Monday, June 11, 2012

Nashville Pride

From the tapping of a hundred activists' feet on a downtown sidewalk 20 years ago to a city-wide celebration that draws thousands of LGBT community members and their straight allies, the growth of Nashville Pride has ebbed and flowed over the years thanks to the efforts of dedicated volunteers both past and present.

A culmination of events led to the birth of Nashville's first Pride event in 1988. In 1987, following organizing that resulted in the founding of T-GALA (Tennessee Gay and Lesbian Alliance), two chartered buses took members of Nashville's LGBT community and their supporters to Washington D.C. to participate in the Second National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights. That same year, Stewart Biven and Jeff Ellis began publishing Dare (later Query), Nashville's first LGBT publication.

"Query started people communicating", Linda Welch, publisher of the LGBT weekly newspaper InsideOut and former Nashville Pride Board co-chair said. "They'd pick up the paper and were able to see what was going on in the community." With the lines of communication now firmly in place, members of the local community, with the help of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, were able to put together Nashville's first Pride March in June 1988. A modest 125 people met at Fannie Mae Dees (Dragon) Park that year with signs, walked through Vanderbilt University and then across West End Avenue into Centennial Park.

Because of the tense social climate at that time, participants in Pride events took on a more activist role than do most people today, Welch said. "In the beginning, there were tons of protesters," said Welch. "You never knew if you'd turn a corner and have protesters there or have someone drive by and scream. Back then it was more of an activist thing, especially for those who were out or were coming out."

Jim Hawk, the current executive director of the LGBT cultural center OutCentral, stepped out of the closet in the early '90s and directly into a leadership role organizing Pride for two years. Welch said Nashville Pride remained a small event drawing in only a few hundred participants and a couple of vendors each year until Hawk took the reins. "He [Hawk] turned Pride around," Welch said. "It was a machine similar to what Nashville has now." Hawk and Dewayne Fulton, president of the LGBT youth organization One-in-Teen, worked together with one main goal in mind — to make Nashville Pride bigger than it had ever been.
"We thought we could grow Pride if we pulled the entire community together," Hawk said. They met with a variety of people from across the city and recruited people from different backgrounds to sit on the board.
"We thought it was important to get several points of view when planning the events," said Hawk.

Hawk hosted the first Pride Ball at the Parthenon in Centennial Park, which helped raise the thousands of dollars necessary to turn Pride into a week-long celebration. More than 100 volunteers worked with the board on planning fundraisers and booking entertainers. The standard for Nashville Pride had been set. After two years at the helm of the Nashville Pride Board, Hawk handed the duties over to Welch and Brad Beasley. (Beasley currently serves as the STD/HIV prevention and control director at the Metro Health Department.)

In 1995, Pride co-chairs Welch and Beasley moved the event to Riverfront Park. Raising the bar again that year, Beasley raised enough money to provide an officer on each street corner to block streets allowing for horses, motorcycles and floats in Nashville's first Pride Parade. An estimated 8,000 people attended Nashville Pride that year. Welch said the board exceeded their budget that year after having flown in five speakers. She and other board members were forced to walk through the crowd selling t-shirts and sodas to raise enough cash to pay the entertainers (who had heard there was no money left) before they would perform that day.

"We had to raise another couple hundred dollars in a half hour in order to pay each upcoming act," added Welch. "But we did it. It was a really big success!"

Since Nashville Pride is organized solely by unpaid volunteers, there has always been a cycle of highs and lows for the event during times of turnover and change on the Pride Board. Pam Wheeler, community activist and current co-host of Out & About Today, got involved with Pride in early 2000, a time when Nashville Pride almost didn't happen. It was nearing time for the annual event but no one knew who was in charge of planning. "A group of community leaders realized nobody was planning a Pride event in 2000," Wheeler said. "So, some of us decided to step up and quickly get involved to avoid a lapse. We discovered the existing organization was no longer active after checking with the Secretary of State's office." Soon thereafter, an ad appeared in Xenogeny, the LGBT weekly newspaper now known as InsideOut, calling for community members to get together to discuss saving Pride. An estimated 70 people attended the meeting, Wheeler said. With just 90 short days for planning, then Pride President Raney Pollos, with help from community leaders Keith Hinkle, Matthew Strader, Wheeler and a few others, successfully pulled off Nashville Pride 2000 at the Bicentennial Mall. Approximately 2,000 people and 30 vendors attended the event, up about 1,000 visitors from the previous year when volunteerism had lagged and the success of Pride dipped below the norm, Wheeler said.
Over the next few years under the leadership of Wheeler and subsequent presidents Mikhail Brown, Michael Basham and Todd Grantham, volunteers and/or board members David McKinnon, Brent Meredith, Marty Sewell, John Wade, Pamela DeGroff, Jason Adkins, Emily Benedict, Pat Finn, DeMarko Smith, Anthony Mollo, Jeanna Emert, MAC, Doug Sladen, Josh Baker and many others (too numerous to list here) joined Nashville Pride with a desire to help take it to the next level. Most of these volunteers had been to Pride in other nearby cities and wanted to see their hometown Pride grow and thrive. They wrangled their experiences together to create Pride events unique to Nashville and spent months planning the event, running TV and radio ads and bringing in new local and national sponsors. The crowd grew exponentially through the early 2000s and reached the volume most people recognize as Nashville Pride today.

National attention was garnered by the festival in 2010 when headlining entertainer, Vanessa Carlton, came out to the attendees. She began her set by saying "I've never said this before, but I am a proud bisexual woman." (Leslie, J.: "Celebrating 20 years of Nashville Pride"Out and About Newspaper)

The 24th annual Nashville Pride Festival will be held Saturday, June 16, at Riverfront Park from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. The annual event is a chance for the GLBT community and its allies to gather in celebration of advances made for GLBT equality.

The excitement of Pride weekend begins on Thursday, June 14, with Curb Records Pride Rocks! Pre-Party at the Hard Rock Café, highlighted by Hydrogen Blonde, an explosive high energy cover band that plays a wide variety of hit songs. The band has become a staple in the East Nashville music scene performing monthly at The Lipstick Lounge.

This year's festival is expected to be the most highly-attended to date and boasts an eclectic entertainment lineup that includes Hello Kelly, Jen Foster, Ian Harvie, Jermiah Clark, Antigone Rising, Kerli and Kristy Lee on the Bridgestone Main Stage. A variety of popular local acts will also perform throughout the day on the Local Stage and the Tribe & Play Entertainment Stage will be home to DJ's and drag performances.
"We are so excited about this year's beefed-up festival, especially with new additions like our Equality Walk presented by Fifth Third bank and an entertainment lineup as diverse as Middle Tennessee's LGBT community" said President Randall Roop.

Feisty, Nashville-based Hello Kelly takes the Main Stage just after noon. Knowing the life on the road is no place for the faint of heart, the alt-rock band has returned to the grind with a transformed sound that is harder, faster and more sincere, making it clear that Hello Kelly is in do-or-die mode with a tenacity never-before seen.

Jen Foster follows singing about the time her lover moved out and took everything she owned in "Taking Bob Dylan" and about the jaded American culture in "Closer to Nowhere. An award-winning singer/songwriter who regularly sells out shows all over the country, Foster often draws a devoted following to her live shows, though her largest fan base resides in the Southeast. Her bond with fans will create a captive audience, eager to hear her stories.

The day's entertainment will switch gears in the afternoon when the world's first FTM transgender comic, Ian Harvie, takes the stage. Frontiers Magazine referred to Harvie as "quite possibly the most unique stand up comic in the country" with his eccentric views on love, families, adolescence, substance abuse, and gender identification, as well as his acute dissection on the circus act that is the stunt double for today's popular culture.

Jeremiah Clark returns the entertainment to music as he masterfully balances poetry with practicality similar to Rufus Wainwright and Tracy Chapman. While his songs usually take on a more serious tone, his performance is sure to be refreshingly lighthearted. He enjoys telling comedic stories about family, friends and traveling between tunes joking that, "If you don't laugh AND cry at some point during the show, I simply have not done my job."

The mighty rumble of Kristy Lee, an Alabama alternative artist with a voice like thunder rolling in before the sweet southern rain, as well as the newly-redirected Antigone Rising, a female rock band that has opened for Rob Thomas, Aerosmith and The Rolling Stones, round out the event's main stage entertainment as they sandwich Estonian recording artist Kerli and her unique electronic/pop/experimental sound.
General admission to the event is $5 and allows access to more than 75 vendors in the Nashville GLBT Chamber Marketplace, mobile food vendors, cold cocktails and frozen drinks, misting fans, karaoke, street performances, an inflatable kids' zone, prizes and much more. VIP tickets are $50 and include food and drink at the festival. All proceeds from ticket sales benefit Nashville Pride. This event is included in CORE 100 membership which offers discounted tickets to supporters. VIP tickets are available online and include private bar, two drink tickets, food and private restrooms in the Captain Morgan VIP area. ("Come out and play at 2012 Nashville Pride Festival," Out and About Newspaper

For a visitor's guide with some helpful links, check out the rest of the post by clicking "More" below.

Visitor's Guide

Festival Hotels

The Hutton Hotel is the official hotel of the Nashville Pride Festival.  Browse and book rooms for all area hotels by clicking here.

Experience a sophisticated and comfortable Nashville, Tennessee lodging destination – where four-star luxury adopts a stylish and accommodating new spirit. Hutton Hotel offers a striking contrast to the conventional cluster of West End and downtown Nashville hotels, pairing attentive service with elegant, contemporary design. Treat yourself to welcoming Nashville luxury hotel lodging, where warm hospitality finds a new perspective.
  • Located in the heart of Nashville, Tennessee
  • Ideally situated at a super-central West End address
  • Convenient to the city's renowned music scene and landmark attractions
  • 100% smoke free environment in all guest accommodations
  • High-speed wired and wireless Internet access for all guests
  • Flat panel LG High Definition televisions with multimedia interface
  • Baths with granite flooring, shower surround, and glass vanity
  • Two private spa treatment rooms available with a wide range of services
  • In-Room spa service menu available for your convenience
  • 1808 Restaurant, New American cuisine specializing in marinated fish and meats
  • In-Room dining, featuring the fine fare of 1808 with 24 hour service
  • Lobby Express, java bar with fresh baked goods, healthy snacks and drinks
  • Valet parking for individual guests or function attendees
  • 300 space, fully-automated self-park garage connected to the hotel
  • State-of-the-art fitness center with Pre-Cor equipment, LCD panels, and more
  • Complimentary Business Center services with 24-hour access
  • 13,600 square feet of elegantly-appointed space for meetings, events, and weddings
  • Green recycling program for glass, paper and plastics
  • LED or fluorescent lighting throughout the Hotel building
  • Eco-friendly hybrid courtesy vehicle, elevators, and air-conditioning
Nashville Pride guests can book their rooms online by clicking here.  Book early. Space is limited.


From quiet listening rooms to high-energy dance floors to live stage shows like those at the world-famous Grand Ole Opry and Ryman Auditorium, you can experience the true music of Music City all over town.  If it's gay nightlife you're looking for…we've got that too! Whatever the choice, you're sure to find the city's nightlife hits all the right notes.


The very name evokes vivid images – a single spotlight illuminating a microphone…skyscrapers towering protectively over the Mother Church of Country Music…stately Southern mansions…a Greek temple sitting serenely on a grassy knoll. The area's many attractions paint a picture of this unique Southern city and leave an indelible impression on all who visit.

For a searchable list of area attractions, including: art galleries, theatres, sporting events, and family venues, click here.


From Southern fare to haute cuisine with quite literally everything in between, Nashville's menu of dining options will suit any taste. Here, a perfect barbecue (pork, of course) is as celebrated as the most spectacular creation from any of the city's award-winning chefs. Whether it's a family-friendly meal, dinner and a show or a romantic repast, the city's restaurants serve every dish with a side of Southern hospitality.
 For a searchable list of area restaurants, click here.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

An amazing event in a place that typically is very anti-gay. And they should pay you for the write up and publicity! Nice post.

Peace <3