Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Is Knoxville Really One of the Gayest Cities in America?

Pridefest on Market Square

We'll start our poll discussion with one that I will readily admit surprised me. Advocate magazine, which is a gay and lesbian themed magazine, focused their annual poll on smaller, less obvious cities. In their words "we look at the per capita queerness of some less expected locales." So, while no one nationally necessarily thinks first of these towns as gay friendly, they want to suggest some unexpected, smaller cities which are just that. Knoxville came in at number eight.

The criteria used is an entire discussion in itself. One point is assigned for each occurrence of the following: LGBT elected officials, WNBA teams, International Mr. Leather competition semi-finalists, Imperial Court chapters, softball teams that competed in the Gay Softball World Series, LGBT bookstores, Nude Yoga, Transgender protections, and concerts by Gossip, the Cliks and the Veronicas. I'd never heard of some of these things like Mr. Leather, Imperial Court, Nude Yoga and the Cliks. Some of the people who commented on the article expressed resentment that stereotypes were being used as a criteria. I took it that they were having a bit of fun.

Would all these things combined be indicative of gay friendliness? I'm not sure. I can see the LGBT elected officials and the LGBT bookstores as well as Transgender protections, but the rest seems a bit off. It doesn't really mention gay-friendly bars or restaurants. It doesn't mention gay-rights parades or celebrations. Points aren't deducted for hate crimes against gay citizens. What about gay-friendly churches? What about number of high schools with a Gay-Straight Alliance?

A few of the comments online, presumably from gay and lesbian readers, questioned the inclusion of a number of the cities, including Knoxville. One person wrote, "Knoxville is one of the straightest places I've ever been." Another person who said she is in Knoxville said, "there is no way we should be making any lists." One reader pointed out the Dolly Parton connection as a leg-up for Knoxville's gay friendliness. Another says, "OK, I wasn't even out when I was living there, but Knoxville? Knoxville? I'm speechless." There were over five hundred more comments which was way too many for me to wade through looking for Knoxville references.

So, how did Knoxville gain points in the competition? They indicate that Knoxville made the list despite legislative antagonism toward gays at the state level (Stacy is mentioned directly). Of Knoxville they say, "Nevertheless, Knoxville has defiantly produced a robust gay scene, including the University of Tennessee"’s Commission for LGBT People; a welcoming spot for queer, trans, and other marginalized teens at Spectrum Café (SpectrumCafe.org); gay-affirming churches; and thriving nightlife."

So, there you have it. It makes no mention of Knoxville having anything listed in the criteria, but sites things that are not included, such as "gay-affirming churches." I learned that the cafe they mention is one evening on alternating weekends at the Unitarian Church. It seems pretty slim. 

Club XYZ, Happy Holler, Knoxville

We have no openly gay elected officials, though one has garnered mention recently due to his strenuous opposition to anything gay. An openly gay local man considered running for mayor this past election, but decided against it.

My perception is that downtown is more gay-friendly than the rest of the city and county. Gay couples routinely hold hands and stroll through Market Square and down Gay Street with no observable reaction from people they pass. We do have an annual parade and rally on Market Square, Knoxville Pridefest, which is always crazy fun. At least one restaurant downtown attracts a large gay clientele and Happy Holler features a gay bar. 

Still, we do have those pesky state legislators. We also have a large dose of gay slurs commonly thrown around in the city. Any article on Knoxnews that focuses on gays or lesbians draws a large amount of vitriol. They cannot cover Pridefest without a meltdown on the comment section. So, I'm not so sure this ranking is deserved city-wide. Downtown, maybe. What do you think? Deserved or not? Do we embrace our gay and lesbian citizens?

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At March 6, 2012 at 12:41 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Proud to say downtown is accepting of all cultures and preferences...and i'm a straight, white and well off male.

At March 6, 2012 at 8:33 AM , OpenID silverfinofhope said...

I think that most Knoxvillians are very accepting, even the more politically & socially conservative ones. That's our saving grace.

Stay away from the KnoxNews comments section! There be dragons, you know? I hardly think the attitude of a city can be found there. More like the a colony of shadenfruede.

At March 6, 2012 at 8:58 AM , Anonymous Bill said...

Off topic sorta--why the weird text colors in your post (light gray on a white background)?

At March 6, 2012 at 9:05 AM , Blogger Knoxville Urban Guy said...

Good morning, everyone. Well, Anonymous, I'm like you in two of your three categories. I just wonder if not being in a group distorts the reality the group might experience, you know? I hope you are right. You, Silverfin, are definitely correct - the comment section of Knoxnews is poison! Bill, it's wiered because when I copied and pasted a quote from the magazine a truck load of code came with it and messed up the page. Hopefully it is all better, now.

At March 6, 2012 at 9:14 AM , Blogger JUDI M. said...

I love downtown Knoxville because I think it IS moving in the right direction....or should I say correct direction. The RIGHT definitely is not....

There seems to be an accepting vibe, and it's growing. Let's hope it continues out beyond the city itself. I'm ever hopeful.

And yes....the comments on the Knox news site sometimes make my skin crawl. I HATE it when people live up (down??) to the South's reputation....

At March 6, 2012 at 10:59 AM , Anonymous John said...

I've got to say Urban Guy, I agree with your assessment. It seems that Knoxville was included despite lacking much in the way of the qualifying categories. The LGBT scene does seem to be growing in number as well as acceptance, particular in the Downtown, UT, 4th and Gill and North Knoxville envrions, however, I would be cautious to say that the rest of Knoxville/Knox County is so accepting. There is still a large closeted population in this area specifically because of the lack of tolerence of some groups and individuals (exemplified by Mr. Campfield). If one were to remove the university from the mix, what would be left to qualify Knoxville as the 8th gayest city? Perhaps the key to understanding this survey is that it did, intentionally, ignore "traditional" gay cities. Essentially, doesn't that make Knoxville the 8th gayest not-gayest city? I would submit that it makes us look a bit more progressive than we actually are, but maybe that greases the wheels of change.

At March 6, 2012 at 4:25 PM , Blogger Andrea said...

I think downtown is nicely tolerant, but I wouldn't say that about many other sections, except North Knoxville. But I think it is getting better.

KnoxNews would be better off if they would disable the comments on their news articles. It's always the same ignorant bunch posting hate and vitriol, making the rest of us look bad.

At March 7, 2012 at 11:34 AM , Blogger Ally Gregory-Moore said...

Being a lesbian in Knoxville can be strange sometimes. My wife and I hold hands pretty much every where we go. No one pays us any mind downtown. However, if we go out North/South/West we get dirty looks regularly. (To be fair, I am also heavily tattooed so we are never really positive what we are getting the looks for. lol.)

As for Knoxville being "gay friendly." I was shocked to see we made that list. While we do have a small, yet enthusiastic gay community there is still so much hatred that it is disturbing. Read the comments on any Knox news article mentioning homosexuality and your faith in humanity will take a down turn. Don't even get me started on the local politicians obsession with all things gay.

At March 7, 2012 at 3:34 PM , Blogger Knoxville Urban Guy said...

Judi, John and Andrea,
Thanks for weighing in. It sounds like we see the same city when we take a look - pretty good in specific areas, not so much in others -And, stay away from the comments on Knoxnews.

At March 7, 2012 at 3:38 PM , Blogger Knoxville Urban Guy said...

Thanks for weighing in. I'm glad to hear downtown is pretty good for you and your wife. Hopefully things will continue to improve from this point. As for those certain politicians, I can only hope that one day they (Stacey) finds peace with himself when he confronts the fact that this issue seems to dominate his thoughts so completely and comes to terms with what that probably means. As Jack Rentfro said in reference to Stacey, "Ain't it hard to hate the thing you love," or something to that effect.


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