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Nashville – the Music City Thrives as one of the South’s Most Progressive Spots

Nashville is a growing city—an essential, integral piece of Southern community and culture experiencing exponential development. Primarily known by locals as “Music City” for its export of music, it also carries a long-standing timeline as a Southern city where Civil War monuments mark the grounds and Confederate history is a staple. So, music and history have a massive presence here—but what else?

I moved to Nashville a year ago from California. Having lived all over the West Coast for years, I wanted something different. I am a giant music buff and naturally saw opportunity in Music City. I remember it was a bit of a culture shock when I first arrived. The people were incredibly hospitable, and the lifestyle was at a slower pace, a welcome change from the concrete jungle of Los Angeles. However, amid my ‘new-to-Nashville’ conversations, I realized a difference in LGBTQ presence.

Now, I am not saying Nashville is void of LGBTQ culture or lifestyle, but it is far less abundant than other progressively liberal cities. However, a huge win this year for Nashville was its annual Pride Parade, and as a newcomer, I was pleasantly surprised at the turnout. Local news outlet WSMV News4 reported the celebration drew 75,000 people over two days—a record for the event.

Clearly, the community is present, but why is it seemingly underground in comparison to other major cities? I quickly realized that a great amount of the parade-goers were not local. I even met a few travelers from Canada who came strictly for the parade. It seemed Nashville may be one of the most left-leaning cities in the region to draw a crowd that size. As a newbie to the city, I wanted to hear more about LGBTQ culture in Nashville and its progression over the years.

Christa Suppan co-owns local LGBTQ business The Lipstick Lounge, a nightlife spot and hangout in East Nashville. I asked her a few questions about her time in Nashville since 1992 as part of the community and as a business-owner.

“For me personally, I haven’t had many issues. As far as the business, we have had some ugly things happen in the past, but once again, I see the progression in Nashville,” Suppan said.

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I do tend to agree with her on this one—I personally have not experienced any issues or even discrimination in the city. Any discrimination here seems to be hidden or just not as front-facing.   The city tends to lean more on the biased side, but not so much on the hate side. People here exert kindness and hospitality; they may not support queer folks, but they remain cordial.

Nashville overall seems to be a safe city for the LGBTQ community and provides a good amount of options for nightlife, outreach, and even faith organizations. Nashville is absolutely the most progressive city in the state; however, Nashville still has room for improvement as evidenced by its lack of targeted resources.

“I believe that other regions throughout the country are demonstrating their progressiveness through the resources they offer to the LGBTQ community. Creating resources and accessibility to healthcare specifically focused on the LGBTQ community; investing city funding into community centers to support members of the LGBTQ community who are struggling with poverty, homelessness, mental health issues; and aging without familial support are just a few examples of city acknowledging that LGBTQ citizens are respected and supported within their city,” said Pamela Sheffer, director of program and development for Oasis Youth Center; an organization aimed at education and connection for Nashville youth.

Sheffer demonstrates a valid point here, although Nashville’s lack of community resources may be better explained by the lack of state funding of resources in general, not just for LGBTQ services. Tennessee is not a welfare state like many others. It is incredibly difficult to attain healthcare for anyone, LGBTQ or not. The state just doesn’t fund it. If you are insured in Tennessee, it is most likely because an employer provides it, you are a veteran or an expecting mother, or choose to pay out-of-pocket for your insurance through the private market.

The youth of Nashville are primarily affected by this. What we are seeing is a younger, left-leaning generation living in and being surrounded by an environment of older generations which may possess a certain opinion about the LGBTQ community.

“These youth are being raised, educated, and coached by adults who have not checked their bias,” said Sheffer. Like many other cities in the South, this is Nashville’s downfall and debt to the community.

The city provides a good amount of support groups, social spots, and faith organizations; however, funded resources and aid are virtually non-existent and act as a hindrance to the community at large, but cannot be helped until the region sees more progression in its economics.

Nashville is a city inhabited by young people with progressive ideas and thoughts, but it is being overseen by its right-sided state legislature. The city’s hands are tied in many ways.

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Luckily, Nashville’s youth population is growing thanks to all the transplants. Nashville is heading in the right direction in terms of societal acceptance of the LGBTQ community and has shown success in cultivating culture and lifestyle.

However, the bottom line is that Nashville is still a part of the South. Due to its geography, it is limited in its success, as it continues to encounter a difference of opinion from right-sided counterparts which represent most of the state. Nashville can be looked at like this: it can be a safe haven and hub for LGBTQ community, but I would not recommend going too much outside of the city limits, as you will see a great difference and void of community and tolerance.