The 2011 Nashville Pride Festival will include a high-profile supporter in the automotive industry.

Hallmark Volkswagen has signed up as a sponsor for this year's celebration. One of the only dealers in the area selling 2010 new Volkswagens and used Volkswagens, Hallmark serves customers in Murfreesboro, Clarksville, Hendersonville, Madison and Cool Springs. All locations include a large inventory of new and used VW cars, wagons, vans and SUVs.

George Oeser, a salesperson for Hallmark Volkswagen, said that he hopes the partnership with Nashville Pride will advance acceptance in Nashville.

"I think it's good for employees and good for the community to show that we respect and support (the festival)," he says. "It's important that you have a relatively well-known local business that's willing to sponsor."

Given recent political arguments about gay rights in the workplace, Oeser believes that businesses who commit to the cause can greatly influence the city's economic culture.

"The LGBT community needs these businesses, these sponsors like Bridgestone, Hallmark (Volkswagen) and Cracker Barrel," he says. "With what they're saying in the State legislature now, this is important. I hope (the sponsorship) will make other businesses take a closer look."

The seeds of this partnership were planted in an unlikely location: East Nashville's Foo Bar. Oeser, a former car salesman, was recently employed as a bartender at the popular Gallatin Road establishment. In November 2010, friend and frequent patron Aaron Hendrickson asked Oeser about his career plans and encouraged him to return to car sales.

"He asked if I'd be interested in selling cars again, and I said, 'Yes, but Hallmark needs to be involved in the Pride Festival'," Oeser says. "He was a little surprised by that. I was thinking we could just rent out a booth at the festival, but now here we are."

In February 2011, just three months after that conversation, Nashville Pride announced Hallmark Volkswagen as a presenting sponsor of this year's festival. The reaction was immediate and overwhelmingly positive.

"The response has been pretty great," Oeser says. "It's pretty amazing. We manage a Facebook account for all the stores, and there's not been one negative comment."

Hallmark Volkswagen's outspoken support for Nashville Pride and the LGBT community at large is not just a public display of affection. Since his tenure with the company began last winter, Oeser notes that new internal policies will extend domestic partnership benefits to employees, and the company's non-discrimination statement has been amended to include sexual orientation and gender identity.

"We hope people will join in on the fun and have a great time," Oeser says. "But we also want to move forward (with gay rights)."

Photo courtesy of Red Bull

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