MEMPHIS, Tenn. — A nationally known powerhouse in supporting the LGBTQ+ community is in Memphis this weekend, following the recent passage of several new state laws targeting community members in Tennessee.

Saturday in downtown Memphis, the Victory Institute held a day-long interactive leadership development training for LGBTQ+ leaders, advocates, activists, and students from Tennessee.

Victory institute’s Executive Director Elliot Imse says more than 20 anti-LGBTQ+ pieces of legislation have been introduced in the Tennessee legislature, with many more introduced by city councils and school boards. He says the onslaught of hateful legislation requires an urgent and comprehensive response.

So, he packed his bags and traveled from Washington D.C. to Memphis.

“We’re here because part of the reason those attacks can happen is because there is so few LGBTQ people in elected office in this state,” Imse said.

One of the main reasons Victory Institute is in Memphis is to encourage members of the LGBTQ community to run for elected office.

“We want to help people across Tennessee prepare to think about running for office, and to be more engaged in the political process because having more LGBTQ people in political parties running for office or working with local campaigns is essential if we are going to make change long term,” Imse said.

According to Imse currently, there are only 10 LGBTQ folks elected to office in Tennessee.

Vaniel Simmons has been in Nashville this year listening to debates, watching the votes come in, and testifying before lawmakers, with the hopes of changing their minds about legislation targeting the LGBTQ+ community.

“I think if you are making laws that are targeting trans people, are you having trans people read the laws, or are you having trans people support the laws,” Simmons said.

Simmons said moving away to live a free life is not a decision they should be forced to make.

“Southern quality of life…I don’t want to give up because I was born gay. I shouldn’t have to feel the need to leave,” Simmons said.

Imse says he doesn’t believe all lawmakers voting yes are anti-LGBTQ+.

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“They are trying to solve a problem that doesn’t exist because they think it will help them politically and it is shameful,” Isme said.

Attendees at today’s summit learned about how to get into the political process, possible challenges LGBTQ+ people could face when running for office, and the experiences of currently elected LGBTQ+ officials.