Leadership changes present challenges, opportunities for TN Transgender Political Coalition
One of the hardest working, if least well-known, LGBT political advocacy groups in Tennessee is the Tennessee Transgender Political Coalition (TTPC). Last month, O&AN featured the organization's founder, a long-time board member and former lobbyist, Marisa Richmond on its cover alongside Nashville’s mayor, Megan Barry.
With Richmond stepping away from active, visible leadership in the organization and with a number of other executive shakeups, the organization finds itself at a turning point. But with all this change in the air, there are real possibilities for the organization to expand and grow, to develop new connections and find new ways of forwarding the rights of trans, and more generally LGBT, people. But their next step is keeping up with the organization’s oldest tradition: its annual fundraising dinner, which will be held on October 15, 2016.
Nashville’s LGBT community’s philanthropic community life is saturated with fundraisers, and fundraising dinners, but the one hosted by the TTPC is unlike any other. Its beginnings are humble, and it’s stuck to those roots. Unlike many galas, at $25 a person, this opportunity to support the community are accessible to almost everyone, and through the generosity of donors who can buy extra tickets, TTPC is able to invite others to join in the event.
“The event started out as a spaghetti supper,” said ally and TTPC Middle Tennessee coordinator Kathy Halbrooks. “Some people got together and put together a simple dinner of spaghetti and some sides, and it took off from there.” Richmond confirmed that the dinner has been around since the group’s founding—a way of bringing the tight-knit, and back then even more invisible, community and its allies together around their common cause. It’s always been both a dinner and an opportunity to educate about the group’s mission, activities, and future goals.
“Our big goal—it’s not just a fundraiser—is to educate and inform,” said Shaun Arroyo, TTPC’s new president. “We want people to know that it’s a statewide organization. If people understand what we can do around the state, it makes our outreach easier.”
The money, of course, helps too. “The fundraiser gives us the ability to get to these places and do our work of educating and finding new, local leaders. When we have events we might have to pay for the venues, or light refreshments—any time you have something free you get people out,” Arroyo added, laughing.
“We also need money to send people to leadership conferences,” Arroyo added. “It also helps us attend pride events and support our outreach. We ourselves aren’t independently wealthy, and this fundraising is what keeps us going. The last mayors race was the first time we did endorsements and we will have them for the upcoming election at the state and local level. We sent out questionnaires to every person running for office and that takes money to print and send those out.”
Another priority, right now, is for the group to find a new lobbyist now that Richmond has stepped aside. “Right now it’ll be Kathy and myself heading down to Capitol Hill as we can. We both have jobs that makes that hard though, so we are looking at options,” Arroyo explained. Those options may include partnering with organizations with aligned missions to share a lobbyist.
All of these efforts are necessary if the group is to grow, and continue to be one of the most active, progressive voices in the state. “We’d like to see it in every county, but we have to find the people who are willing to lead,” Arroyo said. “We are willing to bring the message, to do a town hall meeting, come in and talk to people about what we are doing and can do, especially when we are keeping track of bills and ordinances. We can’t be aware of everything that’s going on and so we need to expand our local leadership.”
“We are trying to organize our first town hall in Cookeville,” Halbrooks pointed out by way of an example.
The group is also looking at reaching out to communities in Hohenwald and Martin, Arroyo said. “From there,” he added, “we have to keep expanding, and that takes local people. Getting to them, and getting them involved, that’s our key issue.”
In areas where the group already has a footing, TTPC is seeking to expand its influence by building relationships with other community organizations. “One of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence is a board member of the TVals. Of course Chris Sanders at TEP is a wonderful ally,” Arroyo pointed out. “We have a lot of groups mixing and that’s part of the goal, getting other groups involved with us and getting involved with them. Of course focus on the ‘T’ but anything involving the LGBT we want to be a part of!”
And the dinner is a keystone for all of this. Over the years the event has grown, but much more is needed. “We have a lot more people coming to the dinner, a lot more people aware of the dinner.,” Arroyo said. “We have some people who may not attend the dinner but buy tickets for people who may not be able to afford it. One of our issues is some of our people can’t get a job, and that’s one of the things we’re working on… So maybe if you can’t come, you can donate a dinner!”
This year’s dinner will be keynoted by longtime TTPC ally Tennessee State Representative Johnnie Turner (D–Memphis), with entertainment by Sherry Gray and other friends of the organization. As in recent years past, this year’s dinner is being provided, prepared, and served by Nashville’s Music City Sisters, with a number of entrée options.
Doors will open at 5:45 p.m. and the event will be held from 6:00–8 :00 p.m. on October 15, 2016, and the event is again being held at the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Nashville on Woodmont.
For more information about the event, visit the TTPC at Facebook.com/tntpc, where the event page for the dinner can be found. Tickets to the event may be purchased, and annual dues may be paid, through the Eventbrite link found there.