Gay and Lesbian Travelers
Tennessee’s gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people have a mixed bag. On one hand, this is the Bible belt, a state where not long ago a bill was introduced that would have banned teachers from even saying the word “gay” in the classroom. On the other hand, there has been no better time to be gay in Tennessee. More and more social, civic, and political organizations are waking up to the gay community, and there are vibrant gay scenes in many Tennessee cities.
For gay travelers, this means that the experience on the road can vary tremendously. You may not be able to expect a warm welcome at the mom-and-pop diner out in the country, but you can find good gay nightlife and gay-friendly lodging in many cities.
The decision about how out to be on the road is entirely up to you, but be prepared for some harassment if you are open everywhere you go. The farther off the beaten track you travel, the less likely it is that the people you encounter have had many opportunities to get to know openly gay people. Some may be downright mean, but others have such stunted gaydar they probably won’t even notice.
Several specific guidebooks and websites give helpful listings of gay-friendly hotels, restaurants, and bars. The Damron guides (www.damron.com) offer Tennessee listings; the International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association (IGLTA, www.iglta.org) is a trade organization with listings of gay-friendly hotels, tour operators, and much more. San Francisco–based Now, Voyager (www.nowvoyager.com) is a gay-owned and -operated travel agency that specializes in gay tours, vacation packages, and cruises.
You should also check out local gay and lesbian organizations and newspapers.
Three different publications cover the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community in Nashville. The Church Street Freedom Press (www.churchstreetfreedompress.com) and InsideOut Nashville (www.insideoutnashville.com) are free weeklies; Out and About (www.outandaboutnewspaper.com) is a free monthly newsmagazine.
To meet other gay people and find out about events, stop by the Outloud Café and Bookstore (1703 Church St., 615/340-0034, www.outloudonline.com).
In Nashville, the Doubletree Downtown welcomes lesbian and gay guests. They also offer commitment ceremonies. International Travel Inc. (4004 Hillsboro Rd., 615/385-1222) is a Nashville-based gay-friendly travel agency.
The Memphis Gay and Lesbian Community Center (892 S. Cooper St., 901/278-4297, www.mglcc.org) is a clearinghouse of information for the gay and lesbian community. They have a directory of gay-friendly businesses, host social events, and promote tolerance and equality.
Mid-South Pride (www.midsouthpride.org) organizes Memphis Pride in June. The Memphis Triangle Journal is a free weekly paper available at local bookstores, libraries, and other locations.
© Susanna Henighan Potter from Moon Tennessee, 5th Edition