Chattanooga’s LGBT community is showing the South what motivated Queer people do in challenging times

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“I get that upstaging Nashville in the Civil Rights fight and expanding inclusiveness might sting a little…”

Samantha Boucher, Community Board member of the Tennessee Valley (Chattanooga) Pride committee, wrote that in response to my lukewarm reaction to her news tip in June. The committee had just voted to adopt the Philadelphia Pride flag as their own, adding black and brown stripes to the top “as a show of solidarity with LGBTQ+ people of color who are often underrepresented and underserved in our community,” according to the committee’s Facebook post announcing the move.

“It is incredibly important for us to elevate the voices of the most marginalized members of our community…often those are people of color, especially trans* people of color,” Samantha continued online. “We think that fighting (for greater inclusion) is one of the most important things that we can do as a community and as a Pride committee. We hope that other Pride festivals around the Southeast will do the same too…”

(Ouch! I will never underestimate Chattanooga queerdom ever again…)

While far smaller than Nashville, Chattanooga’s LGBTQ+ community more than makes up for its size by embracing visibility in an often more hostile environment. Community organizers have begun a push for a citywide Equality Ordinance recently that would reaffirm that Federal court rulings protecting LGBTQ+ people apply in Chattanooga and allow existing city entities to investigate and fight anti-LGBTQ+ discriminatory practices.

Samantha and like-minded members of the Chattanooga Queer Community Forum have been busy over the summer since launching the City of Equality campaign. They took their first crack at building LGBTQ+ affirming policies for residents of the city and Hamilton County with an organized voting drive, all while preparing for Tennessee Valley Pride this fall.

Their “Queer the Vote Chattanooga 2018” campaign kicked off in early July soon after the community held a moving remembrance ceremony, attended by Chattanooga’s mayor and police chief, for the lives lost at Pulse in Orlando two years ago. The Forum partnered with other social justice groups to rent vans that took community members to early voting sites after sending out LGBTQ+ centered questionnaires to local candidates and creating a phone app to assist with questions and ridesharing.

The questionnaire asked about specific policy questions related to LGBTQ+ topics, according to Boucher. The results were graded under a scorecard system, much like the Human Rights Campaign uses, and was made available to community members who participated in the early voting drive.

The pro-LGBTQ+ voter campaign applied for and received grant monies, in addition to a fundraiser, to help facilitate the transportation and information strategies. The campaign used large Pride-flagged passenger vans to pick up voters and take them to the polls in large groups, with access to their LGBTQ+ scorecard either downloaded to personal devices or otherwise made available while traveling to the polls, according to Boucher.

chattanooga for article.jpgThe recent Pulse memorial also marked the beginning of the use of trained community members and allied groups to help maintain security at Chattanooga area LGBTQ+ events. The move was made in recognition that the original Stonewall riot of 1969, the mother of all Pride events, saw the police in an unfavorable light and that this carries over for many LGBTQ+ people today. Tennessee Valley Pride is beginning to mull plans for the use of trained non-police security volunteers starting in 2019.

“We discussed this at our recent community board meeting and think the conversation deserves special attention,” Boucher explained. “We already take efforts to make sure the police are not elevated at Pride and that their presence for security is unobtrusive, but we know that for some this can still be a problem.”

The Chattanooga chapter of the Guardian Angels helped with the Pulse vigil in June. A volunteer non-police security group familiar to those who hail from the New York City area, the Angels began as organized red beret wearing young New Yorkers who rode the subways and walked throughout the Times Square area at night in the late 1970’s when violent crime rose as a result of cuts in police funding.

Boucher, who will be the security director for this year’s Pride, says that while no such plan for using groups like the Angels would be fully implemented until 2019 at least. This strategy would only follow a public discussion. However, a special effort will be made starting with this Fall’s Pride to have trained civilians available in order to reduce the need for a police presence.

“We want to be mindful of the impact of the police upon our community,” Boucher said. “We think the broader community deserves the opportunity to contribute to that conversation…to come up with ideas that make sense to everyone. We think the Guardian Angels are a great organization, and while we don’t expect trouble…we know that the Angels and our own community leaders will stand up for the marginalized members of our community and place themselves between them and hate.”

Beware the bold and queer Nashville.

Mark your calendars! Tennessee Valley (Chattanooga) Pride is Sunday, October 7 at Ross’s Landing. For more information visit TennesseeValleyPride.com

chattanooga rises 2 for article.jpgChattanooga Mayor Andy Berke speaks at the Chattanooga Pulse vigil. Behind him is a piece of the historic AIDS Quilt.