This year's legislative session may be over but that does not mean the Tennessee Equality Project (TEP) rests on it laurels. If anything they are kicking this summer into high gear planning to rebuke Traditional Marriage Day with their own Tennessee Marriage Equality Day on August 31, securing auction items for July's Forward Friday and planning Olympus' September return.

With all these events in the works, it's no wonder TEP needs an army of volunteers to help make a difference. Last month, TEP named Bleu Copas their principal officer for East Tennessee. O&AN caught up with Bleu to chat about his commitment to community, his DADT discharge and how he manages to do it all.

First, congratulations on being named principal officer for East TN for the Tennessee Equality project. Can you tell us a little bit about what you’ll be responsible for?

I will be the communication link between TEP and the East Tennessee TEP County Committee Chairs, currently including the Tri-Cities, Knoxville, and Chattanooga. I will also serve as a point of contact when requests or questions arise from media outlets, community and State leaders, and basically any East Tennessean who needs input from TEP regarding LGBT issues. I will also keep my ear close to the ground to stay alert in anticipation or reaction to situations that warrant a presence from TEP. I want to make sure every East Tennessean knows that TEP is a resource of strong support that is available to them.


You were discharged honorably under DADT, is this where your passion for equality comes from?

My discharge from the Army under DADT was the beginning of a lot of things for me. Before then, my self-esteem level was pretty low and the courage to use my voice was basically non-existent. After my discharge however, I realized the power of one voice, the power of community coming together, and the power in knowing that you’re not alone and there is always support available. I’ve worn my “advocacy hat” every day since then, and it’s become a permanent part of my wardrobe. Additionally, knowing that a little ole’ Tennessean played a part in getting rid of DADT successfully, makes me want to inspire my neighbors here to find something they’re equally passionate about.


You were discharged in 2006 and since then DADT has been repealed, how do you look back on that situation now that a good deal of time has passed?

I knew all along that there was a lot of fuss over nothing coming from the opponents of DADT repeal. The fact that there has been no collapse or demise of our military is a testament of the human spirit and good always winning out. However, the repeal has exposed even more inequalities in regards to family members of LGB service members and the total disregard to issues concerning our transgendered community. Needless to say, we aren’t finished in the battle for LGBT equality in the military.


After being discharged, is it correct that you pursued an advanced degree for counseling? Are you using that currently?

I received my master’s degree in Counseling from ETSU. I was also recently certified by the State as a Certified Peer Recovery Specialist, and hope I can combine the things learned in both programs to make me a better advocate for the LGBT community, but especially in my daily job serving Veterans in the East Tennessee region.


You are very active in the East Tennessee community working with TEP and as the president of the Knoxville Gay Men’s Chorus, what else are you involved in?


I am also the Secretary and an active player in the K-Town Softball League, playing Sundays in the Spring and Fall with my fellow LGBT (and straight ally) athlete friends. I regularly attend PFLAG events in Maryville and Knoxville, head up the organizing of the military contingency to march in the Knoxville Pridefest parade, and also try to continue to contribute my voice to make our LGBT youth and students feel safe.


How do you do it all?

I’m operating on a nuclear battery, on loan to me from the Oak Ridge National Laboratory…that’s the only possible logical explanation, but we are still awaiting the results from studies conducted to measure the resiliency of Bleu Copas.


Assuming you have free time, what does Bleu Copas like to do to unwind?

I love to find the next community theatre musical to occupy my life in 3-month chunks. I love a good $2 craft beer night at my local Aubrey’s in Maryville with my friend family. I am not ashamed to admit that I obsess over my nephew Bleu Harper, who is about to turn one year old this month.


Where do you see Tennessee in 10 years?

I think Tennessee will be a vibrant place for LGBT folks to settle, what with all of the music and mountains and the four seasons each year. I believe as our current LGBT youth are completing their college degrees and entering their careers, we will be shocked at how well the LGBT and ally communities will co-exist and thrive. I think we will be able to look back and say that although we had to fight hard—real hard—at times and we had several setbacks, the rewards will be worth it all. The South does community better than anyone else, in my opinion, and once given the opportunity to get past some fears and forgiveness, our true colors will shine!

For more information on how you can get involved with TEP visit their website and 'like' their Facebook page for up-to-date event information.

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