by Lauren Means | photo courtesy Hope Jackson

Hailing from Albany, a small town close to the Georgia-Florida line, Hope Jackson says when she was younger she was really into sports and books – “Buying and reading all the books.” She says Albany was a great place to do both. There were a few coffee shops, highly competitive high schools, and one skating rink but not a lot of LGBT+ visibility. “Needless to say, I was in search of ‘my people,’ a community to welcome and accept me,” says Jackson.

Jackson’s journey to her truth was not a loud coming out at all. “There were no announcements made but there was a lot of fear inside of me about the consequence of living my life as openly queer,” says Jackson. Looking back she wishes she had been loud and much more visible for the kid who needed to see someone living their truth and to know there was someone just like them, a community to welcome and accept you. 

After packing up her Georgia life and moving to North Carolina, she made a vision board charting out what she wanted her life to be and how she would define her work as impactful. It wasn’t long before her vision board started becoming a reality. Shortly after her move to North Carolina, she met a group of advocates fighting for LGBT+ equality – starting with the work to elect a pro-equality city council, that would later pass a non-discrimination ordinance to protect LGBT+ people in employment, housing and public accommodations. “That energetic group of advocates was the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) and I wanted to know how I [could] do more – this was before statewide marriage equality,” says Jackson.

She started volunteering with HRC and that turned into joining the organizing staff as a temporary field organizer which implements legislative and electoral plans in the community with local partners. Jackson decided this was the work, the lasting impact, she’d outlined on her vision board. “It was clear to me that I’d found my people,” she says.

Finding her people is what made her take that giant leap in 2015 from volunteer to temp and making organizing her life work. She is now Deputy Campaign Director for the HRC, which is a great deal more of strategic planning, coalition and partnership building, developing and managing the success of state legislative and electoral campaigns. Every day she has the opportunity to fight for something meaningful that not only impacts her life but other LGBT+ folks across the country.

Finding Victories While Fighting the “Slate of Hate”

Jackson says the historic wins, like electing a pro-equality majority to Congress or helping to pass nondiscrimination protections, “give me all the feels.” But it’s the moments she’s experienced in a crowded Cordell Hull committee room fighting alongside coalition partners to stop an awful anti-LGBT+ bill that she really relishes. She explains how she can look across the room to see the faces of her friends in the fight, the families and youth that are present, and the resilience that they’ve shown. “It’s those moments that I value, find energy in to continue the fight. Those moments are the best victories of my work,” says Jackson.

All Eyes on Tennessee

Jackson says the “Slate of Hate” is still very much alive and this year even more egregious proposals have been added from attempts at defying marriage equality, measures targeting transgender youth and bills that would provide a license to discriminate. She also says Gov. Bill Lee’s signing of House Bill 836, the license to discriminate in adoption and foster care, leads to all eyes being on Tennessee during this legislative session.

This session, according to Jackson, Tennessee is following the trend of states like South Dakota in its push to advance bills that would impose criminal sanctions against medical doctors for providing affirming and lifesaving care to transgender youth. “South Dakota’s anti-trans medical care bill has been defeated and we hope the Tennessee legislature follows South Dakota’s lead and not advance this dangerous bill,” she says.

“We can’t take our eyes off the legislature and certainly not with the extreme legislative attacks that are being pushed,” Jackson continued. She says Tennesseans should stay tuned into what’s happening at Cordell Hull as bills begin to be placed on the calendar for hearings. She also notes the HRC is proud to stand alongside the Tennessee Equality Project (TEP) and their coalition partners as they fight back against the Slate of Hate.

Forging Victories

When asked what she sees for the future of the LGBT+ community, Jackson shares a story a colleague told her about her toddler’s perspective of the world. She [the toddler] does not know the world before marriage equality but she knows we’re fighting for fully inclusive protections for LGBT+ folks in a hodge-podge of states that do not have protections.

This led Jackson to imagine what her children’s children and generations down the line won’t have to experience as a result of the work she has put in for the community. While it may not be in the very near future, she hopes that there is a moment like this in her future and she’s really excited about the incremental victories that will happen along the way. She says, “Years from now, when a young, black, queer girl from the south looks around, she’ll see herself visibly in her community. She’ll feel safe and welcomed. She’ll find her people.”