Overcoming the "Tennessee is hopeless" industry

Taking the power out of the "Tennessee is hopeless" industry is not easy.  In previous posts, I named it and discussed its effects

Those posts indicated that there probably will be no quick solution, but the effort is necessary to avoid a free fall into despair.  So how do we overcome this message machine?

1.  We have to be honest about the problems we face in Tennessee.  What we share in common with the "Tennessee is hopeless" industry is a sober look at the issues we face.  Where we depart from others is how we use bad news.  We don't write or speak about our problems in order to sensationalize them or confirm preconceived notions about the state or the South in general.  We discuss our problems as a call to action.  Lack of a call to action is one of the sure signs of sharing bad news as a call to reaction, typically an emotional reaction.

2.  Remember and celebrate victories.  Audre Lorde said, "Each victory must be applauded."  And  we have them in Tennessee along with the setbacks.  The Nashville non-discrimination ordinance, the Nashville contractor ordinance, the Knoxville non-discrimination ordinance, the Memphis non-discrimination ordinance, the Knox County non-discrimination ordinance, the Chattanooga partner benefits/non-discrimination ordinance, the Knoxville partner benefits executive ordinance, the Nashville partner benefits ordinance, and more.  Negative legislation, which generates so many "Tennessee is hopeless" stories, mostly gets defeated.  Consider the Don't Say Gay, License to Bully, Police the Potty, Counseling Discrimination, and Turn the Gays Away bills, which have all been defeated in recent years.  Every adoption ban bill has eventually gone down in flames.  This is a record we Tennesseans can be proud of, not only because of the results, but because we achieved them.  There will be more victories in part because we believe we can achieve them.

3.  Being clear about the help we need.  There are absolutely times when we could use help.  We could have used help from national bloggers on the YES Chattanooga campaign, but they would not cover it before the defeat and the damage was done.  WOULD NOT.  So those of us fighting in Tennessee--from the organizations to the individuals who care about equality--need to do more to urge the national blogs to cover our struggles AND cover our victories.  Other than the Human Rights Campaign, I'm not sure anyone at the national level wrote about the defeat of the Counseling Discrimination bill this year.  We all (and I include myself) have to try harder to get our stories out.

4.  Stories.  Stories.  Stories.  And that gets me to a point we hear all the time, but it's true.  We need stories and not just the stories of organizations, although that is important because those of us in organizations work hard.  But we need the stories of individuals surviving and thriving in Tennessee.  We need the stories of allies and how they came around.  Oddly enough, these stories will be as valuable in moving our LGBT brothers and sisters in other parts of the country as they are in moving our straight neighbors in Tennessee.  Maybe if LGBT folks in other parts of the country read and hear our human stories, they won't be so quick to write us off and they might partner with us more often in constructive ways.

That's my best guess.  But the "Tennessee is hopeless" industry must be resisted because it perpetuates a skewed perspective and it further isolates our region to the point that we are being deprived of resources that we need.  Let's resist it constructively, though, and not in some shrill or bitter manner.  We are not responsible, in the end, for what others write about us, but we can make sure we do our part to give them better material. 

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