From a modest gathering of 125 activists, to what is now a month-long celebration culminating in a downtown festival, the pride of Nashville’s GLBT community has flourished over the past 22 years.
And it continues to be increasingly visible. The 2010 Nashville Pride Festival is set for June 19, and new attractions coupled with traditions and history will converge throughout the city to produce one of this year’s most anticipated events.
A series of events led to the birth of Nashville's first Pride event in 1988. In The previous year, following organizing that resulted in the founding of T-GALA (Tennessee Gay and Lesbian Alliance), two chartered buses took members of Nashville's GLBT community and their supporters to Washington D.C. to participate in the Second National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights. That same year, Stewart Biven and Jeff Ellis began publishing Dare (later Query), Nashville’s first GLBT publication.
With the lines of communication now firmly in place in the form of Query, members of the local community, with the help of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, were able to put together Nashville’s first Pride March in June 1988. A mere 125 people met at Fannie Mae Dees (Dragon) Park that year with signs, and walked through Vanderbilt University and then across West End Avenue into Centennial Park.
Jim Hawk, now a board member at OutCentral, hosted the first Pride Ball at the Parthenon in Centennial Park, an event that helped raise the thousands of dollars necessary to turn Pride into a week-long celebration. More than 100 volunteers worked with the newly created board on planning fundraisers and booking entertainers, and quickly the standard for Nashville Pride was set. After two years at the helm of the Nashville Pride Board, Hawk handed the duties over to Linda Welch and Brad Beasley.
In 1995, Pride co-chairs Welch and Beasley moved the event to Riverfront Park. Raising the bar again that year, enough money was raised to provide an officer on each street corner to block streets allowing for horses, motorcycles and floats in Nashville's first true Pride Parade. An estimated 8,000 people attended Nashville Pride that year.
Since Nashville Pride is organized solely by unpaid volunteers, there has always been a cycle of highs and lows for the event during times of turnover and change on the Pride Board. Pam Wheeler, community activist and co-host of Out & About Today TV on NewsChannel 5+, got involved with Pride in early 2000, a time when Nashville Pride almost didn't happen. It was nearing time for the annual event but no one knew who was in charge of planning.
“A group of community leaders realized nobody was planning a Pride event in 2000,” Wheeler said. “So, some of us decided to step up and quickly get involved to avoid a lapse. We discovered the existing organization was no longer active after checking with the Secretary of State's office.”
Soon thereafter, an ad appeared in Xenogeny, the GLBT weekly newspaper now known as InsideOut, calling for community members to get together to discuss saving Pride. An estimated 70 people attended the meeting, Wheeler said. With just 90 short days for planning, then Pride President Raney Pollos, with help from community leaders Keith Hinkle, Matthew Strader, Wheeler and a few others, successfully pulled off Nashville Pride 2000 at the Bicentennial Mall. Approximately 2,000 people and 30 vendors attended the event, up about 1,000 visitors from the previous year when volunteerism had lagged and the success of Pride dipped below the norm, Wheeler said.
Over the next few years under the leadership of Wheeler and subsequent presidents Mikhail Brown, Michael Basham and Todd Grantham, volunteers and/or board members David McKinnon, Brent Meredith, Marty Sewell, John Wade, Pamela DeGroff, Jason Adkins, Emily Benedict, Pat Finn, DeMarko Smith, Anthony Mollo, Jeanna Emert, Mac, Doug Sladen, Josh Baker and dozens of others joined Nashville Pride with a desire to help take it to the next level.
Most of these volunteers had been to Pride in other nearby cities and wanted to see their hometown Pride grow and thrive. They meshed their experiences together to create Pride events unique to Nashville and spent months planning the event, running TV and radio ads and bringing in new local and national sponsors. The crowd grew exponentially through the early 2000s and reached the volume most people recognize as Nashville Pride today.
This year’s Pride Festival is sure to mark another successful year. According to Jack Davis, this year’s President-elect, “The Nashville Pride Board is always looking to improve the festival each year, and this year new additions include a second stage that will feature local and up-and-coming artists.”
To expand the festival and created more shade along with additional seating and food vendors, this second stage will be under a large tent.
The week leading up to the 2010 festival also includes several big events around town. Some of the new events include a comedy show at Zanies featuring Ian Harvey and Barb Neligan at 7:30 p.m. on Monday, June 14th, Drag Queen Bingo at Mad Donna’s in East Nashville on Tuesday, June 15th at 9 p.m., and “Pride Rock” at the Hard Rock Café downtown from 7-9 p.m. on Friday, June 18th. Information on ticket prices for these and all events can be found on the Pride website at www.nashvillepride.org.