License plate bill filed to promote GLBT equality

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Two Memphis, Tennessee legislators have filed a bill asking for the creation of a specialty license plate for the Tennessee Equality Project Foundation (TEF) to raise awareness and visibility for “education surrounding equality issues affecting the GLBT community.”

Memphis Senator Shea Flinn (D-district 30) and Representative Beverly Marreo (D-district 89) filed the bill on February 15, 2007.  Nashville Democrat Sherry Jones (D-district 59) has also signed on as a co-sponsor in the House of Representatives.

If approved, the Tennessee Equality Project Foundation would have one year to sell 1,000 plates, collect $35 for each plate, and design the artwork. The license plate offered by the TEF would be one of more than 90 specialty plates available to Tennessee drivers.

"As a Memphian, a Tennessean and an American, I’m always proud to speak up against all discrimination," said Rep. Marrero in filing the bill.

Sen. Flinn agreed, adding, “What’s controversial about this? Once we open the process up to non-profits, all non-profits should have the same opportunity.”

The Tennessee Equality Project Foundation is a separate non-profit (501c3) from the political advocacy and lobbying group, the Tennessee Equality Project (TEP). Randy Cox is president of TEPF. 50% of money raised from the sale of such plates would go to the TEPF. 40% would go to the arts, and 10% would go to the highway fund. TEF would receive just over $15.00 for each plate sold.

“TEPF has a separate board of directors and president,” explained TEP President Christopher Sanders. “While many of the same people are involved in both organizations, their mission is one of education surrounding equality issues that affect the GLBT community.”

Sanders said it was TEP vice president and TEPF board member Stephen Henry who proposed the idea.

“Stephen and some of the board members have been talking about doing this,” Sanders said.

Cox, president of TEPF, praised the measure as an important step in increasing inclusiveness in Tennessee.

“The TEP Foundation is exited about sending the message of equality throughout the state of Tennessee through this license plate program," Cox said. "Our goal is to educate Tennesseans that gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender persons are your neighbors, church members, and coworkers and deserve the same treatment as anyone else.”

TEP is involved with getting the TEPF license plate legislation introduced before the state’s legislators. Sanders said that even though affinity plates existed for numerous groups in the state, he was concerned that because this plate would be promoting equality issues for the GLBT community it would hit some roadblocks.

“The bill to create this special license plate deserves a full hearing,” he said. “Should it pass, we think we’ll be among the first, if not the first, to be such a state that offers this type of license plate to its citizens.

A design for the plate has not been considered.

“We want to focus first on getting the bill through the House and the Senate,” Sanders said. “Should it pass we should not have any trouble coming up with a suitable design and selling the mandatory 1,000 plates in a year.”

Sanders said the bill for the special license plate, along with other GLBT issues, would be important components of the third annual Advancing Equality Day on the Hill, which will be held Feb. 20 starting at 8:30 a.m.