For the sixth year, members and supporters of the Tennessee Equality Project will take their concerns, and their voices, to the halls of the Tennessee General Assembly.

The annual event, Advancing Equality Day on the Hill, is about meeting face-to-face with legislators who support GLBT-friendly legislation as well as those who don’t, and making sure that all constituents' voices are heard, said H.G. Stovall, TEP president, who added that it’s also an opportunity for the community to network as well.

“It’s a chance not only to build a relationship with your elected officials, but it’s also very empowering to see people from all across the state coming together for the same thing,” he said. “It’s a chance to experience the movement; we are so scattered in a very long, wide state that people in Nashville don’t always get exposed to what’s going on Memphis, and Chattanooga may not be aware of what’s happening in Knoxville. This is a chance for the entire state to come together.”

The goal is for participants to visit with their own officials, and then also to partner up with others for group efforts. In 2009 more than 100 people took part in the event, allowing the organization to get a lot of face time in a short window of opportunity with 15 senators and 32 representatives.

Advancing Equality on the Hill

March 2, 8 a.m.
Location to be announced.

For more info and updates, visit: tnep.org

And because time is tight, TEP officials make sure that attendees are well prepped before trudging up the Capitol steps.

“We have an opening reception downtown or nearby, and then a quick briefing on what is most important to talk about,” Stovall said. “And then we walk to the Capitol as a group and disperse to our individual appointments.”

Newcomers and those who are anxious about speaking with elected officials benefit from a buddy system, so that no one is forced to have a conversation they may feel they’re not ready for. In addition, the attendees are well versed in advance on the do’s and don’ts of these types of meeting, in which civil discourse is the overriding aim.

“We don’t encourage any attention-drawing activity,” Stovall said. “It is our goal to calmly, politely traverse through the Capitol, and this is a day that gives everyone there — legislators, staff and the media — to see the non-exotic individuals of our community.”

While some may see that approach as not activist enough, Stovall notes that by having these meetings, and by sending thank-you notes and keeping up with legislators, important relationships can be forged.

“I don’t think they get as much correspondence and visits as people think they do, so when we take the time to visit in person, and have a normal discussion about issues, it has a much larger impact than anybody can ever make any other way,” he said.

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