by Diane Thornton
Over the past fourteen years The Mystic Krewe of Pegasus has raised nearly $256,000 for their chosen charities. Deciding which of the many deserving Memphis-area non-profit organizations to support for the year is the first duty of the King and Queen of The Mystic Krewe of Pegasus This year’s royalty broke with tradition by choosing two charities to share the proceeds of the year’s fundraising which culminates at the Mardi Gras Ball January 26, at Minglewood Hall.
Jesse James, King Pegasus XV and Nathan Bell, Queen Pegasus XV felt the match between their two chosen organizations embodied the Pegasus’s platform; “Unity and Diversity for Charity” They selected Special Olympics Greater Memphis and Tennessee Equality Project as the recipients for their 2018- 2019 reign as both groups build inclusivity, educate and advocate.
Tennessee Equality Project Foundation was already well known to the
King and Queen and was an easy choice because of the unifying advocacy work they do. TEP provides a variety of educational and organizing programming ranging from registering voters, to providing workshops about becoming an effective advocate and also monitors all state legislation for its impact on the LGBTQ community. Unifying a state as geographically spread out as Tennessee is a logistical and financial challenge because needs are diverse and legislation can be specific to a city or county. Advocates are needed everywhere, not just in the larger cities. When asked what $30,000 would mean for Tennessee Equality Project, Ginger Leonard, Board Chair and President of TEP and TEP Foundation, responded “My first thought was ‘thank goodness.’ We have an Executive Director salary and a lobbying contract to pay.” The funds will go towards salary and lobbying but will also expand opportunities to smaller cities and rural areas. Leonard is concerned the LGBTQ people in less metropolitan communities
are the most vulnerable to attacks and discrimination and sees TEP as a unifying group, but acknowledges getting organizers in some small areas is challenging. Chris Sanders, TEP Executive Director notes that the Tri-Cities Committee represents counties in Northeast Tennessee and is in the process of restarting thanks to a leader who has stepped forward.” The group had been dormant for several years due to lack of support. Getting the word out about who TEP is and what they can do takes community commitment and support. Additional funding this year from Pegasus can provide travel and support of state wide organizers to infuse small, new groups with much needed Advocacy 101 training and local organizing including teen advocacy and resource building. While work in small areas is an expanding goal, both Leonard and Sanders acknowledge that Shelby County remains a bedrock of advocacy and support for TEP. “Shelby County has the largest delegation to the Tennessee General Assembly so the impact is considerable. Generally, Memphis area legislators have been opposed to legislation that discriminates against LGBTQ people, but sometimes they have sponsored discriminatory legislation. Memphis advocates played a critical role in stopping the 2014 “Turn the Gays Away” bill that would have encouraged businesses to discriminate against our community. The policies that Shelby County and the City of Memphis adopt are vital because of the hundreds of thousands of people they affect. We have seen a steady improvement in the relationship with these local governments over the years, thanks in part to the work of the TEP Shelby County Committee.”
Special Olympics of Greater Memphis provides opportunities for athletic competition in Olympic-type sports for children and adults with intellectual disabilities. Athletes can participate in powerlifting, running, golfing, canoeing, swimming and bowling. Bowling is how Queen Pegasus XV became involved with Special Olympics, volunteering in the bowling league. Nathan began volunteering in high school and never stopped. He relished his time with the athletes and volunteers and was eager to include Special Olympcs as beneficiaries of his reign. Lisa Taylor, Special Olympics of Greater Memphis Director, upon finding they were the recipient, “I was ecstatic when we were chosen. It meant a lot because I know it is very important for The Mystic Krewe of Pegasus to focus within the LGBTQ community, the needs and the diversity. So it is with SO (Special olympics of greater Memphis) it’s important because we were both trying to educate the community about diversity, acceptance and inclusion.” Embracing, accepting people in all their uniqueness is the unifying theme of Pegasus and the charities. Taylor, “We are all out there in the community, trying to educate how we are all different and that’s okay. Embracing a unifying community of different abilities, affinities and interests.” To that end, the generous donation from Pegasus will allow SO to extend their summer program longer than they have in the past and they are planning to bring soccer and kickball back. “We want more people involved, not only intellectually disabled children and adults, but the entire community. We call it Unified Sports Partners. So it’s you, me and others all on one team.” Reflecting, Taylor notes it is a fitting metaphor for the combined missions and fundraising goals of the participating organizations; a unifying and inclusive team for good.
The days leading up the concluding events have TEP and SO busy finalizing dress, costumes and centerpieces for the Mardi Gras Ball. In addition both Leonard and Taylor are highly competitive and each hopes their respective charities’ table has the winning centerpiece at the ball. Lisa Taylor, “I’ve never done a table, what are we gonna do? I was so smart I have TWO tables and I’ve never even decorated a table. I know how competitive they all are.” Leonard has been a part of a winning table in past, but her designer is on hiatus this year so she, too, is at a bit of a loss for a centerpiece. But if King and Queen Pegasus XV can successfully raise their goal of $60,000 Taylor and Leonard can create winning decorations for their tables. Regardless of who receives the winning table design, both Tennessee Equality Project Foundation and Special Olympics of Greater Memphis will be winners because they are the recipients of Pegasus’ hard work.