Former environmental lobbyist stands firm for GLBT equality

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KNOXVILLE – Shelley Wascom’s background comes in handy these days. This sojourner on the path of justice is calling on skills that she has previously used in the environmental and justice movements to push for GLBT equality in the current climate of anti-gay sentiment, resulting in a challenging session in the legislative branch of our state government.

Leaving her home in Baton Rouge, this Louisiana native moved to Hattiesburg , Miss. , where she eventually received her Master’s in Social Work on an administrative track. For the past 12 years, she has been living in the hills of Tennessee giving her all to the community through a variety of venues.

Participating in Equality Day on the Hill, organized by the Tennessee Equality Project, Wascom returned to her old stomping grounds familiar to her from her days as the lobbyist for Save Our Cumberland Mountains (SOCM.) This grassroots organization works on issues such as damaging forestry techniques, strip mining, tax reform, and racism from their Lake City headquarters and their Middle Tennessee office in Columbia . From her position at SOCM’s helm, she gained 10 years experience working with legislators on issues vital to Tennessee environment.

Shelley currently heads up Community Shares, a federation of Tennessee agencies that collectively raise money for various non-profits and community action groups. It is often seen as an alternative to United Way giving. Funding obtained through the efforts of Community Shares members goes to domestic violence victims, people with HIV/AIDS, children’s cultural education, animal rights education, and various environmental concerns.

This delightful dyke has a busy life after work as well. Her friends, Lisa and Ralph Hutchinson can attest to that. After meeting Lisa in the course of her work with SOCM, the three became close. When Lisa and Ralph expanded their family to include two children, Shelley has been a part of that family life from the beginning. The two children, Sarah Margaret (10) and Emmett (7), are an integral part of Shelley’s daily life.

“I’m not quite a parent, but I’m definitely more than an aunt to them,” says Wascom of her relationship with the two children.

A phone call to her home on any given day will normally include the sounds of lively children in the background.

As for her part in the local lesbian community, Shelley says, “I’ve struggled with relating to lesbians in the area.”

Her feelings are a common refrain in the chorus of new people moving to the Knoxville area. The slow process of meeting people is often frustrating for newcomers. Those who do manage to connect with Shelley will be delighted with what they find.

For further information on SOCM, go to www.socm.org. Community Shares can be found online at www.korrnet.org/cshares.