Teamwork toward equality

The fight for equality isn't black and white, nor is it a gay thing or strictly for a particular class.

Throughout Middle Tennessee, minority groups are stepping outside their individual agendas and joining forces to advance the mutual cause of equality for all.

“There’s a critical mass of people in the state now who are saying GLBT rights are an important issue and we want to be a part of the movement in Tennessee,” said Tennessee Equality Project (TEP) Chair Christopher Sanders.

In recent months, several groups have teamed-up with TEP and the Transgender Political Coalition (TTPC), including the Nashville For All of Us campaign, NAACP, Tennessee Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence (TCADSV) and the Women’s Political Caucus, in symbiotic efforts to advance each group's cause.

"That's the reason for some positive movement on bills this year," Sanders said. "This is the first year in a long time that positive (GLBT) legislation has advance in Tennessee."

Sanders said those partnerships helped advance a non-discrimination ordinance in Shelby County. He expects the relationships will likely prove beneficial when advocating a similar bill for Nashville Metro employees.

For groups such as TTPC, who represent a very small portion of the greater community, gaining local and national allies is a vital way to gain support and build momentum. TTPC President Marisa Richmond  said the group's collaboration with the NAACP and TCADSV, for example, introduced many people to the transgender community for the first time.

“People are more aware of the transgender community and the concerns we have,” Richmond said. “As we more forward on the non-discrimination ordinance, it undermines the scare tactics because people better understand our reality.”

While the alliances are proving helpful to the GLBT cause, they didn't necessarily begin with those intentions. TEP forged a relationship with the Nashville For All of Us campaign earlier this year when they battled a bill that would have mandated that Davidson County's local government business be conducted only in English. On the surface, it seemed to only affect the community of non-English speaking people, but Sanders and many others realized that it sent a chilling message that Nashville did not embrace diversity.

“We thought it was important to stand with them in terms of sending a message that Nashville is a welcoming city,” Sanders said.

On January 22, the bill was voted down by Davidson County voters in a vote of 41,752 to 32,144.

The victory exemplified the power in numbers. Sanders said the collaboration between community groups is important because it shows that a specific cause is important to a variety of people, especially those who may not be directly involved in or be affected by decisions made - and that goes a long way when lawmakers are on the fence.

“If you only have gays fighting for gay causes, transgender people for their causes, or a specific race speaking out for themselves, people notice that,” Sanders said. “You always want diverse groups advocating for you. We try to open ourselves very intentionally to a variety of allies and audiences.We are standing there reaching out.”

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