“Summer of Love” tour reaches out to rural and small-town LGBT people
I’d like to ask a favor of those of you who continue to insist being gay is “a choice” or “a lifestyle.”
Take just one moment to try and picture this: You live in a rural area or small town in Tennessee. Based on the way you have felt since you were a small child, you believe you are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. Nowhere around you is there any overt support. You fear your family will disown you or even throw you out of the house if you admit your belief about yourself to them. Your church will condemn you. Your employer, as you have no protections in Tennessee, might fire you. There is no way for you to find an open, happy, fulfilled relationship with a person you love.
In late April, reports the Tennessee Equality Project (TEP), the Family Action Council of Tennessee “held an online conference/town hall on sexuality and gender. One speaker recommended describing being LGBT as “broken, corrupt, bent, not what it should be.”
Under these conditions, you are still “choosing” to be LBGT? Doesn’t that sound just a little ridiculous? Doesn’t it seem much more likely that you are being forced by others to suppress how you were born?
The Tennessee Equality Project (TEP) is reaching out to isolated and often frightened people in rural and small-town Tennessee with its “Summer of Love” tour, which begins in June and continues through mid-September. According to TEP Executive Director Chris Sanders, the group has a good presence in urban areas, “but to be a truly statewide organization, we need to reach LGBT people in places we are currently missing.”
The tour has four goals, says Sanders. First, to connect LGBT people and allies with the statewide organization and resources. “What to do if you’re turned away when you apply for a marriage license; how to identify businesses that are safe, how to deal with bullying in schools,” Sanders lists.
Second, to connect with the tour-stop organizers, who will set up the meetings. “Our goal is to get 10 people at each stop,” he says.
Third, to document the needs LGBT people have in the areas visited, and fourth, to document their presence to legislators who continue to claim, “There are no LGBT people in my district.”
Sanders acknowledges there may be backlash to the tour. “We believe in the First Amendment. People have a right to express their views.” But threats of violence will be reported to law enforcement, and beyond that, to the Department of Justice.
Change is coming slowly to Tennessee, Sanders agrees. “We are a socially conservative state. [LGBT support organizations are] being outspent 3-to-1 by the religious right. But we’ve shown we can beat back negative legislation.”
The TEP is asking for help to fund the Summer of Love Tour. “As little as $10 can make a difference,” says Sanders. If you would like to help, visit tnep.org