Girls Inc. of Chattanooga is a nonprofit that provides activities and programs for girls ages six through 18. Their mission is to equip and inspire girls to be strong, bold, and smart. CEO Toccora Johnson-Petersen says this equates to girls being healthy, educated, and independent. The program has 80 affiliates across the country.
Girls Inc. has in-school, after-school, and seasonal day camp programs for girls in elementary, middle, and high school. The Bookworm Club focuses on literacy for girls in kindergarten through third grade. Another program, called Techno Girl, focuses on the intro to disciplines of steam, science, technology, engineering, art, and math for fourth and fifth grade girls. The Road to College and Career Successes is designed to set girls up for success in high school and college. For a list of others, you can check out the programs page on their website by clicking here.
Toccora says they design and create programs to fit the needs of their students. An after-school program or a seasonal camp is based on surveys from the girls and their parents.
The camp this year is April the 11th through the 15th and is themed "Garden Girl." That's for girls ages six through 18. They chose this theme by listening to the girls and parents who expressed that they want more information and hands-on activities around food sustainability, agriculture, nutrition, and farm-to-table lifestyle change. The girls will learn about nutrition, self-care, and agriculture. They will also receive hands-on experience in a garden at their new United Methodist Church location. There is a fee of $50, which provides two snacks, a t-shirt, and also admissions for any weekly field trips that they will take.
Just last year Girls Inc. hosted its first Back to School drive. According to Toccora they knew their girls were headed back to school in person and wanted to make sure they were equipped with supplies, but also support. So, tutoring centers, Big Brothers Big Sisters, and Erlanger representatives were brought in to talk about how to properly return back to school, in addition to giving them supplies. Working alongside experts in the community allows the girls to thrive inside and outside of the school building.
If you would like to help Girls Inc. of Chattanooga's mission, you can make multiple types of donations, including monetary, gifts, buy merch, and more. Toccora invites those who want to donate to volunteer or go on a program tour so that you can see firsthand the interactions between the program staff and participants, and what your money is going towards. If you would like to become a volunteer you can view volunteer opportunities and sign up online, by clicking the link here.
Right now the non-profit has one event coming up on May 3rd, their 18th annual Unbought and Unbossed luncheon. Over the years, 150 influential local women have been selected by teen mentees to be paired with mentors. At the luncheon, teen mentees will honor their mentor as Unbought and Unbossed. The luncheon is in recognition of the late Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm, who was the first African American woman to make a serious run for the Democratic nod for President of the United States. Toccora says the late congresswoman always told her constituents that no matter where this political journey took her that she would remain "unbought and unbossed." To find their honoree, the girls choose from leaders and entrepreneurs that community members nominated, who they feel embody those traits of Shirley Chisholm.
If you would like to know more about Girls Inc. Chattanooga their social handles are linked below, along with the interview with Toccora, or you can check out their website.
Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Chattanooga (BBBS) is a member of the largest youth mentoring organization in the United States. They serve 6 counties in the area including Hamilton, Marion, Bradley, Walker, Catoosa, and Dade counties. Executive Director Jessica Whatley says BBBS started with just a community-based program for decades where mentors (Bigs) hang out with their Littles, whether that is going to the park, the movie theater, or a game. This program is more about the time spent together and building the relationship from that bonding. If you are a part of the school-based program, Whatley says mentors can go see their Little at school. From there, they can do a lot of those similar activities, bring them lunch, read books in the school library, play board games. BBBS also has activity boxes at those schools that give Bigs ideas of how to spend time with their Littles. Recently, the non-profit started a school mentor program in partnership with Tyner High School, where Bigs and Littles meet virtually once a week and in person once a month.
Another program BBBS has is called Beyond School Walls. This work-based mentoring program partners with local companies so the Littles can interact with a working environment. Middle Schoolers will be able to go to companies like Unum and see the different job opportunities and learn about the workplace to see what's out there in the community.
With all of these wonderful programs, how do you volunteer? For the school-based and mentoring progams volunteers have to be over 18 years old. For the community-based program, you have to be over 21 years old. To participate in Beyond Schools Walls you have to be an employer with Unum, City of Chattanooga, Elliot Davis, or United Way. All volunteers will go through an orientation process online, where you can read about the programs, learn more about Bigs and Littles, and the benefits of mentoring. After that, you will go through training, background checks, and once you get through the interview process, you will meet with your Little and their guardian to get to know them and go through some rules and guidelines.
But don't worry if you are nervous, because each Big has a match support specialist. This is a person to communicate with to help you with any issues, if you need additional training, ideas, or if there are struggles. Your match support is there to help you know how to deal with things your Little may be going through and how to communicate with them. Another reason for the extra help is for child safety, so they check and make sure the kids are in safe relationships.
For more on other programs like Bigs in Blue or how UTC students can get involved check out the full interview listed below or by clicking here. For more information on Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Chattanooga, or to volunteer, click here.
Support Local Chattanooga Businesses
Supporting local businesses does more than just help Chattanooga's economy. It helps a business owner buy a birthday gift for their loved one, helps pay their rent, allows them to grow, and it makes them happy just doing what they love. And that's just some of what buying local can do, so when you want your next coffee, new accessories, an album or a plant, please shop local.
JEWLERY & MORE
Mini Kitty Designs: Jewelry is amazing, you can also buy signs for your plants, suncatchers, pins, and stickers too! They are really a supporter of equality and human rights.
Yellow Racket Records: Is a local record shop located on East Main Street, I've bought from here many times and love this place. There are a ton of records you can go though in the store or you can order online!
NON-PROFITS AND ORGANIZATIONS:
PLUS you can always stop by the Chattanooga Market to shop some of these cool places, or check them out on social media!
A Step Ahead Chattanooga is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to remove barriers to contraception through education, outreach, and access to free birth control. They serve an 18 region county: 11 counties in Southeast Tennessee, five counties in Georgia, and two in Alabama.
Mandy Cowley, executive director of A Step Ahead Chattanooga, says their outreach is done by going out into the community, and building trust and awareness of who they are. Through education, they believe everyone has the right to know how their bodies work, and having that information allows them to make the right decision for themselves concerning contraception.
A Step Ahead does not deliver services to free birth control directly. They work with partner clinics, medical clinics, and medical providers in the region.
But, how does that work? Mandy says someone needing access to free birth control will contact them, the non-profit then gets some information from the caller through an intake line with highly trained volunteers. Based on that information, and where they are in the region, A Step Ahead finds the best clinic for them. Mandy says the only qualifications for their services are that you must live or go to school in one of the 18 counties they reach. They do not care about insurance status or your income. After they find a clinic that best fits you, they connect you directly to that clinic partner, during your phone conversation with A Step Ahead. The medical provider will then take over to schedule an appointment to get you access to free birth control. At your appointment, they may conduct a pap smear, testing, and general health assessments. Again, A Step Ahead covers anything related to that visit that isn't covered by other means. Mandy says even if you have insurance, they will pay the co-pay or deductibles. If you do not have insurance, they will pay for everything related to the visit, meaning it's totally free. In addition to helping someone access free birth control, they also mail free condoms and other things that help connect people.
According to Mandy, sometimes 20-year-olds are still on their parent's insurance, and they do not want them to know they are getting free birth control, or sometimes a person in a domestic violence situation and they do not want their partner to know she is seeking birth control. Mandy says there are a number of reasons sometimes people who do have insurance are not able to access a contraception method that is right for them, and they are able to help.
Education is also a core component of A Step Ahead's mission. Right now, they have six health educators on staff, including two part-time bilingual health educators. The educators will do presentations throughout the region, which includes family planning with couples, working with churches, and after-school sex education. Tennessee only teaches abstinence in schools, so kids will have questions and turn to the internet for answers. Mandy says that A Step Ahead would rather provide them with a trusted source with accurate information. She says they work with partner agencies who invite them in, and parents are given information about what sex education is, and they can choose to participate or not. A Step Ahead also focuses a lot on education for parents and guardians. This is for when the parent wants to have that conversation with the children in their lives, but are unsure where to begin, what the information is now, or what their kids are exposed to. So, a presentation is given on how to have those tough talks with kids, so as a parent or guardian they feel equipped to have that conversation on their own.
A Step Ahead is also focused on breaking barriers. As mentioned, they have two bilingual educators apart of their team. Mandy says they are currently working on adapting a curriculum that will be predominantly in Spanish and culturally relevant to the Latinx community. She says they know everyone has a different connection to the healthcare system, so being able to meet people where they are, and give them the information will help remove those barriers. Mandy says this was really a byproduct of listening to the community and trying to meet that need.
A Step Ahead Chattanooga does have volunteer opportunities with their appointment line. Those who sign up will go through training, and the shifts are just four hours and run from 9 AM-5 PM. The non-profit does welcome donations to support their work since all of their services are at zero cost.
If you would like to learn more about different contraception methods, you can find that in our interview at the bottom of the page, along with their social media pages, or if you would like to check out A Step Ahead Chattanooga's website, click here.
(Note: There are six A Step Ahead's around the state of Tennessee so if someone you know needs access to free birth control in Tennessee, or if you move out of the region, they are also avaliable elsewhere.)
The Chattanooga Trans Liberation Collective (CTLC) is a coalition that provides support to the LGBTQ+ community. CTLC began in 2020 after anti-LGBTQ+ legislation began forming in Tennessee.
There are a lot of us out here that do not support those laws. I know there may be a lot of people that are very loud around you that, you know, might tell you that you don't belong, but that's not true, says Hannah Schobert.
Hannah Schobert with CTLC says they do not support these restrictive bills and are here to let young people know they are not alone. Hannah says the coalition knows what the trauma feels like, and they want to mitigate the harm that these bills are causing. She says the legislation made them want to take action and do something, so, they threw a rally in Coolidge Park last fall to show support for the transgender community and speak on these laws.
One bill that CTLC is keeping an eye on is SB 657. This bill "prohibits a person from providing or facilitating the provision of sexual identity change therapy to a minor who has not yet entered puberty." Once that child hits puberty, there is still a list of things, the teen must do to actually receive sexual identity change therapy.
Another bill that cause a lot of controversy in Tennessee, required businesses to post a notice if they allow transgender people to use bathrooms that match their gender identity. During the summer of 2021, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit on behalf of two business owners, one being the Sanctuary Performing Arts & Cafe in Chattanooga, to block the law from taking effect. When I spoke to Hannah about the bill, she told me that there has not been an update on the lawsuit.
Here at home, Hannah says the Chattanooga Trans Liberation Collective does not have a physical space to meet, but they do connect virtually on Sundays through Zoom. She says if anyone is interested in participating you can reach out on Facebook on Instagram. The coalition hopes to begin regular meetings, where members can talk about things they want to see happen in the community, and Hannah says we should see more events from them in the future.
When talking with HOLA UTC’s current president Briana Bautista and member Estefani Vera they told me the purpose of this organization is to unite the Hispanic and Latino communities on campus. HOLA raises awareness, shares, and celebrates the culture, but you do not have to be Hispanic or Latino to join the group. Briana says it is a safe space for everyone, to enjoy each other’s company and learn about the different backgrounds of its members. They encourage any student to join HOLA and learn more about the culture and be be more involved in the community.
Estefani says organization members consider themselves like a family, and that is the support system they want to have within the school. She says if you're a first-generation student, college can be a little bit different for you than other students. At HOLA members can understand what you're going through and provide that family-like support system to keep pushing you through college and also have a friend to lean on.
Briana says the program was on pause for a while but in 2020 they started back up again. The group meets weekly, sometimes biweekly, in a safe space to talk about their experiences, what’s going on in their lives, or what is happening in the community. They volunteer with local organizations such as La Paz or Tennessee United and hold collaboration events with UTC’s Office of Multicultural Affairs. They are also known to hold events for Hispanic Heritage Month, movie nights, dance exhibitions, and informative meetings on immigration.
Briana also tells me many members are first-generation students, trying to figure out how to register for classes and get their FASFA completed. For those who need help, HOLA hosts workshops and provides resources to students who want help with resumes, networking, and other paperwork. She says sometimes it can be a little intimidating to approach someone else for help because they do not understand your background, and that is one reason why they have these workshops, to bring the resources to the students. HOLA will also have members who have graduated come back as guest speakers and talk about their careers, job opportunities, or internships.
About two hours away in Knoxville, Students for Migrant Justice (SMJ) is educating the UTK campus about the immigration system, mobilizing on and off-campus, as well as building power with student immigrants. I spoke to co-founder Luis Mata back in May, when I first asked him about SMJ, he told me the founders, do not want to take credit for creating this organization. Luis says the work they are doing now, was happening before them, with them, and will continue after them. He says before they started this organization, UTK was not exhausting their resources like they could have been with the Latinx community.
We see it as a collective work that wouldn't be possible without the many supporters and without the people who did the work before us.
Another call to action Students for Migrant Justice is currently working on is ending the 287(G) policy in Knoxville. This policy is a contract between local law enforcement and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), it essentially deputizes officers in the Knox County Sheriff’s Office to act as ICE agents in the community. The program has been in effect since 2017 and has since illegally detained more than 13 hundred people in the area, according to Luis. During the summer SMJ rallied with the community, spread the word, held rallies, and gained nearly one thousand signatures to tell local leaders 287(G) is not welcome, or wanted. Ultimately, the sheriff’s office did not just renew the policy but renewed it indefinitely. Recently, Knox News has reported the policy never got proper approval. Making the effort to end the policy in Knoxville, and around the country, more steadfast.
SMJ also partners with local organizations and advocacy groups such as Allies of Knox's Immigrant Neighbors who have been doing a lot of work in the Latinx community for many years. They have also partnered with Forward About Us, which is a national bipartisan political organization spanning the fields of policy, advocacy, and technology. In February, FWD.us partnered with SMJ on a nationwide campaign called “To Immigrants With Love” where you send messages of love to immigrant families on Valentine’s Day.
For more information on HOLA UTC or to find them on social media, you can click on the link here.
For more on Student's for Migrant Justice, click the link here or follow them on Twitter.
Chattanooga Area Food Bank: Providing Meals To The Community In More Ways Than One
The Chattanooga Area Food Bank has been serving the community for nearly 50 years. During this time they have provided millions of pounds of food across the 20 regions they serve in Southeast Tennessee and Northwest Georgia. Director of Community Engagement Jennifer Lockwood Fritts says just this past year they have provided over 18 million pounds of food to those in need, resulting in about 15 million meals served. Their “Snack Pack Program” provides snacks to students throughout the school year and during the summer. Fritts says the packs are anywhere from three to five pounds and are full of food children like nutrition, and easy to make meals.
The food bank also operates a mobile pantry program where they bring food into communities, they also operate a produce empowerment program that delivers fresh protein to residents.
According to Fritts one of their most recognizable programs is the emergency food box program that provides food to families who are in critical need. The food bank also offers Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, better known as SNAP, to help families purchase groceries at the store.
Often times the community will see a pop-up pantry from the food bank. But, how do they decide where to hold one? Fritts says they look for places that have enough room for them to set up since the mobile pantries serve anywhere from 250 to 500 families. In this process, they also look into communities that may be a food desert, low income, or are disproportionately affected by food insecurity. Fritz says the food bank will sometimes reach out to those community partners, but other times the community will reach out to them.
We really can't do it alone, you know, on either side. So we hope to be just as much of a service to our community partners, as they are to us just a hand in hand working together.”
The Food Bank’s mobile pantries are operated by churches, whether that is setting up in parking lots or offering a drive-through style where families can pull up and get their groceries.
As the non-profit collaborates with over 250 community partners, one of those is La Paz Chattanooga. They are the leading organization promoting inclusion of the Hispanic and Latinx community in Southeast Tennessee. The Food Bank works with La Paz so the organization can operate a food pantry, distribute emergency food boxes, or bring mobile pantries out into their own communities. This way, both nonprofits can reach even more families that need food assistance.
The Food Bank also provides to the community whenever tragedy strikes. They provide support agencies like the Red Cross when a tornado hits the Tennessee Valley. After the Red Cross stabilizes families, the food bank comes in and provides groceries. Fritts also says the Chattanooga Area Food Bank also works with their sister food banks in Tennessee and Georgia if they ever need assistance.
So how has the pandemic affected the need for food boxes? Fritts told me they have tripled their capacity to distribute emergency food boxes, meaning they have gone from providing around 30 to 40 food boxes per day to upwards of 150 at the height of the pandemic. The pandemic also took a toll on their volunteer base. The food bank lost 75% of its volunteers, which greatly impacted its ability to distribute food. They had to fill the gap with temporary workers, recruit volunteers from new places, and look for new distribution methods and vendors to access food.
To sign up to volunteer you can click here.
If you want to monetary donation click here.
Another way to get involved in your community is by hosting a virtual or traditional food drive, if you are interested in that or would like more information head to their website by clicking here.
If you or someone you know needs help with food click here, if you live in Hamilton County you can also call 211 and access the United Way to get a food voucher to receive an emergency food box.
Want to watch my interview with CHA Food Bank? You can find that link below!
When Marina Peshterianu speaks about Bridge Refugee Services it’s with a huge smile on her face. Peshterianu is the non-profit’s Associate Director. The program was founded in Knoxville in 1982, with its branch office opening in Chattanooga in 1994. Peshterianu has been with the project since 1999. She tells me all of this started with a passion to be a good samaritan and to always help a stranger.
Bridge Refugee Services helps those who are fleeing persecution, war, political unrest, and genocide in countries all over the world. Their first steps are to resettle refugees into the community so they can rebuild their life. Peshterianu says they go through all of the vetting and necessary steps in the process to get them here, and it’s very lengthy. She says the average refugee spends 20 years in a camp, and the average amount of time for them to come into the United States is 24 months. Right now the average percentage of people who will be resettled in a permanent home is less than 1%. According to Peshterianu, there are 80 million displaced people, 45 of them would qualify as a refugee. This means someone who fled persecution will have a well-based fear for the rest of their life.
It's a life-saving program, it's very important that I think everybody understands. It's not the choice. It's just a life-saving humanitarian, human thing to do. These people flee because they realize that if they stay, their life will be in danger.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees will identify those who are set up in the refugee camps and then bring it to international attention and make sure refugees have conditions to survive. Those inside the camps do not know what country they will end up in, when, and if they get to leave.
Peshterianu says once they meet those coming to Chattanooga or Knoxville they settle them into apartments and have cultural orientations. They then set goals with refguees on how to achieve self-sufficiency, which could take anywhere from 6 to 8 months. Bridge also has many assistant programs, such as their employment program, school impact program, community connection, and case management.
The employment program helps assist newcomers to find a job to achieve self-sufficiency. They provide job readiness training, placement assistance, referrals to resources, and more. They also partner with a lot of employers in the community. Peshterianu says a lot of refugees are essential workers, that they are in our hospitals, grocery stores, food processing factories, and schools. She says they even worked through the pandemic in 2020 and never complained.
She says as they prepare newcomers, as they already have transferable skills and are strong and are hardworking people.
These are people that went through traumatic experiences were severely persecuted and had very little hope that they will ever find a place where they will be safe. So when it happens, the drive the motivation, the desire to rebuild life, you know, to go back to normal and to make it really worth it all the struggles and along the way is very big.
The Refugee School Impact Program works with local school systems, like Hamilton County Schools. Peshterianu says they have designated schools with the “English as a second language program,” also known as ESL. They also have summer programs, where they continue their education, and have fun with other classmates on field trips. Bridge also has a new program on its own called the “youth mentorship program.” They have a goal of getting every refugee training and a laptop so they can learn from home. Not only does Bridge Refugee Services partner with schools, but also colleges like UTC and Chattanooga State.
[The] American dream is still alive. Refugees are very positive people, everything after you run for your life, everything is in a different perspective. They're very resilient and very positive about the future.
Peshterianu says those who resettle want to be productive want to pay back to the country that welcomed them.
Now, how can you help Bridge Refugee Services? They have a volunteer program where they offer different volunteer opportunities to the community - from shopping for groceries to transportation to online English tutoring to helping set an apartment or help with a fundraiser.
participating in community support programs. Peshterianu says they never turn someone away, because there are a plethora of opportunities, depending on someone’s availability and personal preference. You can find a link to sign up here, or if you would like to make a donation you can click here.
I never felt even in the moments of despair that the community will not support us. You know, they were always there for us that always came through for us. And now we just look in the future with hope.
If you would like to learn more about Bridge Refugee Services, the interview with Marina Peshterianu is linked below, and trust me, you will want to listen.
Tennessee Democratic Party Reaching Latino Voters; Hamilton County Democratic Party Says blue Vote Is Strong In Chattanooga
Fuerza Democrats Tennessee is a state political action committee established to identify, organize, educate, and mobilize Latinos across the state and engage them in the political process. On their website, the group offers information, such as if Latino voters are allowed an interpreter to the polls, what to bring when voting, how to become a US Citizen, and more.
In May, the organization registered as a political action committee (PAC) with the Tennessee Secretary of State’s office. A PAC pools campaign contributions from members and donates those funds to campaigns for or against candidates, ballot initiatives, or legislation. The organization says by becoming a PAC, they want to ensure that the growing Latino population in the state is reflected at all levels of government. The committee will be led by Sandra Sepulveda, the group’s founding Executive Director.
I spoke with board member Luis Mata on why the organization made the decision to become a PAC. He says it began with a phone call, that lead to strategy meetings on how the Latinx community can be represented statewide, and the next thing he knew Fuerza was registering as a political action committee.
We're extremely excited for this. And, you know, our ultimate goal is to, you know, center the voices and lives of the Latinx community all across the state.
Mata says oftentimes the Latinx community sees a lack of representation and engagement where they live, and with this PAC they want to change that and amplify those voices. He says Fuerza Democrats Tennessee goes into Hispanic neighborhoods and educates them on local candidates running for office, what they advocate for, and how this could impact the community.
Mata says the group advocates for themselves and all marginalized communities, such as the Black or LGBTQI community. He believes Fuerza is creating a feeling of space, that has been lacking in Tennessee, and filling it with individuals who are directly impacted. He says the power is within themselves, and being the voice is how their mission will be accomplished.
President & COO of Chattanooga company Co.Starters, Jose Alfaro, supports Fuerza’s decision. He believes if you don't have someone representing you, you're not getting your voice heard in this county. Alfaro says if community members explain that politics is not just policy, but that we as a community are here to help, form relationships, and showcase how amazing the Latino community is, they’ll want to participate in the growth of the city and the state.
Fuerza Democrats do a lot of work with undocumented people, who cannot vote, and are being left out of the conversation. Luis Mata says while the right to vote is an essential tool, it is also equally as important to speak with those who can’t and show them what they can do to get others to vote, and spread the message of how that vote affects the Hispanic community.
According to Pew Research Center, only half of the country’s 60 million Hispanics are eligible to vote, which is the smallest share of any racial or ethnic group. PEW says many Hispanics in the United States are under 18 years old, and 11.3 million are non-citizen adults. The Research Center also says two in three eligible Latino voters live in just five states. California alone holds about a quarter of the nation’s Latino electorate, with 7.9 million Latino eligible voters. Texas is second with 5.6 million, followed by Florida, New York, and Arizona.
In 2020, Former President Trump did not win most of the Latino vote in any state, however, he came close in Florida, where the Cuban American vote was decisive, according to AS/COA. Latino voters’ strongest showings for the Republican presidential candidate was in 2004 and 1984, and for the Democratic one in 1996 and 2012. Research also shows Latino voter’s showings for Democrats in 2020, was 66%, Republicans were 32%.
For a long time, the Hispanic population voted Republican, but according to PEW in 2018, for the midterm elections, three out of four Latino voters supported a Democratic candidate. Hamilton County Democratic Party Chairman Rodney Strong says many Hispanic voters are more conservative, because of their religious background or national origin, however this seems to be changing.
In Hamilton County, based on the latest Census, 6% of residents are Hispanic, that's more than 21 thousand people. In 2018 that number was 5.86%, which means the Latino community is growing.
Given these statistics, I asked Chairman Rodney Strong what he thinks seeing representation in leadership will mean to the Hispanic community. Strong says having representation will help HCDP and others do a better job in reaching the Latino community. He says sometimes there is a failure to understand leaders and residents have to reach out to others to understand their point of view and address their needs and concerns. Strong says they reach to local organizations in the county to reach Hispanic voters.
As a group, he says the HCDP tries to get residents out to the ballot box by sending information in the mail, by phone, and by hosting gatherings. He says they are looking to have their first picnic on June 10th, it's their first since the pandemic began.
As reaching voters has been a struggle because of COVID-19, I asked Strong if it was hard to elect Democrats in Hamilton County since we are considered a red community. He says the democratic vote is here, it’s just getting people out to the polls on election day. He says in 2008 President Barack Obama carried Hamilton County. This past year, 53.9% voted for President Trump, and 44.2% voted for current President Joe Biden, which is only a 9.7 percent difference. It’s also one of the closest margins in the state. Strong says while the blue vote is here, the rural areas like Bledsoe, Bradley, and Grundy County are hard to flip, and each party gained voter participation in the recent election. Chairman Strong says it will take some time for Tennessee to turn blue, just as Georgia did, but right now they are focusing on a local grassroots level to get the word out about these candidates and get voters to the polls during election season.
The Hamilton County Democratic Party Headquarters are open on Monday and Wednesday from 1 PM to 4:30 PM. You can also reach them by phone (423) 508-9817, or by email (HCDP, Chairman Strong). If you would like to become a volunteer, click here to fill out a form. More for information on the organization or to donate you can head to their website by clicking here.
If you would like to get involved with Fuerza Democrats Tennessee you can follow them on social media, spread the word about the committee, and donate to the committee through their ActBlue link by clicking here. With donations, they can support candidates. They are also planning their calendar for events, so be on the lookout for that.
In Tennessee Governor Bill Lee has signed two of five anti-transgender bills into law in 2021, that have made their way through the Tennessee legislature. On March 26th, the governor signed House Bill 228 into law. The bill bans a transgender athlete from playing in a sport unless it matches their birth certificate.
One month before signing the bill, the Governor was quoted saying, allowing transgender girls to play on female sports teams would "destroy women's sports" the governor said it would "ruin the opportunity for girls to earn scholarships." Lee says the legislation was in response to President Biden's executive order which protects from discrimination based on sexual orientation.
On May 4th, Senate Bill 1229 was also signed into law by Governor Lee. This bill would require a school district to notify parents before “providing a sexual orientation curriculum or gender identity curriculum” in any kind of lesson plan, including but not limited to education on sexuality. The bill says school districts would have 30 days to tell parents or guardians of upcoming instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity. Families could then opt their children out of the learning without being penalized.
If students are going to grow up in a world with LGBTQ people, which they are, it is putting them in a pretend world, that they can opt out of dealing with LGBTQ people
I spoke with Chris Sanders, who is the executive director of the Tennessee Equality Project. He believes bills such as these, are "very stigmatizing" and are damaging to the LGBTQ+ community, particularly transgender youth. He says, trans young people, are being "targeted" by these bills, whether it's healthcare, sports, or bathrooms. He says it is damaging to their health and well-being.
This is the is a ridiculous burden on schools for a discriminatory bill.
The Tennessee legislature has also passed three other bills, which are either on Governor Lee's desk, or making their way to his desk.
As of this article posting, the governor has not yet signed or vetoed any of the three bills. (Update: 5/18/21: All three of these bills have now been signed by Governor Bill Lee)
Chris Sanders says House Bill 1182 would create dangerous scenarios for transgender people and could also lead to targeting of trans inclusive businesses. He says it is disheartening to see legislators spending time on a bill like this, that he says no one asked for.
Sanders and I also spoke about how the Tennessee Equality Project helps those in the LGBTQ+ community. A big part of their work is monitoring legislation affecting the community and coordinating the fight against it. Sanders says they have done over 33 email campaigns on the bills as they moved through the legislature this session. They have also held five phone banks, and helped more than 50 people meet with legislators and representatives in their district. The project also coordinates with other organizations like the ACLU, the Human Rights Campaign, Freedom for all Americans, and more. Sanders says the groups work together with a unified voice to fight these bills.
Tennessee Equality Project also focuses on mental health. Their Tennessee Counseling Unconditionally program is in response to a law that was passed a few years ago, The law says counselors in Tennessee could opt out of serving people, based on their personal views. The project has a digital map on its website that will show people where they can find affirming counselors.
According to the Movement Advancement Project (MAP), 3.5% of adults in Tennessee identify as LGBTQ, 223,000 of those 23 and older are LGBTQ. So, how do these laws affect those in your community and around the state?
MAP shows the state of Tennessee ranks low when it comes to nondiscrimination laws. The state does not have employment, housing, or public accommodations nondiscrimination laws. The project says because of a June 2020 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, people in all states can seek recourse for employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity through the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and federal courts.
Here in Hamilton County/Chattanooga, we do not have full protections for sexual orientation or gender identity. However, this is also the case for the entire state.
So, what can Tennessee do better to protect the rights of the LGBTQ plus community? According to Sanders, the state could adopt protections similar to what's in the Federal Equality Act that is going through Congress right now. He also believes schools, could be more accepting of gender sexuality alliances and do more work on bullying in schools.
I requested an interview with LGBTQ+ organizations in Chattanooga, but have not received a response back for this article posting.
If you would like to speak with someone with the Tennessee Equality Project click here. For more information for local organizations such as Chattanooga Pride or the Nooga Diversity Center, their websites are linked.
My name is Jess and I love telling other peoples stories and bringing awareness to the community.