One month of the 2020 Tennessee legislative session is behind us. In our January issue, Chris Sanders, executive director of the Tennessee Equality Project (TEP) warned us this year would be a tough one, and offered insight into how to get active and involved. Since then, Tennessee’s adoption discrimination bill passed with lightening speed, multiple new and old anti-LGBTQ bills have been added to he roster of the slate of hate, and Governor Bill Lee is sponsoring what amounts to an adoption ban. Now, more than ever, it’s the responsibility of all citizens to take up the fight for LGBTQ rights in Tennessee, especially through events like Day on the Hill.
One of Sanders’ suggestions was for citizens to participate in one of TEP’s three scheduled “Day on the Hill” lobbying sessions. TEP has held these events for years, with the hopes that facing LGBTQ citizens would give Tennessee lawmakers some much-needed perspective. This year’s first Day was February 4, and had a good turnout. But the March 3 and April 7 Days are right around the corner and it’s essential that as many people as possible come out to share their thoughts with the people who are supposed to represent them.
For those of you who don’t see the importance of participating in these events, or don’t see them as worth the time, we spoke with two citizens who attended the February Day in order to get their perspective.
“For years, I had heard legislators talking about passing ‘common sense laws regarding marriage or access to sex-segregated public facilities. These laws could create circumstances that guarantee that I and other LGBTQ+ people would be treated as inferior to those with traditional sexuality or gender identity,” said Morgan Robertson, who drove all the way from Martin, Tennessee to speak with legislators. “I participate in TEP’s Advancing Equality on the Hill Days to change what common sense means to my congress people by talking to them about what makes life good for LGBT+ people in their district. In time, with more conversations, ‘common sense’ will change.”
“Participating in the Tennessee Equality Project Advancing Equality Days on the Hill has renewed my appreciation of participating in the civic process,” added Shahin Samiei Shelby County Committee Chair of TEP. “By participating, I’ve become much more empowered to directly advocate to my elected officials. Being present, visible, and openly advocating is so important because it informs and reminds our elected officials that the fight for equality is not over, and that we need them to do their jobs — to effectively represent ALL Tennesseans, including the LGBTQ community.”
Samiei has observed real impacts from the event. “Last year, one of my own representatives heard our arguments against a discriminatory, anti-transgender bathroom bill. Despite many of his colleagues’ support of the bill, he did not vote for the bill after we held our meeting. It was encouraging to see that direct impact of advocacy: Our work informs the hearts and the minds of our elected officials, and that impacts their votes. Get involved and advocate with us in Nashville the first Tuesdays of February, March, and April.”
“By taking time out of their day and in some cases traveling for a few hours to Nashville, district captains show legislators that people throughout Tennessee oppose the Slate of Hate,” Sanders said. “They also gather important information on what their legislators are thinking. We should have a strong group for the March 3 event, but we always need more. We will make sure you are prepared for the role.”