Volunteer state

As Tennessee’s political landscape continues grow more conservative, the Tennessee Equality Project hopes to keep GLBT-friendly legislators in both chambers at the state Capitol, as well as in municipal and county offices.

And while that’s a tall order the group, which works with legislators of both major parties on legislation regarding hate crimes, adoption, education and other issues of concern to the GLBT community, its leaders say it’s doable.

“I’m really rejuvenated as we begin a new organizational year with the most diverse board of directors we’ve ever seen,” said H.G. Stovall, president. “The board, the executive committee, is the most regionally diverse group we’ve ever seen, and that will lead to the best representation of the state we’ve ever seen.”

Having people plugged in across the state will allow for committees to be continue grow in Tennessee’s major metropolitan areas, and also to spring up in the smaller cities and rural areas. That, in turn, leads to more volunteers for campaigns and other efforts going into the fall, Stovall said.

“We’ll be able to empower those people, and they know their hometowns better than anyone else,” he said. “We’re going to give them all the tools that TEP as a whole has.”

Becoming more engaged with local candidates will also lead to a heightened awareness of GLBT issues as election-time topics rather than issues to be dealt with once in office, added Jonathan Cole, TEP’s incoming board chair.

“What we’re seeing in areas where we have an established presence is that very enthusiastic, committed people are getting the word out about local issues and statewide initiatives,” Cole said. ‘We’re getting engaged with campaigns for the primaries coming up in August and also for the general elections in November.”

TEP’s growing clout means that it has been able to draw in members of groups ranging from the Davidson County Young Democrats to Friends for Life, an HIV and AIDS social-service organization in Memphis. The group also benefits from longtime political mentors both within and outside its ranks, getting valuable input on multiple different issues.

“It’s exciting going into this statewide election because we have those gurus,” Stovall said. “This gives us a new wave of credibility, and so if Tennessee’s elections continue to trend in the manner they have been, our door is wide open to partner with our more conservative friends who are like-minded on our issues.”

TEP’s successes in recent years include expanded protections for sexual orientation and gender identity at the local-government level in Memphis and Nashville, and the group hopes to continue to press that issue, and many others, in cities across the state as well as at the Capitol.

“We want to be busy in lots of places,” Cole said. “Our political action committee involvement means that our supporters can watch what we’re doing, but we also want to pitching with some of our candidates who have fought for us in the past. Whether Democrat or Republican, we’re going to assist those candidates in any area where we can.”

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Photo by Scott Webb on Unsplash

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