were there was very important.”

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