“It doesn’t matter where you come from, who you are, if you are a citizen and you’re hardworking, there’s no reason for you to be discriminated against,” Nashville Metro Council Member Erica Gilmore said at Wednesday’s rally against Tennessee State Legislative Bill HB0229.
A large group of protesters wearing purple showed up at War Memorial Plaza to demonstrate their disapproval of the widely known “Don’t Say Gay” bill that would prevent the discussion of any form of sexuality besides “natural human reproduction” in Tennessee elementary and middle schools. Advocates from Tennessee Equality Project and local high school Gay-Straight Alliances were joined by Erica Gilmore and House Representatives Jeanne Richardson, Brenda Gilmore, Sherry Jones, and Mike Turner, and the congress members spoke to the harm such a bill would do if passed.
“People will tell you that this bill does no harm, that it doesn’t hurt anybody, and that it’ll protect our youth,” Rep. Richardson said. “Let me tell you that it does a lot of harm, and it not only doesn’t protect our children, it puts a whole group of children at risk.”
Jane Steinfels Hussain, a rally attendee and retired educator of 40 years with experience teaching children of all ages, commented on those risks.
“There’s no way that we can really deal with bullying unless we deal with all the reason for bullying,” she said. “And being gay is one of them. We have to be able to talk about that, we have to be able to talk about different types of families, and we have to be able to answer our students’ questions.”
“You can’t hide things from kids,” said Emma Fischer, a freshman at Martin Luther King Jr. Magnet High School. She went on to say that kids have a way of finding things out, whether or not they have the proper facts.
“Shielding kids from reality is dangerous,” she said. “If they don’t have the facts from a reliable source, everything is going to get twisted, and that’s the opposite of what needs to happen in today’s public schools.”
The protest did not only focus on the detriment HB0229 could cause, however. It was also a rally to encourage advocates – youth, in particular – not to give up.
“When we look back on the history of this country, any time there’s been significant change, it’s always been because young people stepped out,” Brenda Gilmore said to the crowd. “I wanted to come here today to tell you how much I appreciate your courage and to give you the encouragement to continue on in the fight.”
Rep. Richardson added to Gilmore’s call to action, asking attendees not to give up. “We live in a state where change is going to be slower,” she said, “but we will change this.”
Several friends of the GLBT community attended the rally to share their support as well, some even bringing their elementary-aged children.
“People fought the same fight fifty years ago,” Beth Roth said, attending the event with her husband and children. “It’s my hope that, when my kids are the age that I am now, they will look back on this time and say, ‘I can’t believe we ever lived in a country where gay and lesbian and transgendered people were treated differently,’ the way I look back on the ’60s and can’t believe we lived in a time where African-Americans were treated unfairly and discriminated against.”