As the pendulum of public opinion seems to swing first one way then another, a lesser known organization has been quietly cultivating a consistent and powerful form of compassionate activism for equality in Nashville. The Metro Human Relations Commission (MHRC) has been an active advocate for Civil and Human Rights since its creation by the Council and Mayor of the new Metropolitan Government in 1967. More recently the organization has taken an increasingly active role in GLBT rights, especially issues that impact GLBT youth.
Caroline Blackwell, Executive Director of MHRC, says the Commission believes "the quest for equal rights for LGBTQ people is a fundamental human rights issue, and one that warrants the full attention of the Commission, Nashville and the nation."
"There is a false debate in our national conversation about the equality movement and the ongoing struggle for equal rights and opportunity for African-Americans and other people of color," said Blackwell. "Leaders and advocates in both movements fail to consistently acknowledge the interdependence needed to advance equality and social justice for all people who are marginalized."
According to Blackwell, "leaders and advocates who understand that ‘there is enough to go around’ also know that we do ourselves a disservice when we cast equality as zero-sum game."
"Those who cling to scientifically-unsubstantiated notions that being GLBT/Queer is 'unnatural' should also remember that even today, similar arguments are being used to promulgate the odious notion that black and brown people are less intelligent than whites, that Jews deserved genocide, and that strong women threaten 'family' stability," explained Blackwell. "We need to connect the dots because all of these divisive messages are driven by the same cause—the dehumanization of other human beings."
In recent years a growing number of GLBT community leaders have been appointed to serve on the Commission, bringing their professional and personal experience to the table. Since she was hired by the Commission in 2011, Blackwell is credited with working with the Commissioners and staff to develop innovative initiatives that promote individual social-emotional and academic well-being for all children and youth.
"The disproportionate level of suicides among LGBTQ children and youth cries out for our attention," Blackwell said. "Children who are not safe in their homes because of parental and family rejection, and children and youth who are not safe in our schools and community need our support, protection, and care."
The Commission partners with the Metro Public Health Department to provide healing circles with parents and families of vulnerable children, particularly in North Nashville, and MHRC was the founding sponsor for the Youth Pavilion at Nashville Pride. Last year, the Commission launched the Student Human Relations Summit, an annual initiative to supplement the resources and information available in schools.
According to MHRC Immediate Past Chair Scott Ridgway, "the work of the Metro Human Relations Commission is vital to the social and economic health of Nashville. Bridging divides to create one city for all people makes this the kind of community where businesses want to locate and people want to live."
Last summer former Commissioner Iris Buhl established the MHRC Support Fund, a foundation through the Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee (CFMT) to help the Commission reach more people through programs that foster positive, productive interaction.
According to Ridgway, "in these times of tight government funding, private support is absolutely critical for the Commission to effectively deliver the best and most innovative programs in the areas of education and training to promote tolerance and understanding among all groups living in the Metro area."
The inaugural event to benefit the MHRC Support Fund is scheduled for Thursday, May 16 at the home of Honorary Co-Chairs Megan and Bruce Barry. Artist Brian Parker will involve everyone at the event in the creation of a giant collage that "…references the breadth of diversity that makes Nashville a stronger whole and a great place to live, work and raise a family."