NASHVILLE - A press conference was held Friday at the State Capitol to mark Human Rights Campaign's new initiative of spreading the message of equality to conservative areas in the United States.

“On the Road to Equality" is a nationwide bus tour that carries forth HRC's mission of "educating the American public and empowering LGBT people to become advocates for themselves and their families."

The 12 week tour will travel to 20 cities in 13 states and D.C., with particular emphasis on the Midwest and South where there are limited legal protections for LGBT people. Among the states the “On the Road to Equality” tour will visit, none has a state-wide non-discrimination law including sexual orientation or gender identity.

Karin Quimby, Southern Regional Field Director of the Human Rights Campaign, said that Tennesseans can affect policy by communicating with their elected representatives.

"I would tell people to contact their legislators first and let them know how you feel," she said. "The Tennessee Equality Project is also a great way to get involved in this community. It takes a chorus of voices to really make a change."

Conference speaker State Rep. Brenda Gilmore, D-Nashville, announced legislation that would overturn the state law that nullified Nashville’s efforts to forbid city contractors from discriminating based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Jim Kyle, D-Memphis, will be the lead sponsor in the Senate.

"I'm afraid that this (state law) tarnishes our image," Gilmore said. "It's my duty and honor to fight it. We shouldn't put anyone in our community at a disadvantage. The HRC campaign is an opportunity for us to underscore our commitment on the road to equality."

The state economy will suffer if the current legislation remains in place, according to State Rep. Mike Stewart, D-Nashville.

"If we discriminate, the citizen loses, but we lose too," he said. "We should help people rise to their talents without the burdens of oppression."

Quimby also expressed disappointment in Tennessee's recent legislation, and echoed the thoughts of many advocates who criticized Gov. Bill Haslam's position.

"He had a decision whether or not to discriminate, and he chose to show poor leadership," Quimby said.

The Equality Bus is hosting an open house Friday at Vanderbilt University. Featured seminars on Saturday include "Our Faith, Our Families, Our Communities: Building a Brighter Future for Youth" and "Welcoming Schools: Helping All Children Thrive."

The former event will focus on acceptance in diverse religious communities, a particularly important topic in a largely conservative environment.

"(That seminar) is one I'm really looking forward to," Quimby said. "Being in the South, and being in the Bible Belt, it's a challenge to have these discussions. It's important to understand the role of faith in someone's perspective, and start a dialogue about these issues."

More information on HRC’s “On the Road to Equality” can be found at www.hrc.org/roadtoequality.

This article has been republished from Out & About Nashville, and was part of a series of first-person pieces written by the late Bobbi Williams.

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