Yesterday we celebrated ten years of the Tennessee Equality Project with ice cream sundae socials in Elizabethton, Maryville, Collegedale, Nashville, and Cordova—something that wouldn’t have been possible ten years ago. Check out the pictures here.
We started in Nashville, but we’ve come a long way since then with a presence around the state.
A commitment to geographic diversity presents many challenges, but it is ultimately one of the major strengths of our organization. We’re not everywhere we want to be and it’s something we think about quite a bit. We are sometimes dogged by a sense of inadequacy that we’re not in all 95 counties of Tennessee, but mostly we are spurred on to do more. We’ve been trying to build in a way that is sustainable, and that’s not easy.
Our first county committee was the TEP Shelby County Committee—one that is still going strong. Shelby County has been a source of innovation for TEP, a source of numbers, and a source of leadership.
Having board members and leadership from East, West, and Middle Tennessee sets us apart from many progressive statewide organizations headquartered in Nashville. We want people in all parts of the state to know that TEP belongs to all of us. Trusting the whole state with our leadership yields a return of trust from our members around the state.
If TEP had achieved nothing other than uniting people in East, West, and Middle Tennessee, we would have made an important mark. But, of course, wins and losses matter. We’ve all tortured ourselves asking what else we could have done to beat the marriage amendment at the ballot in 2006 and stop HB600 in 2011. Those were the tough days, and they still haunt me.
Tennesseans need and deserve victories and I’m glad there have been more than a few, especially since 2009. Advancing a number of non-discrimination and partner benefits policies around the state, beating negative bills like Don’t Say Gay and Turn Away the Gays, negotiating a solution to the Mint Springs Farm incident, and many more are events all fair-minded Tennesseans can take pride in.
The past is not something to dwell on, though. The victories that are ahead give us hope and they also keep us up wondering exactly how we’re going to get there. August will see a massive effort around the state to prepare for DAY ONE of marriage equality. We have been developing a new strategy complete with new tactics to advance the Dignity for All Students Act. And we have more plans to work on protections from job discrimination.
We will have more setbacks, too. It would be irresponsible for me to tell you otherwise. Hate crimes, bullying, bad state legislation, putting the Chattanooga non-discrimination/partner benefits ordinance on the ballot, attempts to stall marriage equality, infuriating remarks by elected officials…we are not near the end of the road yet.
All I can do is ask you to continue to work with us as we build a statewide movement for equality that gives our community the power we need to achieve our goals. I’ve been fortunate to know great advocates in every part of Tennessee over the last ten years. I promise you that we’re not alone and that we’re definitely stronger when East, West, and Middle Tennessee’s gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community works together.