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Both Electeds, and LGBTs, maybe especially at national levels, could learn a lot from grassroots leadership.

I read a post on Facebook last night that made me think about this again. It was written by someone I know, and on behalf of an organization I’ve known “” as a then resident of Nashville “” since its beginnings, the Tennessee Equality Project. Like state and local level LGBT organizations in general, the work they do is grassroots oriented and powered. That’s a good thing, that local grassroots focus and energy, whether from a “Blue” or “Red” state. Unfortunately, the efforts in “Red” territory aren’t always appreciated, or even respected.

In an earlier post, Bill Clinton at GLAAD Awards, I concluded by writing about LGBT advocates and about Electeds: “(K)eep on pushing for complete equality. They’re following us, not the other way around.” That’s as true in, for example, Tennessee, as it is in, say, any of the states which have approved marriage equality.

One of my biggest frustrations is hearing LGBTs and allies from more “progressive” states, knowingly or otherwise, dismiss and even demean entire states and their LGBT and supportive residents by using broad generalizations and handy but inaccurate labels, as well as predictable punch lines.

So, this FB post from Chris Sanders, Chairman of the Board and President of the Tennessee Equality Project:

We are reminded in very concrete ways of discrimination and loss this week in Tennessee. We are reminded through statistics “” the increase in hate crimes in our state. We are reminded through personal stories “” the story emerging tonight of a Coffee County teen who took her life because of bullying (not, as far as we know, related to sexual orientation), and through the growing story of our legislature’s marriage discrimination resolution.

A culture of oppression and violence “” it’s a hard phrase to swallow. It’s a hard thing to admit that’s what we’re facing in Tennessee. Admitting it, as they say, is the first step. For those of us who live here and continue to love Tennessee despite its very real problems, it is tough to face these issues.

Our commitment at TEP to you is that we will (a) continue to report incidents of hate violence to U.S. Justice Department to make sure they are adequately investigated and work with partners like the Metro Nashville Human Relations Commission to make communities more accepting and support the efforts of … (the Tennessee Transgender Political Coalition) to add gender identity to the state hate crimes law, (b) work to increase the number of local governments in Tennessee that protect their employees from job discrimination and work with national organizations like the Human Rights Campaign and Freedom to Work to pass a fully inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act, (c) work our butts off to increase support for the Dignity for All Students Act in the Legislature to make our schools safer for all students, (d) witness to the full and equal value of our relationships by pushing for partner benefits in our local governments and by showing our state on August 31 that it is “˜Tennessee Marriage Equality Day.’

We will work for these things in order to change our laws and our culture because you are with us and we are with you. Together we will go forward. Sometimes we’ll be afraid, sometimes we’ll be too busy to notice our fears. Together we can be brave.

We know there is a Tennessee worth fighting for. It’s our Tennessee, too!

I responded, and passed along the post, with this (a bit of editing included here):

My TN friends will likely have already seen this, but for those of you elsewhere, take a moment to read the post from Tennessee Equality Project. Sometimes those of us who live in states like Tennessee, or Texas, or as it’s often stereotyped, “˜the South,’ or more broadly, the “˜Red states,’ are told we should move somewhere more accepting. Or, we hear ourselves and the work of friends, LGBT and allies, basically dismissed and demeaned, as whole states are generalized under one, simplistic label, and judged accordingly. And that includes by some LGBT people who, in my opinion, should know better. Everyone who works toward equality, wherever we live, should able to count on the encouragement and support of “family” across the nation. If that work happens to be in a more “˜progressive’ state, the work is certainly very important, and still not easy.

When it happens to be in one those apparently easy to dismiss and even demean states, where the challenges are even greater … why on earth would anyone discount that work? Why would anyone encourage LGBTs to leave? By that standard, Civil Rights activists should simply have packed up and moved to friendlier states, rather than stay and fight for equality.

To TEP, and to all the state and local organizations who stand up to bigotry and ignorance and yes, even hate and violence, you are the leaders in the work toward equality. And you are much appreciated and respected.

Now, decisions to move from one state to another occur for many reasons. And there is absolutely NOTHING wrong with moving to a more supportive LGBT equality state, or within a state, to a more supportive city. But there is something wrong with minimizing, and sometimes demeaning, those who, for whatever their personal and/or political reasons, choose to stay and fight for equality in an often significantly more challenging area.

We need each other, in the work for equality.

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