citybeat (2006-52)

Looking for the Silver Lining

Gay and lesbian activists regroup after losing amendment battle

A Call to Arms

Ijams wants your elbow grease

Looking for the Silver Lining

“It made me physically ill to think that so many people in the state are that close-minded,” says Jenny Ford, a lobbyist who has worked on behalf of the Tennessee Equality Project (TEP), a gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender (GLBT) human rights organization that worked to defeat the amendment. “I found it to be very disappointing.

“After the vote, I was talking to a gay physician in Nashville who said he felt like moving,” Ford continued. “And he didn’t say it flippantly. Like many of us, he had expected the amendment to pass. But in no way did he feel the support for it would be so broad.”

But that doesn’t mean GLBT activists have given up hope. Though defeating the Marriage Protection Amendment had been a primary concern of TEP, the organization will continue to play watchdog on other issues that concern the gay and lesbian community that come before state legislature.

And according to TEP President Christopher Sanders, there were hopeful signs even amongst the wreckage of November’s defeat. “We won some significant precincts in Davidson County (Nashville) and Knox County,” Sanders says. “I think we’ll be able to leverage that into more allies in the Senate next year. We lost the campaign, but we strengthened our network.”

Sanders says the vote against the amendment—i.e. voters favoring equal marriage rights—was about 10 percentage points higher in Knox County than in the state overall.

“I’m delighted at the extent of the movement in Knox County,” Sanders says. “It shows we’re gaining some momentum in places we hadn’t expected.” But for now, TEP’s biggest concern will be holding the line on other potential legislative infringements on the civil rights of gays and lesbians. Sanders notes that 2005 saw the state legislature introduce a record number of bills (17) with anti-gay provisions—bills concerning civil unions, adoption, foster care, etc.

Thanks in part to TEP lobbying efforts, all of them were defeated or else died in committee, except for the bill that put the Marriage Protection Amendment on this year’s ballot.

“Our focus right now is the upcoming session of the legislature, and on holding the line on new negative legislation,” Sanders says. “We’ll be looking especially at any legislation related to adoption, foster care and guardianship. Those have been challenging issues in the past, and past history is usually the best predictor of future events.”

A Call to Arms

It’s the kind of behavior that might fly if you live in Minnesota, but considering Knoxville’s mild winters, “baby, it’s cold outside” is kind of a wimpy excuse.

Why not get outside and do something? Like… volunteer at the South Knoxville wildlife reserve Ijams Nature Center, which happens to be short volunteers at the moment. “A lot of our regular volunteers have moved out of state or have become too old to keep in,” says volunteer coordinator Patti Brown, adding that Ijams’ goal is to double its current roster of 30 regular volunteers. “We get a lot of UT student volunteers, but they’re not regular. That’s what we’ve really been relying on—UT students that have needed service hours.”

Those interested in volunteering can start right away, Brown says. They’ll be working alongside the park manager, clearing trails, doing some gardening and pulling invasive or exotic plants like kudzu and privets from the ground. “Getting rid of exotic plants is really what we’re doing right now,” says Brown.

If you’re an outdoorsy-type yourself, always looking for a good excuse for a hike, you can take the two-day training session that certifies you to lead school groups on trails and hikes. Thinner-skinned volunteers can also help with inside work, such as mailings and preparing craft activities for the kids.

The personal satisfaction of donating elbow grease to a good cause aside, the job has its perks. Ijams shows its appreciation for volunteers with monthly potlucks and regular field trips.

There’s no paperwork for volunteers to fill out. “All they have to do is call me and tell me what time they want to come,” says Brown. “And they just have to listen to a short orientation.”

The center is open Tuesday through Saturday, from 8 a.m. until dark (though it will be closed for the winter holiday through Jan. 1). And just because it’s wintertime doesn’t mean there’s not a lot going on.

Lost Species , an informative walkthrough that focuses on the world’s extinct species, is the newest exhibit at IJAMS, says director Paul James. “It focuses mainly on the extinct passenger pigeon, the most numerous bird to ever live on earth, and the ivory-billed woodpecker,” he explains.

James also says Ijams is launching a series of environmental workshops around the community starting in early January. And the center’s Christmas tree recycling program is already in the works, wherein dropped-off trees are either left intact to provide shelter for wildlife on the grounds or chopped into mulch for use on the trails. Bring your tree to Ijams during regular hours and place them, sans ornaments and tinsel, on the road leading to the Miller Education Building.

For more information on volunteering or any of the Ijams’ programs, give the center a call at (865)577-4717 or visit its website at .