Marriage-Equality Group Starts Rural Tour

A Tennessee group that supports same-sex marriage and civil-rights for LGBT people has expanded its organizing beyond the state’s largest metropolitan areas to smaller cities. The director of the Tennessee Equality Project tells us why rural matters to him.


Tennessee Equality Project, said the group started its outreach to small cities because there are fewer support structures for LGBT residents there and because they were tired of hearing that LGBT rights is only an urban issue.

 “There’s one Constitution for the whole country,” Sanders said. “Equal protection needs to matter in Cleveland, Tennessee, as much as it does in San Francisco, California. Getting there is tough, though.”

The High Court is expected to rule any day on whether to uphold or overturn same-sex marriage bans in Ohio, Michigan, Kentucky, and Tennessee. Thirty-seven states now allow same-sex marriage, but the Court’s decision is likely to clarify a national position on whether banning marriage of couples who are the same sex violates the Constitution.

We asked Sanders to share with us the purpose of his group’s rural outreach and why his organization thought focusing on people in small cities and rural areas was important.

Daily Yonder: What prompted you to start a rural outreach program?

Chris Sanders: The idea for the tour really has two inspirations. The first is just the fact that the U.S. Supreme Court decides the big marriage cases this summer, and we wanted there to be a focus on the theme of love throughout the state.

The second inspiration is just something that hit me while driving so much on I-24 and I-40 to bigger cities. I thought, “Why don't we ever stop along the way?”

So it came together and we realized other benefits as we began thinking it through–such as increased influence with the Legislature and a quicker way to get help to people who are enduring bullying, job discrimination, or hate crimes. We're already getting those phone calls, but we have not had a great network of help for people in those situations. So visiting more cities actually gives us more capacity. …

Other progressive issue-focused organizations have asked us about the tour because they are considering similar forms of outreach. 

Many LGBT people living in Nashville, Knoxville, Memphis, or Chattanooga came from a small Southern town, so they understand the importance of this kind of work.

DY: What is the purpose of your tour? Why small cities?

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