Tennessee Transgender Political Coalition (TTPC) is a Nashville-based organization designed to educate and advocate on behalf of transgender related legislation within Tennessee, local and state, as well as contributing to Federal level representation. At TTPC's winter membership meeting on January 19, 2013, Knoxville-area resident Carla Lewis was named the new president. TTPC founder Dr. Marisa Richmond included the announcement of Ms Lewis' new position as part of a Feb. 03, 2013 press release listing the current Tennessee legislative agenda that effects LGBT residents. Ms. Lewis is also an active member of Knoxville Human Rights Group: TEP Knox County and Knoxville Pride.
Ms Lewis quietly deflected inquiries and congratulations from friends on Facebook after the TTPC press release went out. On February 03, 2013, at 11:30pm EST, Knoxville Transgender Examiner was the first to interview Carla Lewis regarding her role and vision as President of Transgender Political Coalition (publication was delayed due to technical difficulties):
Examiner: Ms Lewis, thank you for agreeing to a private interview for Knoxville Transgender Community Examiner. As a Maryville resident you are practically a celebrity to east Tennessee area Transgender community now, and considered a hometown hero for those in Knoxville metro
Examiner: Many in the LGBT community of greater Knoxville know you as a strong though quiet leader, a woman who stands up for what you feel is right though not for glory or attention. You have been active in behind-the-scenes leadership of the TTPC organization for several years. Do you see personal challenges ahead as the new TTPC president?
Ms Lewis: I see many challenges ahead. Typically, the Transgender community has been playing defense. We are reactive rather than proactive. Is this state ready for change? I don't believe it is. The group (TTPC) is stagnant and our effectiveness is questionable. Establishing relevance and true representation of the state's transgender people will be the biggest challenges.
Examiner: Can you give an example of targeted legislation that TTPC has been focused on?
Ms Lewis: In the past, TTPC has been focused on two bills. One is to add "gender identity or expression" to Tennessee's current "sentencing enhancement factors", a.k.a. "hate crime law". The other has been to repeal the current portion of state law that prevents a post-operative transsexual from changing the sex on their Tennessee birth certificate. Of course, along the way, our state legislature has been hammering the LGBT population. TTPC has been active in trying to counter legislation which may be perceived as harmful to transgender people.
Examiner: What are the current legislative actions TTPC is involved in?
Ms Lewis: Advocacy is a never ending challenge. Each member is encouraged to be involved in their own community to change hearts and minds of the citizenry. Well, maybe not so much to change hearts and minds, but rather to convince those that are ambivalent about transgender people to take a positive position and stand with us. This may be accomplished by speaking at schools, colleges, churches or other community functions. It can even be as simple as being out as transgender or a transgender advocate and treating the people you meet with respect.
Examiner: As a local resident who had chosen to be publicly identified as Transgender, what do you feel are the greatest challenges faced by other Transgender people in the Knoxville area?
Ms Lewis: The greater Knoxville area poses many challenges to the transgender person. In the outlying communities, it is difficult for some people to be out. Our geographic area is notoriously conservative and by conservative I mean anti-LGBT.
It is difficult, if not impossible, for some to find adequate transition care and non-bias medical care.
It is difficult for some to find employment even in this area which seems to have rebounded from our country's recession. Even though the new EEOC policy protects trans people under Title VII, the burden of proof is still on the trans person to demonstrate they have been discriminated against in employment because of their transgender status.
Transgender people in this area tend to be swallowed up by the gay and lesbian community. It is difficult for us to distinguish our needs separate and apart from the gay and lesbian community. Citizens and allies that believe they are sympathetic to LGBT people and causes really only notice the gay and lesbian portion of that acronym. I don't believe people wish to be harmful, I just believe that the masses think our issues are the same issues as the gay and lesbian community. They don't understand the difference between sex and gender.
Examiner: Do you have a personal message to the Transgender residents of Tennessee?
Ms Lewis: I’ll be honest; I don't really want this responsibility. I will take it hoping another more deserving person will come along to take up this mantle. In the meantime, we must work to bring all of the transgender people in our state together with one voice. We all have common struggles. We all know how scary life can be during transition. We all know the liberating feeling of being honest with ourselves in a way that others never experience. We all know, that even in spite of certain suffering, we choose to be our true selves and weep for those that cannot.
If TTPC accomplishes nothing else under my leadership, I will be happy when every single Transgender person can freely add their voice to our collective so that we can truly represent the transgender community.