2006…the year the Nashville gay community found itself

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From my perch smack dab in the middle of the gayest street in Nashville (OutLoud), it seems I’ll forever begin any rumination about any gay year by the start of a workday.

In all ten years that I’ve called Nashville home, I’ve always approached downtown from the east: whether it was Brentioch or south Nashville, the Belmont campus or Hermitage, the Interstate trek from home to downtown always included I-40 West and my exits have always been either at Demonbruen or Broadway. For the past couple years, though, I’ve been getting off on Church Street (insert your own joke here).

When I first moved here, someone told me nothing happens north of Broadway when you’re downtown and, for some reason, it was advice that I believed without question. It wasn’t until I began working downtown shortly after college that I realized there really is life downtown beyond the juke joints and tourist traps. That is, before 5:00 p.m.

So Church Street, then, has always been a destination unto itself. Daily I exit on Church, wait at the light at the top of the exit, wait 100 yards further up at the next light across from NES, cuss the driver to my right who routinely if temporarily steals my lane as we both turn left, and find my way to the alley behind America’s largest GLBT bookstore where I park the car.

Years from now it will seem much more a community than today, but I’m proud to be one of the few who see its roots. Some mornings I pass one of the owners of Play, outside his car, on his way to somewhere, and every single time I wonder what a bar owner needs to get done at 10:00 a.m. And by the time the complete thought enters my mind, it’s gone again. Sometimes I can hear those at the Church Street Café setting up shop for their business day too.

Just a year or so ago, there was no Hustler Hollywood, no Lucky’s Garage, no bakery-that-will-never-open in that single block this side of the interstate. It’s easy to ignore that for so long we all drove by a dilapidated gas station complete with weeds, tumbleweed practically, jargoning up the intersection. It feels complete now, even if there’s still so much more that needs to be done. The plasma center, not but three doors down from the liquor store, has alone added much life to the street—bus-riding, “street life” kinda’ life but there’s a daytime human presence here, nonetheless.

Partway through the year Chappy’s Restaurant opened and, initially, its patrons stole all of our street-level parking. The Church Street Café and Blue Gene’s opened. The Tennessee Equality Project moved its “Vote NO on 1” headquarters a couple doors down. There was a hustle and bustle to daily life on Church.

In retrospect, though, it was fleeting.

It’s still a great bar, but Blue Gene’s inevitably lost that shiny gloss of “new.” All the straighties discovered either the parking lot at Chappy’s or the valet. And when the election was over, the volunteers at Vote NO cleared out. Business here has remained steady the entire time, with the annually notable post-Thanksgiving uptick.

Oh, but it was fun while it lasted. Waving at the TEP volunteers as they walked by, on their way to the office during the closing months of the election campaign. Chatting with them on the street about their plans, about picketers on West End Avenue, about far-fetched dreams, and unfortunate likelihoods. Waiting for Blue Gene’s to open in mid-afternoon because my co-workers and I were both too lazy to get in our cars for lunch and too inquisitive to not test the menu. Listening in, because the volume prohibited an alternative, to the Madelyne J. McCray show at the Church Street Café. There was atmosphere here. There was community.

I’m excited now for the future of our little “gayborhood,” as Al calls it, because I know what it feels like. I was here in 2006, and I saw it when we did it the first time.