by Norris Dryer
KNOXVILLE – A warm, sunny Saturday in downtown Knoxville saw more that 400 GLBT community members and their "Straight but not Narrow" supporters rally in historic Market Square for "Coming Out Day".
More than 400 marchers and 1,000 participants representing a myriad of groups including political parties, churches, and various GLBT organizations from Knoxville and surrounding area.
The marchers gathered at 2 p.m. and took their positions at the north end of the square and kicked off as scheduled. The parade route took the loop from Market Square to Gay Street and back to Market Square , the route traditionally used in past Pride parades.
The colorful, festive crowd sported many rainbow flags and a wide variety of signs and slogans. Some walked; some biked; some drove. Lambda Student Union from the University of Tennessee offered a beautiful float complete with a human torchbearer, the symbol for the University of Tennessee at Knoxville .
Perhaps the most colorful entry was the Ninja Fire Orchestra, a group of about ten who played brass and percussion instruments. The musicians were dressed from head to toe in bright lime green or hot pink outfits, and they surely made a joyful noise! The parade route was lined with a diverse group of supporters, and marchers received friendly waves from people in the outdoor seating areas of a popular Gay Street brewery and restaurant as well as a coffee house.
As the 2 p.m. starting time for the march approached, there was an orderly transition on the square from the weekly Farmer’s Market to the "Coming Out Day" ceremonies. This was most likely the second largest public gathering of the GLBT community in Knoxville history, surpassed in numbers only by the estimated 1,000 that marched as part of Knoxville ‘s largest Anti-Vietnam War March and Rally in 1972, which also took place on Market Square . The estimated crowd for that historic occasion was 15,000. Market Square has been a public meeting place for a countless array of events for at least 200 years.
Along the parade route and at the south end of Market Square were perhaps 12-15 protesters holding up signs quoting scripture and giving weather forecasts predicting the extremely high temperatures that GLBTs were going to half to endure for eternity if they didn’t change their ways. Marchers were encouraged not to engage the protesters in conversation, but a few just couldn’t resist. Some spirited exchanges took place, but there was certainly no violence from either side.
After the parade, Market Square offered a variety of booths set up by a variety of organizations including the Knoxville Green Party, Groups offering information included Lambda Student Union at The University of Tennessee – Knoxville, Tennessee Equality Project, Rainbow Community Awareness Project, Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, the Knoxville Human Rights Campaign meet-up group, Saint Ninian’s Well, Gyrlgroove, Maryville College Pride group, Knoxville Cares, Pellissippi Pride, Out and About Newspaper – East Bureau, Tennessee Transgender Political Action Committee, Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church, Westview Unitarian Universalist Church, Metropolitan Community Church of Knoxville, J. T. O’Connor Senior Center, and Amnesty International.
Speakers and musicians offered live entertainment for the remarkably attentive crowd. Participants in the lively afternoon ranged in age from one to 85 and offered diversity in many ways including non-human participants who wore rainbow flags adorning their necks prompting one participant to recall Will Roger’s famous quote: "If dogs don’t go to heaven, I want to go where they go.”
The event was a source of pride for everyone involved. Well planned and well executed, it was deemed a success by participants and observers. This wonderful day will be a source of pride for years to come.