I was sitting in a room with transgender people like me very recently. They were talking about their problems, and I was silently confronting the reality of how my life has been one of relative privilege. I do not go to these meetings as often as I really should. Frankly, I am afraid of what to say when I do.
I really cannot relate to what most LGBTQ+ people around me have to go through on a daily basis. Three years of transition and a surgery later, I am still learning. I will likely always be learning what it truly means to really be “one of us.”
Maybe that’s just me, but perhaps that is a decent snapshot of Nashville too? I just got into trouble with Chattanooga LGBTQ+ activist Samantha Boucher for calling our own community “a little too fat and happy” and I’m swiftly learning not to throw out glib statements such as this with Samantha. She recently organized the Chattanooga Queer Community Forum and helped it to partner with allied organizations to turn out the vote for progressive LGBTQ+ candidates during the recent primary election, while helping to spearhead the City of Equality campaign for LGBTQ+ rights down there.
The Reverend Alaina Cobb of Mercy Junction Justice and Peace Centre is another Chattanoogan I think about. Alongside its other functions, Mercy Junction is a homeless shelter and a safe haven for queer youth in the Chattanooga area. Pastor Alaina is an LGBTQ+ activist herself, one who is not afraid to put herself in harm's way for causes she believes in. She works alongside others who are challenging the conventional wisdom throughout the South.
The younger LGBTQ+ Chattanoogans I have recently met startle me with their knowledge and their social action, and there are far more than the two listed above. My generation never ever got that close. Not for trying though, it was just a different world then. There was no real difference between political parties or politicians, and most would not come anywhere near us. The fear of AIDS set back real political progress for our community until my thirties, and we did not have that social leveler called “The Internet” just quite yet.
Nashville is a little different, due to its history: the powers-that-be who really ran this city were a clubby group of business types who pretty much decided what the mayor was going to do on an issue long before the legislation crossed his desk. It was an unelected commission that worked fine until the city grew way too big to let this continue.
Civil Rights came to town (mostly) peacefully because this group thought it would be for the best. I would argue that the beginnings of LGBTQ+ rights came the same way. A mayor named Bredesen sent those folks opposed packing to Williamson County to build something new, but that cultural legacy is still with us.
We tend to wait patiently here until those who really run the show see what’s good for business and (eventually) act upon it. This is how we have become an “it” city after all. The commission worked, but sometimes Firebase Nashville looks more like an LGBTQ+ talking shop as a result of all that.
Think about it: when was the last time we really had to come together as a community to defend ourselves? Yeah, it’s been awhile, and I am not complaining, but perhaps we have become a little too complacent when our sisters and brothers are fighting bigotry and injustice just outside these walls.
Do some of these awakened LGBTQ+ people make me nervous? “Uncomfortable” will always be a better word. My childhood memories are made up of these people here and abroad. They are doing exactly what the social progressives did back then before my kind stepped in to save the world through supply-side economics.
Other Southern LGBTQ+ communities big and small are fighting for the same opportunities that we take for granted here. Nashville is a firebase because we are a safe haven for Queer resistance throughout the South. Perhaps we should lend our colleagues an active hand too?
Samantha made a decision to come back from San Francisco to help her people change the South. This is home, and she would rather be trying to make a real difference here. I suspect Pastor Alaina would agree with that…
We should too. Let’s all step out of our comfort zone more often. Nashville can only lead if we choose to be in front.
Julie Chase is the pen name for a local trans woman.