As Knoxville continues to earn national accolades for its gay-friendly reputation, Gary Elgin is doing what he can to keep the conversation going.

Part intimate profile series and part online E! Network for the locals, Elgin affectionately describes The Lavender Table – his one-man web talk show – as “the Charlie Rose for Queers.” His efforts have earned him an opportunity to conduct “red carpet” interviews at TEP’s Olympus on Sept. 22.

True to his chosen form, The Lavender Table’s YouTube channel features an interesting series of one-on-ones, the likes of which you’d probably hear on a GLBT-only version of NPR.

A video journalist who defies conventional softball questions and traditional subject matter, Elgin has posted thought-provoking interviews with Conrad Honicker, a former Knox County High student who gained national notoriety for founding the school’s Gay-Straight Alliance, as well as local PFLAG co-chair Larry Kitchen who shares his views on how GLBT activism differs in Knoxville from his native Chicago.

Another left-of-center Lavender Table interview has Joseph Lowery, a renowned chef, discussing Knoxville’s history of ’70s gay marriages at Epworth Center. In another segment, Elgin asks John Wilson, a Knoxville drag performer at Rainbow Club West (stage name Anastasia Alexander), “John, tell me what it’s like being brown and gay.”

“I was inspired by Charlie because he had a unique style,” Elgin said. “One man and one guest at a table.”

Now in its second season on YouTube with a relatively small but growing subscriber base, Elgin recently hosted a three-part show with Del Shores, renowned Author of “Sordid Lives.” He’s also netted promotional show teasers by Knox County Commissioner Amy Broyles.

A long-time chairman of Knoxville Pride over the years and activist for the city, Elgin started The Lavender Table in his dining room. “After I handed over the reins of Pride, I had to go in a different direction of my life,” Elgin said. “I thought, ‘Well, you’re a performer, Gary, so get out there and perform.’ So I did. The first shows were done with a portable Sony camera around my oak dining room table.”

No stranger to controversial subject matter, Elgin has recently been taking The Lavender Table on the road, with stops at gay-friendly bars and businesses in Knoxville. During one such production, Elgin hosted a stand-up Q&A where patrons were encouraged to share their opinions on hot-button topics like Chick-fil-A and gay marriage equality.

For his part, Elgin says working to promote GLBT acceptability in Knoxville a bittersweet endeavor.

“Knoxville has matured to point that I couldn’t have even dreamed of 20 years ago,” Elgin said. “We are seeing it already. Of course the gay bars here are still popular. But they are nowhere near as packed as it used to be because we’re now welcome anywhere in our community. I think a part of us celebrates, but a part of us grieves because our work will be over. Let’s keep the conversation going.”
 

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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