In 1964, Bob Dylan admonished the establishment, firmly warning that the times were “a’changin’”. At the dawn of this new era, a time of rapid societal progress, music captured the zeitgeist of a young generation ready to move beyond the biases of a bygone season. In the turbulent ten years known simply as “The ‘60s”, America took bold strides toward fulfilling the mission set forth by its founding fathers; the age of Aquarius brought awareness to the need for equal rights regardless of race, gender, creed, disability, age, or national origin.

Yet, one segment of the population was still not recognized as a group deserving of equal rights — not special rights, but equal protection from discrimination and exclusion. Nearly fifty years later the GLBT community is still striving to be recognized as Americans whose constitutional rights warrant defense and enforcement.

With these goals in mind, the Equality Walk returns this year as part of the 2012 Nashville Pride Festival. While the entire Pride festival revolves around celebrating the daily contributions made by Nashville’s GLBT community, the Equality Walk takes this concept a step further.

“The Equality Walk is a three-dimensional source of pride,” says Dr. Marisa Richmond, president of the Tennessee Transgender Political Coalition and participant in this year’s Walk. “The images created by the joining of Nashville’s GLBT community and our straight allies is invaluable.”

Participants will walk to honor the unique daily contributions made by the local GLBT community; those who are family members, friends, employers, employees, volunteers, and neighbors.

“They fight for our freedom yet they are denied basic constitutional rights,” Richmond continues. “The majority of Americans believe that is neither just nor fair. The Equality Walk is a microcosm of modern mainstream thinking. The belief that all citizens, regardless of orientation, deserve the basic civil rights afforded by the United States Constitution.”

Tennessee has recently been in the national news regarding treatment of the GLBT community, and during the latest legislative session two bills were proposed that dealt with treatment of the GLBT community in public schools. [Ed.: For more information, see our legislative breakdown.] Given this level of coverage, Richmond believes Nashville serves as a beacon of hope to people across the state who feel misunderstood and abandoned by local leaders.

“Nashville Pride, and the Equality Walk in particular, serves as a model for other areas of the state where attitudes and behaviors are less evolved,” she says. “Education and positive modeling are always the best tools for increasing awareness and insight. The Equality Walk is more than just a venue for Nashvillians to demonstrate their pride and unity; this event serves as a prototype for other parts of the state, areas where both LGBT citizens and their straight allies long to foster a sense of acceptance and appreciation.

“These people make valuable contributions to their communities on a daily basis; some of them also happen to be gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered. We want to establish, once and for all, that these two facts are not mutually exclusive.”

Fifth Third Bank is the largest corporate sponsor of this year’s Equality Walk, but other area businesses and organizations support the endeavor with both human capital and financial contribution.

“I have always been interested in and supportive of Pride in Nashville,” says Jon Glassmeyer, treasurer of the Nashville Grizzlies Rugby Football Club. “I believe it is extremely important to demonstrate that GLBT people are proud of the lives they lead, and are part of the world at large. Pride [and the Equality Walk] also creates, even for a moment, a place where GLBT people can drop their guard, hold hands with their significant others and not worry who is watching.

“I am a firm believer in supporting my community,” he continues. “For me this includes the arts community, East Nashville and the local interests of the GLBT community. All of these sub-communities are part of the bigger fabric that is Nashville. Without support for each sub-population, the greater public becomes the loser.”

As the people of Nashville take to the streets for equality, gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered and heterosexual alike, the message is clear: Nashville’s GLBT community is proud of who they are, and their friends, family, neighbors, coworkers, bosses and colleagues walk with them in a shared sense of purpose, dignity and, yes, pride. 

This article has been republished from Out & About Nashville, and was part of a series of first-person pieces written by the late Bobbi Williams.

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