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TEP citizen-advocate recalls her first meeting with legislators

'By the time he was through, I sat there stunned'

March 1, 2017 James Grady   Comments

This year’s legislative session may shape up to be one of the worst for the LGBT community in some years, but the Tennessee Equality Project’s citizen-advocates are reminding our legislators that we are here and our issues are important to us. One “Day on the Hill” repeat advocate, Kristine Evenson, shared some thoughts about her history with, and experience at, the event:

I have participated in this event every year since I think 2012. When I first started to come out I confided to a friend that I already knew was a lesbian asking her advice on how exactly to [get involved as I came out]. She suggested I look at the events scheduled at the Memphis gay and lesbian community center.

I saw a meeting listed for the Tennessee Equality Project. At that time I didn't know anything about TEP, but I thought it couldn't hurt to go and find out. At the meeting, I asked how I could help. Michelle Bliss told me about Equality Day On the Hill. My first reaction was that I was too horrified at the thought of speaking to my representatives, but I was also afraid to admit that to anyone. So I did go.

The first legislator I spoke to was Rep. Steve McManus. I had rehearsed a speech for a month on the talking points I wanted to go over. I went into the meeting and introduced myself. He asked what I wanted to talk about, and I said I was concerned about the “Don't Say Gay” bill.

Before I could say anything else, he talked for what seemed like 10-15 minutes on why he didn't like the bill. By the time he was through, I sat there stunned, not able to speak. He basically took my speech from me. I had difficulty thinking of what to say next. Finally I had to admit what I did, how I had rehearsed what I wanted to say, and that I was shocked to know that I had what was most likely the only Republican representative in the Tennessee legislature that believed in equality for all.

I thought about the meeting for the next several months. That man was a goldmine. I had to go back and talk to him, just for the sake of keeping it in his mind how important equal rights were. When it comes to talking about bad bills, a Republican will be more likely to listen to another Republican compared to a Democrat, so I went back for several more years.

Last year, I made an appointment with Rep. McManus. As I was entering the legislative plaza I received a phone call from his assistant canceling the appointment, and he had no other time that day to speak with me. I was very angry for the next several days, having gone all the way to Nashville for no reason. I vowed never to go back again.

A few days later Chris Sanders asked for volunteers to come back to Nashville to discuss the discriminatory anti-transgender bill. I just happened to live in one of the key Senate districts that he thought was the most important. To sum things up, I went back to Nashville just a week after saying I was never going back.

I went to speak with Senator Kelsey and my new House representative, Dwayne Thompson. I am still an awkward speaker. But I learned to keep the words "never again" out of my vocabulary. I may go back in March and April. It will depend on what is going on in the legislature at the time. And I'm sure I will be going back to Nashville at least once a year, probably for as long as I live in Tennessee.






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