More than 100 ascend on state Capitol to advance equality

With rumors of a civil union ban being proposed by Thursday, regular, hard-working Tennesseans took off from work, with some driving several hours to Nashville, to see the Tennessee legislative process in action.

For many, it was a chance to put a human face on the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community. For others, it was an opportunity to thank their legislators for the support they have shown the GLBT community.

More than 100 people from all parts of Tennessee convened in Nashville on Tuesday, Feb. 17, for the Tennessee Equality Project (TEP) Advancing Equality Day on the Hill.

Now in its sixth year, this year’s group was bigger than those in years past, and according to TEP President Christopher Sanders, had the most geographic diversity than any other group.

“Thank each of you for coming,” Sanders told the crowd that gathered at the Rymer Gallery before heading out for a day of one-on-one meetings with lawmakers. “You are here to defend our partners, our children and our friends. That's why we are here. Take the love for the people you have into your meetings with lawmakers."

And that’s what they did – at least to lawmakers that would see them.

Ann Miller said state Senator Diane Black (R-Gallatin) called her yesterday to cancel the appointment she had made for herself and other constituents.

“She said she did not need to hear from us on those issues,” Miller said. “Even though she may not agree with us on our issues, she’s elected to represent the people.”

Later in the day Sen. Black apparently did see Miller. Mary Mancini from Liberadio(!) reports that she "was there when Miller and other of Senator Black’s constituents decided to go to her office at the time of their meeting anyway and she did eventually let them in for a 5 minute discussion - after repeating again that she knew what they were there for and they weren’t going to change her mind."

Those issues include legislation that has been proposed to limit adoptions only to married heterosexual couples; allowing transgender persons to change the gender listed on their birth certificate; including transgender in the current state statue on hate crimes; and a bill proposed that would prevent elementary and middle school teachers from talking about homosexuality.

Some participants heard of a possible civil-union ban being proposed when talking with their lawmakers. Tennessee does not currently have a law that recognizes civil unions, but it does not have a law preventing them either. Sanders said word had been spread throughout the day that a bill would be proposed by Thursday that would prohibit civil unions in Tennessee.

State Senator Joe Haynes (D-Goodlettsville, 20th District) told a group of his constituents that the adoption bill was "stupid" but bluntly told them that if Senate Republicans wanted it passed it will pass in the Senate. Haynes said the fiscal note of more than $4 million would be of great concern in the current budget crisis.

Brandon Hutchison and Joe Rhymer met with Representative Jason Mumpower (R-Bristol) and said he was “cordial and is interested in making sure we have a safe environment."

Hutchison is from Nashville, and Rhymer is with the Tri-Cities TEP committee.

“Rep. Mumpower said he might would seek compromise on the birth certificate bill,” Hutchinson said. “What that would be, we don’t know.”

State Representative Ben West (D-Nashville, 60th District) was unable to meet in person with his constitutes but did talk with a group via speakerphone.

“These are good homes and that bill is stupid,” West said in talking about the proposed adoption bill.

Media coverage for the day was widespread and included The Nashville Scene, The Tennessean, WTVF Channel 5, Liberadio and The Memphis Commercial Appeal who each sent reporters to cover the day.

“The day went incredibly well,” Sanders said. “We gained a lot of information. We had such far reaching contacts this year with more than 100 people representing Jackson, Memphis, Nashville, Knoxville, Tri-Cities, Oak Ridge, Chattanooga, Cleveland, Murfreesboro and other parts of Tennessee.”

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