Stovall takes reins at TEP

After a year that saw many legislative bullets dodged, the Tennessee Equality Project is gearing up for even more important battles in 2010.

The organization, which works to further the rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Tennesseans, will seat new and reelected board members, as well as a slate of new officers, in July. Even with the state legislature out of session, there’s very little time for orientation as the plans for 2010 elections, as well as ongoing local battles, continue.

H.G. Stovall, seen here at Nashville's recent Pride festival. Photo by Joey Leslie

“We have a lot of work to do to prepare for the 2010 session of the General Assembly and in communities around the state,” said Chris Sanders, outgoing president and current chair. “I believe that we have put together a team that can meet those challenges.”

TEP has had some successes in recent months; most notably its active and successful advocacy in Shelby County, where the county commission recently codified gender identity and expression as protected under its non-discrimination policies. That effort follows other high-profile activities, such as making endorsements in the Nashville Metro Council races, and showcasing the organization’s more visible stature across the state’s political landscape, said H.G. Stovall, president.

“We offered endorsements in Nashville and also in a few other races,” Stovall said. “And we were delighted to fend off some of the absurd legislation in the state legislature this year. We have a board that’s quite a bit larger now, with lots of new talent, and we think it’s an exciting time to bring all this new blood to our activities.”

The new management structure marks the first time that TEP has split the duties of president and chair, and also includes the board’s first pastor, Rev. Cynthia Andrews-Looper. Memphis and Shelby County are heavily represented, and the activities there will be used as a template for outreach into the state’s other metro and rural areas, Stovall said.

“The non-discrimination resolution was a really big step for Tennessee,” Stovall said. “Our Memphis representation is very heavy, and very strong. We are very proud of the work being done there, and look forward to having similar things happen in other areas of the state.”

For Stovall, who joined TEP two years ago and has long been involved with PFLAG, the state’s often conservative political representation represents a challenge that must be met with it comes to civil-rights issues.

“After being involved with PFLAG and seeing the marginalization of our community, the rights we didn’t’ have, I got interested,” he said.  “We’re going into an election year, and we have some decisions to make. We will be working through TEP, the TEP Foundation and our political action committee to make it a better Tennessee.

“We had a good year, but we can expect the ‘don’t say gay’ bill, the adoption bill, and other legislation to come back next year,” he continued. “We also think they’ll be looking at banning civil unions and domestic-partner benefits, taking the marriage issue a step further. It’s out hope that we can be of assistance in bringing a friendlier general assembly to office in 2010. We have allies in both parties, and we are an issue, not a party, organization — we look forward to supporting our friends regardless of where they sit. It’s going be a very challenging and very rewarding year.”

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