TEP holds annual meeting, votes in new officers

NASHVILLE - Despite a frosty climate for GLBT issues in the state capitol, the Tennessee Equality Project (TEP) says there’s still much to celebrate as it gears up for this fall’s elections.

The organization held its annual meeting on June 2 at the Nashville CARES offices. Attendees from around the state were on hand to discuss policies at the state and local levels, and look at the recently ended state legislative session’s wins and losses.

“The 107th General Assembly had a significantly chilling effect on the safety and welfare of our community,” said former TEP president, now vice-president Jonathan Cole. “Some of these bills were familiar; some of them were new.”

Cole called attention to the “Police the Potty” bill, which would have criminalized transgender people found using a restroom or changing room that did not align with their original gender. Under pressure from TEP and other groups, the bill was withdrawn in the state senate. Also in this year’s general assembly, there was legislation to prevent “gateway” sex acts (referred to as the “no hand-holding” bill), a proposal to provide religious-freedom cover for anti-homosexual speech and acts, and the “Don’t Say Gay” legislation, which has become a perennial favorite among some legislators.

All of these cause damage to sex education in schools and should be targeted for defeat or repeal by society in general, not just the GLBT community, Cole explained.

“We are fighting hard against these bills, because parents deserve better,” he said. “Your phone calls, emails and letters help. We will continue to push despite strong opposition.”

Commenting on the growing number of gay-straight alliances in Tennessee schools and Knoxville’s recently passed ordinance adding sexual orientation and gender identity to its employee protections, Cole said all is not quite as lost as some would have it to be.

“We have seen some important victories, including joining in the lawsuit against the ‘special access to discriminate’ law,” he said. “We are working to expand the number of local governments offering workplace protections and hope to get those passed in Memphis. We are working on legislation to stop bullying and to finally get birth-certificate repeal passed so transgendered people can get a new birth certificate. We are on the road to full equality, and TEP has a proud tradition of a board, volunteers and committees, and grassroots activists working to make that happen.”

TEP also elected a new slate of officers and board members who began terms on July 1. They include Drew Baker, Michelle Bliss, Bleu Copas, Mequet Hribar, Jeff Kirwan, Mary Littleton, Rebecca Lucas, Matia Powell, Chris Sanders, Tommy Schlindwein and Herb Zeman. Board members beginning their second year of service include Wes Aull, Latoya Belgrave, Jonathan Cole, Ryan Ellis, Anne Gullick and Brandon Hutchison.

New officers were also chosen. They are Chris Sanders, chairman of the board and president; Jonathan Cole, vice president; Matia Powell, treasurer; Mequet Hribar, secretary; and Ryan Ellis, at large.

Given Tennessee’s increasingly conservative government, TEP’s goal moving forward will be to hold the line on GLBT issues. However, that doesn’t mean that outreach and education will take back burner, noted Sanders.

"We are all haunted by the loss of young people in our state who have taken their lives because of bullying, by the rise in hate crimes and by discriminatory state legislation,” he said. “Those tough considerations will continue to propel our work but so will the opportunities we see for advancing positive protections for our community. When we work together strategically, we can make schools safer, address violence, stop negative legislation and pass progressive laws."

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