Photo courtesy of Inclusion Tennessee

Inclusion Tennessee

Inclusion Tennessee launched in June after nearly two years of development. Its mission is to connect people, resources, and opportunities that enrich and enhance the lives of the LGBTQ+ community. Nashville Pride completed a Community Needs Assessment in 2019 which is much of what Inclusion Tennessee will be focusing on in the coming year. This is what you can expect to see:

Inclusion Tennessee Focus for the First Year

  1. ​ Embracing the LGBTQ+ mission focused, mission adjacent, and community partners in collaborative spaces focused on creating models of collective impact.
  2. Co-locating wraparound services, resources, and programming for LGBTQ+ 18-24 year-olds with affirming agencies in the mid-state. This includes affordable housing, health care, respite care, mutual aid resources, and career training.
  3. Co-locating services, resources, and programming for LGBTQIA+ older adults in the mid-state. This includes safe social opportunities, healthcare, affordable housing, respite care, mutual aid, support groups, and end-of-life planning.
  4. Partnering with healthcare organizations and providers to establish a digital-first healthcare navigation solution that delivers LGBTQIA+ community members with information about affirming healthcare providers, specialists, health services, and safe places in Tennessee.
  5. Building a Nashville LGBTQIA+ Community Center for all ages with satellite services throughout the region. The center will be community-designed and may include a co-working space, a theater, meeting rooms, a cafe, a library, maker spaces, retail spaces, and physicians' offices, and more.

Taking leadership of Inclusion Tennessee is founder Phil Cobucci, Dr. Quinton Walker, and Meredith Fortney. The remaining board members include thirteen professionals and industry leaders in healthcare, education, branding, marketing, government, and nonprofit organizations.

Inclusion Tennessee is being incubated by The Center for Contemplative Justice, an organization founded by the Rev. Becca Stevens which fosters unique justice startups. Acting as an umbrella organization for those holding vision and allowing an organization to birth the idea, nurturing and growing it into its own independent nonprofit organization. When approached with the idea and mission of Inclusion Tennessee, Becca Stevens said, "Inclusion Tennessee offers a mission of love, and the minute Phil Cobucci shared it with me, I knew I wanted to do something to support his beautiful vision. I am honored that The Center for Contemplative Justice could play a role in helping them get off the ground. My hope is that they will be a blueprint for new opportunities and structures within and for the LGBTQIA+ community in Tennessee.”

Initial organizational funding has been secured through The HCA Foundation, The Center for Contemplative Justice, Nashville Pride, and private donors. Visit Inclusion Tennessee for more information.

Board Members

Founding Board Members

Phil Cobucci

Founder and Board President
Marketing and Branding Consultant

Dr. Quinton Walker

Board Secretary
High School Headmaster at University School of Nashville

Meredith Fortney

Board Treasurer
Senior Manager Employee Branding at HelloFresh

Hal Cato

CEO of Thistle Farms
(Former CEO of Oasis Center; Founder of Hands on Nashville)

Del Ray Zimmerman

Director of LGBTQI Health at Vanderbilt University Medical Center

Joseph Woodson

Founder + Principal, Woodson Results, Inc.
(Former LGBTQ Liaison to Mayors Barry and Briley)

Dr. Christopher Ott

Chief Medical Officer, Physicians Services Group at HCA Healthcare
(Past President of the Board at Nashville Cares)

Matthew Gann

Associate Vice Chancellor for Marketing, Digital Strategy, & Public Relations at Tennessee Board of Regents

Pamela Kelner

Executive Director at Jewish Family Service; part of the Jewish Federation of Middle Tennessee

Marcia Masulla

CEO at Roar Nashville;
Founder of Nashville Fashion Week; Nashville Fashion Forward Fund; and Tiny But Mighty

Dawn Cornelius

CEO at MyHuman; Principal Consultant at The Cornelius Group

Jordan Constantine

Senior Policy Analyst at The Center for Innovation in Public Health, University of Kentucky
Co-Founder at affinità consulting

Olivia Blake

Salesforce Implementation Specialist, Idlewild

Amiee M. Sadler

Research and Education Manager, people3, inc.

Jon Paul Yarbrough

Board Member, Yarbrough Family Foundation

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Like many of the recent Marvel Cinematic Universe films, LGBTQ+ fans awaited the release of Thor: Love and Thunder in open anticipation of the inclusivity that both Marvel and Disney had promised. However, the fans were only setting themselves up for disappointment when the film was finally released.

Despite passionate assurances from studio heads to key actors, Thor: Love and Thunder was NOT spectacularly gay. It wasn’t even that good…

Premiere Night Promises

A bolt of lightning cuts across a rainbow on a dark and stormy night.

Lightning bold across the sky

Photo by Bill D.

Standing on the red carpet at the London Premiere of the film, director and actor Taika Waititi and fellow cast members Natalie Portman and Tessa Thompson were offered up the inevitable question: “How gay is the film?

Amidst some laughter from the crowds, Waititi gestured towards Portman to respond. The actress (who plays Thor’s love interest, Jane Foster, throughout the franchise) raised the microphone to her lips and thought for a moment, before delivering a quiet yet fateful: “So gay!

Barely a moment had passed before the gathered fans went wild and Taika Waititi gave his own verdict: “Super gay!”. Tessa Thompson made no statement on the ‘gayness’ of the film, instead opting to swing her microphone around suggestively. As more cheers erupted, a second round of “super gay” slipped out of Waititi’s mouth, before he urged the fans to enjoy the film.

Thor: Love and Thunder’s LGBTQ+ Potential

Thor’s movie-goers were definitely hyped up for a gay extravaganza and they had a specific character in mind. The fan-favorite Valkyrie, played by Tessa Thompson, stumbled her way into the MCU during Thor’s third film, Ragnarok. The Asgardian warrior won many people over with her wit, sarcasm, and pure badassery.

After the events of Avengers: Endgame *spoilers*, Thor Odinson gives up his claim to the throne of Asgard and names Valkyrie as king in his stead. This left many fans excited to see what would become of the character, especially after certain revelations were made at the 2019 San Diego Comic-Con:

“As a new king, she has to find her queen. So that’ll be her first order of business.”

With these words, Tessa Thompson threw her LGBTQ+ fans into a frenzy, with heavy expectations for the then-upcoming fourth installment of the Thor films. Indeed, in an interview with the LA Times, shortly before the film's release, Tessa Thompson was asked to comment on the sexuality of her character. She responded with several promising remarks, including “there’s a lot of folks that are righteously very hungry for that representation to exist in these movies, as am I”.

*Warning: spoilers ahead!*

So, How Gay Was Thor 4?

To put it simply: not gay at all. Not only did Valkyrie end up without a fabulous new queen, her non-heteronormative sexuality only got the barest mention (a brief line about a previous, now dead, girlfriend). Valkyrie may have made bedroom eyes at some pretty ladies before an action scene spoils the moment, but that’s about as much as we get.

The film does get some credit for introducing a trans character in a minor yet significant role. Thor returns to his people (after a brief stint as a Guardian of the Galaxy) only to find out that the daughter of one of his closest (and deceased) friends is now a boy. The issue is, whether due to personal prejudice or some alien inability to grasp the concept of being transgender, it does take Thor a frustrating few moments to come to terms with the change. And to stop deadnaming.

In fact, the only concession to the queer community was Taika Waititi’s extraterrestrial character Korg finding a husband in one of the closing scenes. This heartfelt moment was somewhat underscored by the revelation that Korg’s entire species is male, meaning he had no other choice but to be ‘gay’.

This Is Not Marvel’s First Queerbaiting Attempt

Close up of an eye reflecting an unknown scene as a rainbow crosses the image.

Photo by Harry Q.

This is, by far, not the first time that LGBTQ+ fans have been sorely disappointed by the workings of Marvel and Disney. In fact, people across many social media platforms have been chiding expectant viewers for once again falling for classic queerbaiting tactics. “Being queerbaited by the MCU is like being a golden retriever with a human who always pretends to throw the ball”, one Tumblr user declared.

Captain Marvel, starring Brie Larson, was the perfect moment for the MCU to introduce its first lesbian lead. Larson’s character seemed to have an intense relationship with another woman, going so far as to help raise her child (before Larson’s Carol Danvers disappeared from Earth for 6 years). Despite leaning into several romantic tropes, the status of their relationship was never fully fleshed out. However, it was also the franchise’s first female-led superhero movie, so maybe they thought that introducing her as a lesbian would make the film too awesome.

The heavily anticipated Avengers: Endgame was also slated to introduce the MCU’s ‘first gay character'. While many fans were excited, particularly as this would be the second of Larson’s appearances on screen, the big gay build-up was a massive letdown. The film’s director Joe Russo made a cameo as a blip survivor mourning the loss of his husband. A five-second throw-away scene that had no impact on the outcome of the film. Big whoop...

Even when we did see a film with a gay lead, The Eternals, there were also ten other straight leads. At that point, it just seemed more like basic probability than an attempt at pushing LGBT+ superheroes into the spotlight.

Why Can’t Disney Let Marvel Be Gay?

The big problem with allowing a few characters to be anything other than cishet is that there are still many countries in the world that outlaw homosexuality. As much as we like to think that the MCU is being made for comic book fans, we all know the purpose of the films is to make money for Disney. And without certain markets in Asia and the Middle East, Disney wouldn’t be raking in up to (and over) one billion dollars per theatrical release.

Is There Any Hope For LGBTQ+ Fans In The MCU’s Future?

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, the second in the much-loved Black Panther arc, will be released in cinemas this November. The studio has confirmed that the film will contain a queer character. Actress Michaela Coel will play Aneka, a warrior, and trainer of the king’s guard. Whether or not her diversity will stand out in the film (let alone endure for more than a 10-second scene that can be easily cut) remains to be seen.

Next year’s The Marvels film, starring Brie Larson, Iman Vellani, and Lashana Lynch may offer the MCU a chance to redeem itself in the eyes of its LGBT+ fans. The studios may feel it’s finally time to offer us the heartwarming lesbian relationship between Larson’s Carol Danvers and Lynch’s Maria Rambeau that seemed to be teased in the first Captain Marvel. Don’t raise your hopes too high, though, as you may yet end up as a stubborn golden retriever waiting for a cinematic universe to finally throw that rainbow ball.