Despite U.S. District Judge Aleta Traugerrecently ruling that the Volunteer state must recognize the marriages of three specific couples as part of an ongoing lawsuit, the rest of the Tennessee lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, and its allies wait for what they consider to be a basic, equal right -- the right to marry.
An ongoing movement, the push to legalize same-sex marriage, is not new. The first case brought before the Supreme Court in 1971 was Baker vs. Nelson. The court ruled against Richard John Baker and James Michael McConnell on the grounds that they could not procreate, referencing the book of Genesis, and because "abstract symmetry" was not ‘demanded by the Fourteenth Amendment'.
As change continues to be made across the United States, in state of Tennessee, the wait for equality is taking much longer than some in the LGBT community want.
"Sadly, I think that the appeal will be successful, and although the ruling itself was a sign of a shift in ideology in terms of LGBT acceptance, the laws surrounding LGBT issues are still a state issue," said native Memphian George Dowdy. "Unfortunately, the journey will remain stagnant as long as the decision is left up to those in power in a state as conservative as Tennessee."
Regardless of the uncertainty of marriage equality for the remaining 33 states, one thing remains the same: for many, coming out is not just a personal journey, but one of spreading awareness.
When she was in the fourth grade, former Miss Kentucky Djuan Trent made a bold declaration to her mother: "Mom, I'm gay." While her mother did not immediately understand or accept what her daughter was saying, years later, the then revered pageant queen would make another bold declaration, this time in an Internet blog post: "I am queer."
"Looking back on it, I have no idea where I got that from because it's not like that was anything that I was ever exposed to, and it's not like people just coming out and I could've seen it on the news and been like, ‘Oh, that sounds like me; I should adopt that,'" said Trent.
For the 27-year-old beauty queen, who got her start in pageants on a whim, coming out was not only one of many steps toward inner-peace, but also a step toward bringing awareness to a lifestyle that is more common than many people may think.
"It would be lovely if we could live in a society one day where coming out is not necessary," added Trent. "But the fact of the matter is that you cannot know that someone is gay, or however they choose to identify, unless they actually disclose that information to you."
Almost 500 miles away in Memphis, Tenn., breaking stereotypes is no different, and no easier.
"LGBT people are still seen as foreign to most people in places as rural and conservative as most of Tennessee," said Dowdy. "The first step is for people to see that gay comes in many shapes and forms. We have to combat the caricatures we see on television and erase the damage of bad theology as well as stigmas associated with the HIV epidemic."
While Memphis has plenty of resources such as the Memphis Gay and Lesbian Community Center and The First Congregational Church, people are often left stuck in the closet for fear of judgement.
One Mid-South woman, who did not want to be named, shared her personal experience with living life in the closet.
"Everything is a lie. Names, constant use of pronouns to describe the women I date," she said. "Being a bisexual woman in a predominantly straight, conservative society is not the life I ever envisioned living."
Making the decision to live or not live an open life is one that, according to Trent, is made easier by the support of loved ones.
"I think that's the importance of having your circle of people that you surround yourself with when you're in that coming out stage, because it is such an intimate journey that you have to take with yourself and it's important to have that support around you."
While Tennessee continues the fight for equality, back in Kentucky, Trent is carefully contemplating how to use her newfound openness to defy the assumptions about what it means to be gay, and setting an example for others.
"Right now, it really does seem like this isolated group of people that nobody thinks is a part of their lives at all. That's why the awareness piece is so important to me and I want to take my time deciding how to approach it," said Trent.
Trent recently joined the Freedom To Marry campaign, as the co-chair of Southerners for the Freedom to Marry.
Though marriage equality is still up in the air for Tennesseans, Dowdy encourages others to be aware.
"Visibility should be at the forefront of the movement. People gain empathy through seeing themselves in someone else. Within the LGBT community, they must see their sons, daughters, politicians, preachers, etc."
For more information on LGBT resources, ways to connect or to follow the pursuit of marriage equality, please visit the sites listed below.
By Nicole R. Harris