For years, people have marched in a gay pride parade in one urban area in Tennessee–in Nashville. Gay pride parades are notably absent from suburban and rural areas of Tennessee, and they should have a place in the future of gay pride in Tennessee.
The gay pride parade has many different values for the GLBT community. The parade draws attention to the fact that gay and lesbian citizens exist in the communities where they parade. The parade also builds community among the gays, lesbians, bisexuals, transgendered people, their friends, their families, and their allies in communities that would otherwise be silent about gay and lesbian issues. The parade can also use media attention to create a public record and to construct a public memory of GLBT citizens.
Gay pride parades in suburban and rural parts of Tennessee should be on the horizon in Tennessee because they have the potential to be valuable educational and advocacy tactics in the gay rights movement in the South. In their April 2, 2009 scholarly presentation to the Midwest Political Science Association 67th Annual National Conference, titled "Determinants of Electoral Support for Anti-Gay Marriage Constitutional Amendments: An Examination of 2008 Votes on Ballot Measures in the States," Christopher Burnett and William Salka presented findings that showed that there was a statistically significant difference in support for the anti-gay marriage constitutional amendment in Florida between voters in rural counties and voters in urban counties. There is clearly a need for GLBT advocacy in suburban and rural reas, not only in Florida but also in Tennessee.
Dr. Martin Luther King effectively used the parade as a tactic to promote social change during the civil rights movement, marching with signs which had slogans such as, "I AM A MAN" and sending invitations to state and local political leaders and celebrities to march with him. Dr. King marched in suburbs of Chicago and Detroit to spread his message, and he both awakened the public consciousness to his movement’s goals and stimulated the moral compasses of citizens who had never considered racial equality.
Gay and lesbian couples are trending toward living in suburban areas more than urban areas. Gay and lesbian couples that reside in surburbs compared to gay and lesbian couples that reside in urban areas, according to GLAAD’s report of an HRC study on U.S. census data, do so at almost the same rate as their heterosexual counterparts. Each year in Tennessee, gay and lesbian couples feeling a sense of pride leave their suburban and rural communities to travel to Nashville for the gay pride parade and for the gay pride celebrations in the open-minded, safe, and predominately GLBT Midtown area. Public displays of gay pride have been noticably absent in their communities.
The gay and lesbian market is worth billions of dollars, and gays and lesbians can contribute significantly to marketplaces in suburban and rural areas when and if they choose to host events and parades there.
All it takes is a a group of people pushing for social change (Tennessee Equality Project or PFLAG, for example), a bit of pride, a parade permit, and an exercise of first amendment freedom to parade in the streets of suburbia. I envision a Tennessee where gays and lesbians can parade through the streets of Hendersonville, Franklin, Brentwood, and Springfield: where the lakeside community of Hendersonville is awakened to the calls for equal rights, where gays and lesbians in the exclusive areas of Williamson County sound the alarm that civil rights are being taken away from a marginalized group, and where residents of Robertson County can wave the rainbow flag while marching down Springfield Highway.
For far too long the moral orders of the suburbs, or bedroom communities, have been dictated by old men–elders of churches–who hide behind houses of religion to whisper among each other and to indoctrinate young generations against gay equality. In the suburbs and in rural areas, a lack of communication among gay and straight residents, a lack of displays of gay pride, and a lack of gay-straight alliances have prevented the dinner table conversations that could heal the political marginalization and the civil rights rift caused by the 2004 constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage in Tennessee.
I am advocating for the evangelism of the message of gay equality, and with parades and marches as tactics in this strategy I do believe there may be confrontations with oppressive groups attempting to subvert and counter the message of gay equality. But, drawing the opponents of gay equality out of their anonymity, out of their homes, and out of their closets is what is necessary to create public awareness of our struggle–this is what Dr. King believed for his cause.
I encourage GLBT people with pride to organize following this year’s pride festivities to make gay pride an incessant drumming across the state of Tennessee for years to come. I do believe that the constitutional amendment can be reversed when awareness of gay pride and gay advocacy become salient in the state’s public opinion.