Shuck and Jive

Monday, February 16, 2009

TEP Tri-Cities in Johnson City Press

The new Tennessee Equality Project Tri-Cities Chapter made the front page of Sunday's Johnson City Press. Good work! Joe Rhymer will be in Nashville this week for Equality Day on the Hill. Check the article:

Local TEP Chapter Advocates for Equality

Everyone is guaranteed equal rights, but not everyone feels they have that guarantee.

So, the newly formed local chapter of the Tennessee Equality Project intends to see that everyone means everyone. The Northeast Tennessee chapter of TEP, the seventh one formed in the state, was announced in January. It represents residents in the Tri-Cities metropolitan area — Kingsport, Johnson City, Bristol, Tenn., and Va., and Carter, Greene, Johnson, Washington and Sullivan counties in advocating for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender persons.

There is a lot of fear and misunderstanding of the GLBT community, said local chapter Chairman Joe Rhymer.

“As far as a community for GLBT individuals, there’s not a whole lot of it,” Rhymer said. “In the Tri-Cities it’s not something that’s looked fondly upon.”

That should change, Rhymer said. He said tolerance of GLBT individuals is good, but more accepting attitudes need to be realized. The culture needs to change, which is the direction gay rights groups are moving across the country.

Rhymer said he sees unnecessary anxiety placed upon GLBT people, and some in the community lash out in hateful manners toward the gay population. He said some members of the local gay community feel compelled to hide their sexual orientations out of shame, because the consequences of discovery can be devastating.

“Honestly, in the time that I’ve lived here, I’ve heard of three or four suicides because of the fact that someone found out, or someone’s family found out,” Rhymer said.

The goal for TEP is to change that.

While the Tennessee Legislature is in session each year, TEP will be focused on lobbying lawmakers on behalf of the GLBT community.

During this session of the General Assembly, TEP hopes to see the passage of a bill that would allow transgender individuals to change their sex on their birth certificates, Rhymer said.

TEP also hopes to rally support against a bill before lawmakers that would only permit married couples to adopt children. On the Tennessee General Assembly Web site the bill is summarized as follows: “Prohibits any individual who is cohabitating in a sexual relationship outside of a marriage that is valid under the constitution and laws of this state from adopting a minor.”

Rhymer said such a prohibition would cut the number of children adopted and cost the state millions of dollars.

Also each year TEP holds Equality Day on the Hill, where members visit lawmakers in Nashville to let them get to know some of their gay, lesbian and transgender constituents. This year’s Equality Day will be on Tuesday and Rhymer will be there hoping to talk to local lawmakers.

Locally, TEP plans to be active and visible in the community, Rhymer said. Once a large enough community has been established in the local TEP chapter, Rhymer said he would like to push for local policies to be formerly put in place concerning discrimination and sensitivity training for officials.

Rhymer said this will take time and is prepared to wait.

“And the truth is I’m not here for the ‘wow effect’ or to scare anybody,” he said. “I want the Tri-Cities to know what gay people are like. I understand that people are afraid and a little nervous. I’m not going to force anything on anybody tomorrow. I want people to get to know us.”

For more information on TEP, visit A link there connects to the local chapter’s site.

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