There's a new website in town. "Love Y'all Tennessee" (www.loveyalltn.com) is a tongue-in-cheek-but-not-really pitch to liberal-minded people around the country, encouraging them to move to Tennessee and help LGBTQ fight for equal rights. Out & About spoke with Jen Sheridan, an independent filmmaker in Nashville who started the side project, to get the details.
Q: Where did you get the idea for "Love Y'all Tennessee?"
A: It started out of frustration. A lot of our work at Do Something Films is done to educate people on LGBTQ rights in Tennessee, or rather, our lack of them. A lot of people around the country, and even here, don't realize that we can still be fired, denied a job, denied housing, and denied service in 30 states. My partner Sabrina and I were were trying to come up with possible solutions to all the anti- LGBTQ discrimination here, and asking ourselves, what could we do, how do we move the ball? One of the things we thought no one had tried yet was to see if there was a way to get people who support LGBTQ to move to the state.
Q: And the website was born?
A: Yes, though that wasn't the initial plan. We thought if we had a bucket of money dropped in our laps to throw at the idea, how would we spend it? We knew it would have to be on advertising, and while videos and films are what we are naturally drawn to creating, billboards seemed like an outside the box way for us to make a splash. But we have zero cash so that was out. The next best thing was to make mock billboards, and post them online. Once (drag star) Princess graciously agreed to let us use her in the campaign, we ran with it. We came up with a bunch of billboards we liked, so we created the site.
Q: The site has a satirical aspect to it.
A: I hope it makes people smile a bit. "Move to Tennessee, live like a queen?" (laughs) There's not much funny about not having equal rights, but we thought if we could make it a little humorous people might be more inclined to soak up the message.
Q: What is the message you want people to get?
A: The whole point of the thing is to draw attention to LGBTQ inequality in Tennessee, while at the same time, we're semi-serious about showing LGBTQ and allies outside the state that we may have something to offer them here, that we hope they consider moving here. There's something for everyone in Tennessee, and we needed to talk that up, because it's too much to ask people to move here just to save our collective asses. There has to be something in it for them.
Q: With the state of things here, how do you think out-of-state LGBTQ would benefit by relocating to Tennessee?
A: There is great power in numbers, but you know, for LGBTQ who live in places where they already have protections, we actually don't advise they come here, unless they are hell-bent on fighting the good fight with us. We don't think they should sacrifice what they have. But for LGBTQ who live in deep red states, they may feel like we do; outnumbered and no quick fix in sight. If they're looking for a change of scenery, we'd love them to consider moving here, help us at the state and local level, all across Tennessee.
Q: But LGBTQ aren't your main targets anyway, I don't think?
A: Right, it's allies. Allies in blue states, ideally, because they are less needed there for LGBTQ if protections are already in place. We try to make the point on our site and on social media, that Tennessee has low cost of living, and a great economy for business, compared to some places. Conservatives here love bragging about all that, even though we know it's less expensive to live and do business here because we have little social net, that's what keeps taxes low. So we are hoping to encourage liberal people with money to move here. It's good for them, it's good for the people of this state. We also think it suggests another way for outsiders to help, because right now their instinct is to boycott us, and that's probably the last thing we need, economically.
Q: Sounds like you're dreaming big.
A: Sure, but why not?... Dreaming big could mean helping to bring investment to rural counties that are hurting financially, which, maybe not coincidentally, are often also ultra conservative, and those areas could use not just an influx of cash, but also left-leaning people who believe LGBTQ should be treated decently. And hopefully, those people would also understand the importance of voting, because we need help badly at the ballot box. We need to elect some folks in this state who don't want to keep putting the screws to us.
Q: What do you say to people who think cities like Nashville are too crowded, that encouraging people to move to TN really means Nashville?
A: It doesn't just mean Nashville, obviously. But I also think it's funny, because I hear a lot of *transplants* complain that Nashville is too crowded, but I guess it was okay that we all invaded here? (laughs)
Q: Nashville is pretty liberal, too.
A: Yes, Nashville is pretty liberal already, some think more liberals aren't needed here, but I don't think that's necessarily true. There are plenty of places in the city that aren't as LGBTQ--friendly as they could be, more allies are always welcome. And again, if those allies are willing to use their votes to help us, they can help us get liberal members of Congress elected, and also in Presidential elections, because it doesn't matter where you live in the state for those races. Again, dreaming big. It's likely too idealistic, but we want to try.
Q: What's next for Love Y'all Tennessee? Are you planning anything else?
A: We realize at this point, something that kind of started as a joke over drinks, might actually have some real merit, and putting some money into promoting the idea of encouraging allies and red-state LGBTQ to relocate here may be worth the effort. We don't think full fledged billboards are in the future, but we are considering finding sponsors to help us run ads on social media to help spread the word. And probably a video or two to help educate, that's what we do best. Couldn't hurt, right?
Q: Changing hearts and minds can take a long time.
A: You're right, changing hearts and minds - and laws so we have equal rights here - is a long road. If we can get more supportive people to move here, to add to the allies we already have, maybe the road won't be as long. And even if we can't change the laws anytime soon, having more people in our corner is a good thing. Who knows? Maybe we really can turn Tennessee into the most LGBTQ- friendly state in the country someday, and wouldn't that be freaking amazing?