By: Alexis, Amelia, Erin F., Erin M., Jordan and Kendra
Other Contributors: Lindsay Hayes, Jesse Lafser, Megan Johnson, Hannah Epelbaum
Where the Queer Girls Are
PLAY (1519 Church Street) This dance bar and lounge caters to an all ages crowd in a sprawling Sex In The City-urban-minimalist club space. Except you definitely don’t feel like you’re in Manhattan. Between the grand stage, a separate dance room, two full bars, performance staff, VIP reserve seating and a limited kitchen, Nashville’s “only true dance club” is a pretty standard go-to for some. The crowd is typically male-dominated and leans toward the preppy, twinky, young, tan and sassy. Nightly events like Playmates & Dancing, Ladies Night, Amateur Drag King Night, College Night and SINdustry Night, ensure that fun can usually be had by your average queer. If you’re looking to get frisky with someone, you can probably find that in the men’s restroom, but if you actually need to just use the restroom, go wait in the ladies’ line. If you get tired of dancing and scream-talking to your friends over drag queen renditions of “Private Dancer” and “Bad Romance,” walk next door to Tribe.
Look For: Pitchers of PLAY’s signature blue “jungle juice” cocktail floating around
Tribe (1517 Church Street #A) This smaller, “mature older brother” of next-door neighbor PLAY is for the young professional or individual who isn’t looking to do much other than sit and drink. Great for dinner and cocktails after work or as a precursor to karaoke and dancing on the weekend, you won’t find this swanky joint hoppin’ much past 9pm on weeknights. If you take into account the shirtless, ripped bartenders and the alluring music videos played on flat screens around the room, this bar isn’t totally unadventurous. Show Tunes Sundays are always a gay old time as all the TVs display carefully selected music videos and excerpts from Broadway classics. Between singing-alongs and answering trivia questions about each clip, the night gets pretty entertaining. If that’s not your cup of tea, show up on Monday for karaoke, or any other night for whatever themed TV programming they throw at you. For the white-collared, older, sophisticated or lazy types, Tribe is probably your best bet.
Look For: Hundreds of cocktail napkins getting thrown into the air in celebration of a theatrical climax on Sunday nights.
Canvas (1707 Church Street) Just a stroll down the block from PLAY on Church Street is Canvas, Nashville’s newest addition to its queer bar scene. This hip lounge draws a similar crowd to Tribe, but, to use a mullet metaphor I just came up with, Tribe is the businesslike front and Canvas is the party in the back. Local artwork and modern decorations adorn the walls and are changed monthly. Novelty cocktails are served and always seem to be really strong, and relatively cheap, (especially compared to PLAY’s overpriced drink menu). There’s weekly live entertainment as well from local musicians, as well as dance nights and DJ sets featuring electronic, dance and house music. During the summer, they open up the massive front windows and it turns into a lovely patio. It’s like a PLAY and Tribe compromise. Sort of.
Look For: The Razzmatazz—my drink of choice.
Blu Gene’s (1715 Church Street) Years ago, Blue Gene’s was a dark, dingy, gay karaoke bar populated mostly by service industry patrons letting off some steam. A remodel (which coincided with the opening of several classier establishments on the block) has left the low-key vibe in tact while welcoming a larger segment of the queer population. Walking into a sea of cowboy hats and country ballads at 10pm, it would be easy to mistake the place for a karaoke version of a lower Broadway honky tonk. As the night wears on, however, and the cowboys start kissing each other while one elderly transgender woman sings a love song to another elderly transgender woman (her partner), a warm fuzzy feeling prevails. Blue Gene’s also, for the record, has the most queer-friendly karaoke book and best karaoke sound system in all of Nashville.
Look for: The one-woman Blue Gene’s welcoming committee, known to all simply as “Momma.” This adorable elder-stateswoman greets regulars with hugs and first timers (if she approves of your karaoke performance) with an enthusiastic thumbs up.
Lipstick Lounge (1400 Woodland Street )Though advertised as a “Bar for Humans,” for the past ten years, East Nashville’s lesbian-owned Lipstick Lounge has served as a haven for queer ladies throughout Middle Tennessee and beyond. Mingle a little, and you’ll likely speak with ladies that have driven over an hour from small towns in Kentucky or Alabama just to be at this legendary bar. This is why, despite a predominant meat market-y feeling (especially on weekends), Lipstick serves an important, almost poignant, purpose. It’s the only lesbian bar for hundreds of surrounding miles. This fact, combined with Nashville’s unique status as Music City, makes for some pretty entertaining karaoke, which Lipstick offers 5 nights a week.
Look for: Owner Jonda’s boozy karaoke renditions of “Faithfully” and “I Can’t Make You Love Me.”
Beyond the Edge (112 S 11th Street) This place is kind of gross, yet remains a favorite for many a Nashville lesbian and sports fan. Lying on the outskirts of 5 Points in East Nashville next to 3Crow Bar and Drifter’s BBQ, Beyond the Edge is the collision of a sports bar and a dive bar. There are pool tables and dart boards, TVs flashing trivia questions and at least 10 flat screens playing a variety of sports programming. It generally smells like a men’s restroom, but it has a back and a front patio that are supreme when it’s warm outside. The food is pretty damn good — especially the curly fries and chicken wings. The staff is super friendly and are primarily lesbians or girls that look like lesbians. On Sundays and Thursdays for some reason, you can count on seeing long tables filled with gay girls wearing sports paraphernalia, slamming down Miller Lite and sharing baskets of hot wings. (All the old ones congregate down the hill at 3Crow.) If you like sports, smoking, bar food and limited annoyances in a laid back environment, consider Beyond the Edge any time of the week. They’re pet-friendly too!
Look For: Distant sounds of someone singing a shitty rendition of “I Got Friends (In Low Places)” at Drifter’s BBQ next-door.
The 5 Spot (1006 Forrest Avenue) The 5 Spot isn’t a queer bar per se, but it’s notable for hosting the weekly “Keep on Movin'” dance parties, and the monthly queer dance party, QDP. More recently, it made a 5-second appearance on ABC’s “Nashville” TV drama where it was sorely misrepresented as a “trendy” music venue. (It is, indeed, one of East Nashville’s only great music venues, but just not the kind they made it out to be on that dumb show.) Besides being the epitome of a dive, this friendly, offbeat joint is appreciated by locals for its diverse crowd and excellent entertainment value.
Look For: My friends and me, congregating on the back patio at a friend’s show.
No. 308 (407 Gallatin Avenue) When you have a little cash, don’t feel like coming home reeking of cigarettes, or you want someplace with swanky “East Nashville feel,” consider 308 on Gallatin Avenue. The vibe is mixed, channeling urban, rustic, retro and chic all in one darkly-lit space. Their drinks border along the lines of old-timey “mixology bar” drinks but are ordinary enough to appeal to broke artists. But the crowd consists of not so many broke artists as it does intellectuals, East Nashville yuppies, yuppies who don’t live in East Nashville but “venture there” on the weekends to fulfil their “hipster urges” and attractive people. There are usually a lot of attractive people, including all of the gorgeous bartenders and staff. It’s basically queer-allies central. They also host Sunday brunch that is newly becoming the Sunday brunch go-to for classy Nashville queers.
Look For: Brit, the hot lezzie bartender serving someone a Bukowski–a shot of whiskey and a 6 oz. sidecar of Miller High Life.
Dino’s (411 Gallatin Avenue) This is the dive-iest of East Nashville’s dive bars with the very best jukebox in town. Adjacent to the swankier, unaffiliated No. 308, Dino’s serves beer (only) and burgers, both of which are, even by Nashville standards, extremely affordable. Local rocks bands grace the tiny “stage” occasionally, but Dino’s is best when utilized as a quiet, cozy retreat from the often-crowded 5 Points bars. On Monday nights, however, Dino’s offers an atypical karaoke night hosted by some of Nashville’s most colorful queer personalities. Don’t miss it. If you are sensing a trend, you are correct. Karaoke seems to be the drinking activity of choice for the musically inclined/literate in Nashville, queers included.
Look for: Jovial owner, Rick, forcing someone to play Captain Hook on the jukebox.
Purple Heys (1401 4th Avenue) In the unassuming, industrial area surrounding South Nashville’s Fairgrounds lies this off-the-beaten-path hangout, perfect for nights when a girl wants to be in a queer friendly environment without any pretense. This seems to be the destination of choice for those who are trying to be a little more discreet, so Purple Heys’ers tend to sustain the laidback vibes.
Look for: Bears.
TRAX (1501 2nd Avenue) This is probably the bar least frequented by Nashville lezzies, but the staff is friendly and so are the patrons. It is usually described as a bar for daddies, although there are usually a couple drag queens and random locals too. Pool tables and a great happy hour add to the appeal, unless you count the erotic photos of men all over the walls too. The name comes from the bar’s physical location – directly underneath some railroad tracks – but a lot of jokesters usually blame the alleged tendency of patrons doing HeROiN in the bathrooms. We’re pretty sure that’s just hearsay and conjecture though. BUT, if you’re into furry fandom, this may or may not be one of Nashville’s FF meet-up locations. The last time I was there, the regular I spoke to for a while was wearing a shimmering, white foxtail attached to his wallet chain.
Vanderbilt University (2305 West End Avenue) Vanderbilt, known by southerners as the “Harvard of The South,” is a research liberal arts university that also has a medical school and a hospital system throughout Nashville. Some of the best LGBT-friendly doctors can be found within the Vanderbilt Medical system and the university serves as a host to many LGBT student organizations. It is also host to a broad range of faculty who research and teach gender and LGBT studies. You may remember the New York Times story about Everett Moran, the gay Vanderbilt student who ran for homecoming queen at? He did not win but was elected to their court and attended it in drag.
Belmont University (1900 Belmont Boulevard) Belmont University – (which might ring a bell if you recall the 2008 Presidential Debate being hosted there) – is a private Christian university that has moved away from its previously strong Baptist affiliation and roots. The majority of their students are involved in the Music Business, Music, Performance or other related Arts programs, which harbor a solid population of LGBTQ students, allies and faculty. As a privately-funded university with a board that still consists of predominantly conservative Baptists, however, they still will not hire openly LGBT professors. Nashville heard a public outcry in 2010 when Belmont fired their pregnant female soccer coach after she told her athletes she would be raising her child with her female partner. Although the decision was not overturned, the campus still united in favor of the coach, proving that even though Belmont has its fair share of rich, white, uninformed conservatives, a vast majority of the community are LGBTQ allies. Bridge Builders (formerly SAGE) is the student-run campus organization that serves as a gay-straight alliance, community and resource for queer students.
Lipscomb University (3901 Granny White Pike) Lipscomb University is a private Christian college with the same hiring practices as Belmont University, but considerably more strict. Their students and faculty tend to align more with the university’s intolerant policies regarding the LGBT population than Belmont, whose students and faculty are generally supportive of the music school’s beloved queers. Members of the Lipscomb community, on the other hand, are expected to live a “church life” full time, or risk getting outted, fired or expelled by students or other faculty who are encouraged to report “forbidden activities,” (e.g. consuming alcohol or tobacco, fornicating, breaking curfew, etc). Lipscomb has a clause in its student handbook forbidding homosexual activity of any kind. Despite the conservative and moralistic reputation it has earned, there are some amazing professors and students at Lipscomb who are LGBT and friendly to the community.
Watkins College of Art, Design & Film (2298 Rosa L. Parks Boulevard) Watkins is the local art school with lots of hip kids, talented artists and weirdos, many of whom remain in Nashville after graduation. They add to the culture of our city and add artistic women to our community.
Middle Tennessee State University (1500 Greenland Dr. Murfreesboro, TN) MTSU is the largest and oldest public university in Middle Tennessee. Located approximately 40 miles southeast of Nashville in Murfreesboro, the university is a popular option for undergrad and graduate students who commute to and from Nashville. Some wish to be near enough Nashville for its music scene and city life while enjoying the cheap rent of “The ‘Boro.” Many others simply want a quality education but don’t want the high expense of Vanderbilt or Belmont, or perhaps desire a more expansive curriculum than what some of Nashville’s smaller schools offer. There is a thriving population of artists, thanks to MTSU’s excellent Recording Industry, Music Business and Music Industry programs. Alternately, a sizable number of LGBTQI students and allies major in Gender Studies, Women’s Studies, Sociology and all those other great areas of study that seem to attract queers far and wide.
Tennessee State University (3500 John A Merritt Boulevard) Tennessee State University (TSU), located in downtown Nashville, has a large African-American student body and seems generally tolerant of the LGBT community. They also offer a rich arts program and excellent marching band.
Fisk University (1000 17th Avenue) Nashville was nicknamed “Music City” by Queen Victoria, who after hearing the Fisk Jubilee Singers perform said they hailed from Music City. Fisk University is a historic black college in Nashville, and has many ties to famous artists, writers and poets.
Sports: The Classic Lesbian Pastime
Lesbians have always and forever will be associated with SPORTS, and Nashville lesbians are no different. (You can find many a girl in cargos and a sports visor in Music City.) Whether you’re a spectator, an athlete, or totally uninterested, you’ve got some options. Nashville is home to two professional teams, the Tennessee Titans (NFL) and the Nashville Predators (NHL). The Predators’ stadium, Bridgestone Arena, is downtown and the Titans play just across the Cumberland River at LP Field. Titans games in particular create an influx of older, stern-faced, jersey-wearing lesbians to nearby 3Crow Bar and Beyond the Edge on Sundays when games are taking place. During the summer, check out Throwback Thursdays at Greer Stadium for the Nashville Sounds, our minor league baseball team. TTs offer deals on concessions and locally brewed Yazoo beer for something like $2 per cup. You will get drunk. Vanderbilt women’s basketball games are always a hotbed of tense lesbians, especially when they play UT Knoxville. Lastly, the infamous Nashville Rollergirls attract throngs of queer girl fans at Municipal Auditorium to watch crowd favorites Lady Fury and Maulin Monroe duke it out on the track.
For the queer girl athlete in Nashville, there is no shortage of activities to partake in. Join the East Nasty Running Group (11th Avenue and Holly Street) every Wednesday at 6pm for a three to six mile run through East Nashville, gaytown central. With over 300 participants of varying running paces, the Nasties welcome all. Every run ends at 3Crow Bar where you can buy that cute girl you were trying to keep up with a beer. (If you’re lazy like me, just skip the exercising part and camp out at 3Crow to watch the girls run by while you stuff your face and enjoy a few drinks.) Nashville Sports League (NSL) offers tons of team sports, although kickball and soccer draw the largest number of gay ladies. For the truly hardcore, queer girls can join the Nashville Women’s Rugby team – they compete throughout the mid-South during the fall season. If you just want to stick to the gym, Nashville has an awesome collection of YMCAs that rival any private workout center. You’ll find a ton of queer girls sweating it out in the local gayborhood YMCA, the Margaret Maddox Center.
Bagel Face Bakery (700 Main Street East) is probably the queerest breakfast you can have in Nashville. The last two Autostraddle meet-ups took place there, with the queer lady owners and employees taking part. They have the best bagels in town by far, and their coffee is strong, locally roasted, and very good. But seriously, make sure to go early. They close at 1:30pm and I always seem to forget and drive over around 2:00pm.
Café Coco (210 Louise Avenue) I would be remiss to not mention Café Coco in the Nashville queer restaurant category because this place is queer in every sense of the word. Music venue, restaurant, caterer, coffee house, beer seller and takeout option all describe this eccentric Nashville meeting establishment. They are also one of the only 24/7 establishments in the city, and the countless items on their menu are always good, all the time. They have a lot of queer staff members, and the patrons are as varied as you get in Nashville. They have a sandwich with spinach and artichoke dip on it and use croissants for the bread. Have it delivered to you and save yourself the hassle of dealing with their incredibly shitty parking situation. You basically can’t park anywhere without, like, getting towed.
Snack attack: Veggie Rockefeller / Crinkle Fries
Suzy Wongs House of Yum (1517 Church Street # A) Attached to Tribe and owned by Top Chef contestant and Nashville restaurateur, Arnold Myint, Suzy Wong’s is probably the “gayest” restaurant in Nashville. This Asian fusion restaurant is owned, run, and attended by predominantly queer people. It’s pretty tasty and has a nice selection of food and cocktails on its menu, but the appeal is mostly found in the atmosphere. The upper patio area is tranquil in the summer and the inside features cushy booths, swanky decor, and accommodates a karaoke stage. And boy has that stage seen some karaoke… *cue Jordan’s heated rendition of “I Dreamed A Dream.” They’re open really late too so if you somehow get dragged into getting drunk at one of the Church Street bars with your gay boyfriends, you can stumble into Suzy Wongs and chow down on some tofu fried rice to sober up, or just keep getting drunk.
Snack Attack: Edamame / Spicy Tofu w/ Vegetables
Mitchell’s Delicatessen (1402 McGavock Pike) A fantastic, versatile deli located in Riverside Village in East Nashville. Buy a delicious sandwich, create your own lighter lunch at the salad bar (my favorite in town), or buy local produce and farm fresh eggs from a friendly staff of queers and musicians.
Snack Attack: Banh Mi / Turkey, Avocado & Bacon Sandwich / Grilled Veggie Sandwich
Mas Tacos Por Favor (732 B McFerrin Avenue) This humble, eclectically-decorated restaurant in East Nashville’s Cleveland Park area began as one of Nashville’s first mobile food vendors, serving, among others, the hungrily intoxicated. Now, as a brick and mortar shop, Mas Tacos offers not only authentic, delicious, creative tacos (with excellent vegetarian options), but also delicacies such as elote, plantains (both savory and sweet) and a killer chicken tortilla soup. A quick and cheap lunch option in a very convenient location. Once you taste most anything here, you can expect regular cravings for a long time afterwards.
Snack Attack: Elote / Fish Taco / Black Beans & Plantains
Silly Goose (1888 Eastland Avenue) A boutique couscous and sandwich shop that does it right. Local, organic ingredients make these sandwiches worth braving a crowded semi-annoying shopping center. The staff, populated (again, another trend) with queers and local music luminaries, is friendly and focused, creating a top notch dining experience. It’s the kind of place you take your parents to when they are in town.
Snack Attack: King Kong / Flower Shop / SEX
Wild Cow (1896 Eastland Avenue) Serving vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free fare, this East Nashville restaurant is sort of in a realm of its own in Nashville because there are hardly any vegetarian restaurants. The hip, health-conscious crowd boosts its cool reputation, but if you judge it based solely on the cuisine, it’s a little sub-par. They make a lot of vegan or vegetarian versions of food that just shouldn’t be meatless or dairyless, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have a few options that are consistent and satisfactory. Their menu changes frequently enough to merit giving them a couple tries before deciding if it’s the right place for you or not, especially given the lack of strictly vegetarian restaurants in Nashville. If you hate it, you can always wander around the corner to Silly Goose for one of their vegetarian sandwiches.
Snack Attack: Buffalo Grinder
3 Crow Bar (1024 Woodland Street) This quintessential 5 Points bar serves up decent food and a popular 2 for 1 night (Wednesdays and Sundays). Every East Nashvillian (that drinks) seems to visit this bar, if only occasionally, making for an excellent cross-section of the community as a whole.
Snack Attack: Jalapeño Poppers / Potato Salad / Bushwhacker
Mad Donna’s (1313 Woodland Street) With a largely queer staff and a bevy of queer regulars, Mad Donna’s is probably the gayest restaurant on the east side. This is aided, in large part, by its proximity to the Lipstick Lounge. Regular drink and food specials also make this eatery popular with bargain hunters.
Snack Attack: Bottomless Mimosas / Bloody Mary Bar @ Sunday Brunch
Marché (1000 Main Street) This Euro-chic market, restaurant and popular breakfast destination is loved by most for their simple, seasonal cuisine. It’s a great option for crepes, pastries, espresso and fine meats and cheeses. It’s kind of fancy but mostly feels casual, and the servers are very knowledgeable. Take your girlfriend’s parents there when you meet them for the first time.
Snack Attack: Steak & Eggs @ Sunday Brunch
Margot Café & Bar (1017 Woodland Street) One of the more upscale restaurants in Nashville, Margot is worth the cost every time for its original, weekly-changing menu offerings and enlightened, gay friendly staff. Owned by lezzie chef Margot McCormack (the same owner of across-the-street hang Marché), the food is fresh and simple, described as “rustic French and Italian cuisine with an emphasis on the regions of Provence and Tuscany.” That sounds about right. They have a full bar, an extensive wine selection, and a Sunday brunch that is out of this world. Reservations are typically a must. Margot is always included in local “Best Of” lists as well, for whatever that’s worth.
Snack Attack: Fried Fish Sandwich / Chicken & Artichoke Casserole / Paired Wine
Coffee Shop (G)Round-Up
As any queer traveller knows the best way to discreetly scope the queer scene in a city is through its coffee shops. Nashville has many. Some are better than others. Here’s a veteran Nashville barista’s guide to coffee in our fair city.
Barista Parlor (519B Gallatin Avenue) Coffee meets craftsmanship in this brand new addition to Nashville cafes. A true destination for coffee connoisseurs, BP features multiple roasters and brewing methods by the cup on one of those impressive gadgets used in Walter White’s “Breaking Bad” meth lab. They also work with a lot of other local purveyors so their offerings are ever-changing.
Portland Brew (1921 Eastland Avenue) This unassuming shop features the best atmosphere and second best queer people-watching in town. The house coffee is not great, but the baristas here can make a mean latte.
Bongo Java (107 S. 11th Street) The Bongo staff is notoriously snarky (with a few exceptions) and the coffee has an overall burnt taste, but, located in the heart of the gayborhood, Bongo East is prime real estate for getting the lay of the land.
Sip Cafe (1402 McGavock Pike) Queer-owned and (partially) queer-staffed, this friendly little hole in the wall is the most underrated gem in town. Serving locally roasted Drew’s Brew’s coffee and homemade Mike’s Ice Cream, Sip is a charming neighborhood coffeeshop at which most customers are neighbors and friends – a rare combo these days.
Crema (15 Hermitage Avenue) Best coffee in town. It’s a little off the beaten path with regard to other queer activities, but this place is worth a trip if you don’t mind paying a little extra for an expertly made drink.
Bongo West (2007 Belmont Boulevard) Though the original Bongo lies dangerously close to Belmont University’s campus – who has patience for college students?! – this prime hangout spot with a sprawling porch seems to be the headquarters for a portion of the Nashville DIY/punk/bicycle communities. If you are familiar with these sub-groups, you probably know that this means there are queer ladies involved.
Other than Bongo, West Nashville’s coffeeshops are a bit of a queer wasteland and a pain in the ass. I would advise avoiding them.
It’s For Your Health!
Planned Parenthood of Middle and East Tennessee (412 Doctor D.B. Todd Junior Boulevard, Phone: 615-321-7216) In addition to providing comprehensive income-based sexual health care for men, women and teens, PPMET has strong ties to the LGBTQI community of Nashville. PPMET values locally-owned LGBTQI businesses across Nashville and hosts annual fundraisers with these businesses to support LGBTQI-specific health and wellness programs across the state. To find out more information about these fundraiser events, check out the PPMET facebook page. Email jessicad [at] PPMET [dot] org for volunteer and local event information.
Nashville CARES (633 Thompson Lane, Phone: 615-259-4866) An established non-profit group since 1985 and Nashville’s only dedicated HIV/AIDS awareness center. Working closely with Vanderbilt University to help develop an HIV vaccine, Nashville Cares also provides a myriad of activities, free HIV testing campaigns and more to the Nashville community at-large for HIV/AIDS education
Oasis Center (1704 Charlotte Ave, Suite 200, Phone: 1-866-975-FREE (24 Hour Youth Crisis Line) or 615-327-4455 (all other calls)) Since 1970, the Oasis Center has tirelessly devoted countless hours to the development and enrichment of area youth. Their work focuses on at-risk groups and provides a safe place for LGBTQI teens. The Oasis Center hosts an annual LGBTQI Prom for area teens who do not feel welcome to bring their dates to their own school. The Oasis Center also hosts an after-school LGBTQI teen group called “One-in-Teen.”
Margaret Cuninggim Women’s Center at Vanderbilt University (PMB 351513, Nashville, Phone: 615-322-4843) The largest and most comprehensive women’s center in Nashville proper. This organization closely collaborates with the LGBTQI community and student organization on Vanderbilt’s campus and has their own dedicated women’s and LGBTQI library.
Office of LGBTQI Life at Vanderbilt University (The K.C. Potter Center / Euclid, 312 West Side Row, Phone: 615-322-3330)
A cultural center and a place of affirmation for individuals of all identities, The K.C. Potter Center is a great resource for information and support about gender and sexuality for all members of the Vanderbilt community. Check out the calendar of events for the LGBTQI student life group for live performances, movies with panel discussions and activist/community events. Other LGBTQI Vanderbilt-affiliated clubs and organizations of interest include: Office of Women’s Concerns (OWC), Take Back the Night at Vanderbilt (TBTN Vanderbilt), Vanderbilt Womanists, V-Day Committee (VDC), Delta Lambda Phi (LDP), LGBT MD, Medical Students for Choice (MSFC), OUTlaw, Vanderbilt Lambda Association (Lambda).
Votes For Women!
Stonewall Bar Association (Mailing Address: P.O. Box 7708 Atlanta, GA 30357-0708) This Nashville-based non-profit corporation works to promote diversity and inclusion for LGBTQ legal professionals and community members. Its roster includes: LGBTQ attorneys, paralegals, law students, and straight allies in the legal profession. The organization meets quarterly at various times and locations which can be found on their website. Annual fees are $50 for attorneys and $30 for students or others in the legal profession. Contact Sam Felker at 615-742-6219 for an application for membership.
LGBT Chamber of Commerce (Mailing Address: P.O. Box 330971 Nashville, Phone: 615-507-5185) The Chamber was founded in 1998 as a networking group for professionals. Initially it was called the Nashville Association of Professional People (NAPP). As of January 2007, the group became an official LGBT Chamber of Commerce and an affiliate member of the National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce. The categories which fall under the programming of the Chamber include: entrepreneurship, non-profit organizations, general business skills, and Nashville updates. In recent years, program offerings have included events like “How to
Apply for a Small Business Loan” and “Email Marketing, Presented by Emma.” The chamber aims to drive member businesses to each other to stimulate opportunities within the community, advocate for diversity and inclusiveness in the workplace, and recruit new
businesses to Nashville.
Nashbeepbeep – This closed membership Facebook group was started in early 2012 by a group of queer girls in Nashville. It’s a great social-networking resource with over 200 lesbian/queer/bi-identified members as of November, 2012. Some days it functions as a queer Craigslist with members posting desperate pleas for a queer-friendly room or roommate, bikes for sale, or inquiries about queer-sympathetic gynecologists in town. It’s also a message board for updates about queer dance parties or gay-fronted bands to check out in a generally over-saturated music scene. It has been responsible for at least a few members meeting and dating after attending Nashbeepbeep-advertised events together. So it’s not officially a springboard for hookups but it makes it easier to scope out cute queers and gay-friendly events you might otherwise never find through Facebook/chance public encounters alone. If you’re new to town, add yourself for admin-approved membership today!
Education For The Modern Family
Popular elementary schools are Eakin Elementary School (2500 Fairfax Avenue), Julia Green Elementary (3500 Hobbs Road) and Sylvan Park Paideia Design Center (4801 Utah Avenue). Magnet Schools like Head and Meggs are growing in popularity among public school families as well. If you are looking for a private school, University School of Nashville (2000 Edgehill Avenue) is expensive but is inclusive to diversity and is an outstanding school. Many religious private schools in the area have a Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell type of policy, so make sure when a school says it is inclusive of LGBT parents it is also inclusive of LGBT children.
Nashville’s gay community is fairly diverse and thriving. East Nashville is definitely considered the gay “hub” as its population consists of hippies, those who lead “alternative lifestyles,” musicians, and queers; A LOT of LGBT singles and couples live in the area. The 5 points bars are also a great spot to meet other local queers – especially Beyond the Edge, aka “Beyond the Lez,” and 3Crow. The 5 Spot hosts a dance party every Monday night called “Keep on Movin’,” which is a very gay-inclusive event as well and tends to bring out all the straight girls or bisexuals who like to get drunk and make out with lesbians. There’s fun to be had for all.
Other neighborhoods that are pleasant and gay friendly include the 12th Ave. South area near Belmont, Hillsboro Village near Vandy, and Sylvan Park in West Nashville. If you don’t care about going to bars and being within walking distance of schools, businesses and restaurants, live wherever you find cheap rent and choose in proximity to your job. If you are looking for the most supportive LGBT community and coolest gay hangouts though, East Nashville is your best bet.
It’s MY Body!
Since the sudden bloom of Nashville’s hipster and garage-punk scenes, tattoos and piercings are now fiercely abundant in once-conservative Music City and we’re boasting some amazing work, folks.
Lone Wolf Tattoo – If you live in the area and are planning a large, complex piece get in touch with Brandon Hanna of Lone Wolf Tattoo. Hanna is in a league of his own when it comes to custom work and recently opened a small, 2-artist shop on the East Side. He specializes in literally everything, but only books 2 appointments per day, 3 months in advance, so be sure to plan ahead.
Sheri Matlack – For those of you more comfortable lying down under a lady’s hand, (and let’s be honest, queers), pay Sheri Matlack a visit. Sheri has a knack for realism and is a wizard with both color and shading.
Music City Tattoo – If you’re looking for American Traditional with a shorter wait-time, check out Mike and/or Laura at Music City Tattoo.
All aforementioned artists work by appointment only, but are WELL worth the wait!
Kustom Thrills – For anyone visiting the city looking for a walk-in shop, stop by Kustom Thrills on Gallatin Road in East Nashville. Prodigy “The Kid” is arguably the shop’s most talented artist, but for walk-ins you really can’t go wrong with any of the artists here.
Icon – In the mood for a mod but don’t want a life-long commitment? Icon, located on the 19th block of Broadway, is the place to go for piercings. The staff is clean, professional, friendly, and knowledgeable. They also have access to high-end jewelry and gladly fill custom orders. Piercer Betty Ann is my personal favorite–if you luck out and get her as your piercer, enjoy the view.
They Don’t Call It ‘Music City’ for Nothin’!
Nashville In Harmony – Two words: GAY CHORUS. NIH is Middle Tennessee’s first and only musical arts organzation specifically created for the GLBT community. According to their website, their mission is to “use music to build community and create social change,” but more importantly, they have a lot of fun and are impressively talented. (Positions are by audition only to weed out the talentless…there aren’t too many of those in Nashville though, which probably explains why our city can have a specifically gay chorus with 50+ members.) They perform all styles of music and choral literature, from classical to pop, world, jazz, and (of course), seasonal arrangements.
Belcourt Theater (2102 Belcourt Avenue) Nashville’s only independent movie theater, The Belcourt is often the only place in town to see a queer-themed film. The theater also features an eclectic staff, including musicians, models, knowledgeable movie buffs, and, of course, queers. Located in the heart of the walkable Hillsboro Village, it’s easy to make a night (or day) out of a Belcourt trip.
The Women’s Art League – Formed in summer of 2011 by Vanderbilt University Assistant Professor of Art & Film Amelia Winger-Bearskin, this support group of artists exists as an activist group for women’s issues and also a social group of ladies who lunch. More specifically, the collective gathers to “curate, create, critique, book club, wine and dine, teach, share and workshop.” W.A.L. also publishes a zine that can be accessed here.
Art Crawl (The Arcade, Downtown / 54 Arcade, Every 1st Saturday of the month, 6pm – 9pm) This is a night to look forward to once a month for several reasons. 1) It’s free; 2) Most of the participating galleries give away free wine and refreshments; 3) It’s probably the non-douchiest thing you can find to do downtown ever, and it’s a safe distance from Broadway and the honky-tonks; 4) You can’t help but feel at least slightly cultured strolling through one of the most historic, charming streets of Nashville while checking out awesome artwork from new artists at local galleries; 5) It can be fun for a group of sophisticated friends or romantic for you and a lucky lady.
The Owl Farm (811 Dickerson Pike, Unit I) Formerly known as Little Hamilton at its Fairgrounds-vicinity location, this DIY-style space in East Nashville hosts a variety of shows and performances that are often connected somehow to Nashville’s queer community. The owners are Jazzi Bennett and Rose Marie Pink, two gals who enjoy promoting theatre, comedy, poetry, rock shows, book clubs, dance parties, and anything else that might qualify as “underground” or could potentially belong in a house show environment versus a traditional venue. The Owl Farm also sells books, art, queer-related things and zines. There isn’t really anywhere else like this in Nashville, and aside from its rather out-of-the-way location, it’s a pretty alright establishment.
The Urban Music Project is a community marching band that aims to not only play for as many unique and fun events as they can, but to also create a space where adults can participate in a stress free marching band. You can find them playing anywhere from at QDP to a downtown wedding. All ideas and members are valuable, the group is extremely LGBTQ inclusive, and welcomes all allies. Some member haven’t picked up instruments in 15+ years, but they are doing beautifully; besides, that’s not the point. The point is fun.
Things to do When You’re Feeling…Gay
QDP – Je Ne Sais Queer: Queer Dance Party @ The 5 Spot (1006 Forrest Avenue, Every 3rd Friday of the month, 9pm – 2:30 am) DJs J/K and La Force are the stronghold of this hip monthly dance party held in East Nashville. It’s the only one of its kind and features drink specials, gender neutral bathrooms, a photo booth, and plenty of beautiful, sweaty, queers. It’s a great way to meet people who you don’t always see out at bars. The website also functions as a “queer calendar.”
Drag Queen Bingo @ Mad Donna’s (1313 Woodland Street, Every Tuesday, 8:30pm) This is not your grandma’s bingo. The MD Loft at Mad Donna’s hosts frequent events: live music, salsa nights, etc., but most famously is Drag Queen Bingo night. Hosted on Tuesdays by Jenna Saqua or Paige Turner, the loft features drink specials and a snarky, rowdy drag queen calling your bingo numbers.
Trivia Night @ Lipstick Lounge (1400 Woodland Street, Tuesday, 7:30pm) Trivia at Lipstick boasts 2-for-1 drink specials and a $50 gift certificate if your team wins. If you want to come but don’t have a team, that’s no problem; the regulars are very inclusive and often ask new faces to join them for the evening. If you sit at the bar, Christa (the owner) will totally help you out on those tough questions. (If you’re super smart, go to 3Crow’s trivia.) Lipstick Lounge is Nashville’s lesbian bar, but the crowd is always eclectic.
Karaoke @ Lipstick Lounge (1400 Woodland Street, 5 nights a week, 8pm) This may be the most famous karaoke in Nashville. Well, maybe not, but it’s almost always the most fun. Performers range from American Idol contestants and current or former country stars to the freakishly untalented and tone-deaf, but everyone has a good time. Expect lots of Melissa Etheridge, country hits and Lady Gaga.
Ladies Night @ PLAY Dance Bar (1519 Church Street, Thursdays, 9pm) For the politically correct, Thursday night is “Ladies Night” at PLAY, although most of us lovingly refer to it as “Dyke Night.” Ladies get in free until 11pm, and there’s a drag king show at 10:30 pm. Yes, there’s always a Justin Bieber, but she’s usually hot or endearing. The dance floor opens up after the show and if the crowd is right, these nights can be a good time. They are primarily attended by younger lesbians who wear baseball hats and Abercrombie polos or by the lesbians that date them. This night simultaneously attracts a sizable group of well-dressed, extremely attractive African American queers. If you go with a bunch of friends and just want to dance and watch some drag kings, you’ll have a good time.
Rainbows, boobies, men in assless chaps, and glitter. Yep, Nashville’s got it all, only hotter, stickier, and sweatier because it’s always really humid by the time Pride rolls around. Nashville Pride, held downtown along Riverfront Park, seems to get bigger and gayer every year . Held on a Saturday in June, Nashville Pride attracts visitors from all over the mid-South. For a $5 cover you can check out local food and booze vendors, pretend to learn about queer activities to get free condoms and other supplies, listen to live music, and people-watch galore. The event is pet friendly too – Nashville lesbians love their rescue pups. There are a ton of activities leading up to Pride as well – drag competitions, fashion shows, fundraisers, dance parties like QDP, as well as after parties at the usual hot spots – Tribe and Play on Church Street, and more recently, the alternative/hipster crowd heads to No. 308 for late night east side pride. Mark your calendars for next year’s 25th Anniversary celebration on Saturday, June 15, 2013.
In addition to Pride in June, Nashville holds an annual Black Pride in October. Next year marks the Ten Year Anniversary. The event is organized by Brothers and Sisters United (BASU) and offers an array of activities during the weekend-long festival, including live music, spoken word, panel discussions, faith based events, film screenings, drag shows, and dancing.
Nashville is more than just country music and cowboy boots, trust us! One of the largest cities in the Southeast, the Nashville Metropolitan area boasts over 1.6 million residents, about 30% of whom are African-American and 10% of whom are Latino. The latter is the city’s fastest growing demographic. Music City is also home to the largest population of Kurds in the United States. Given the low cost of living and robust job market, Nashville’s foreign born population has skyrocketed in the last 15 years. Home to three historically black colleges and universities, (Fisk, Meharry Medical School, and TSU), Nashville has a strong and vibrant African-American history. Although the Republican party can always count on Tennessee’s electoral votes in a Presidential election, Davidson County (which includes Nashville, the state capital), has long been a Democratic stronghold. Within Nashville, East Nashville is by far the most progressive, accepting, and eclectic neighborhood.
The queer girl scene is reflective of the rest of the city – mostly white, however, the monthly dance party QDP tends to be more diverse than other nightspots. Although not officially a gay venue, Lucy Blu, a predominately black live music spot has started to attract groups of black and brown queer girls.
Nashville Metro Police Department (200 James Robertson Parkway, Phone: 615-862-7349 or 911) If you are a student and are the victim of sexual assault or something similar, you may choose to go to the Metro Police if you feel as if your school or place of employment are not doing enough to press charges or keep you safe. The good news is the Nashville Metro Police are generally kind, polite and fair when it comes to LGBT matters. NMPD officers are generally well-paid and their jobs are quite competitive compared to many other cities of Nashville’s size. This means that the officer working with you beat out many others competing for his or her position and is likely a very qualified resource. Below are some other Nashville safety resources in the areas of counseling, legal and medical concerns.
Bethany Christian Services Crisis Hotline – Phone: 800-765-7335
Crisis Intervention Center Hotline (24 hour) – Phone: 615-244-7444
Domestic Violence Hotline – Phone: 615-356-6767
Sexual Assault Center – Phone: 615-259-9055 (Information) or 800-879-1999 (Crisis Line)
YWCA Domestic Violence Program – Phone: 800-334-4628 (24 Hour Hotline) or 615-242-1199
Metropolitan Police Adult Sex Abuse Unit – Phone: 615-862-7540
Metropolitan Police Domestic Violence Division – Phone: 615-880-3000
Legal Aid Society of Middle Tennessee – Phone: 615-244-6610
Mary Parrish Center – Phone: (615) 256-5959
Metro Nashville General Hospital at Meharry Emergency Department – Phone: 615-341-4357 (Emergency Room)
Metro Public Health Department Sexually Transmitted Disease Clinic – Phone: 615-340-5647
Music City = Cheap Town
You’ll find many people here who say they only planned to move to Nashville for six months, or maybe a year, and five years later they’re still here. Music City is an incredibly easy and affordable place to live. You’ll find a variety of housing options to fit your budget and needs — rent a room in a house for $300 or gather some friends and pay $1200 for a three bedroom place with a porch and a backyard for your rescue pup. Check out Craigslist and the East Nashville neighborhood listserv for availability. Sylvan Park and parts of 12th Avenue South offer cheap rents in pretty safe parts of town. If you live anywhere near Belmont or Vanderbilt though, you can generally expect your rent cost to be significantly more expensive. Hillsboro Village is cool, but again, quite expensive to live there compared to the rest of Nashville.
Given the plethora of service industry jobs, Nashville isn’t an impossible place to just show up and find a job in. Vanderbilt, Nissan, Dell, Gaylord Entertainment, and the Hospital Corporation of America (HCA) are some of the city’s largest employers. And of course, there’s the music industry — which spans much more than just country. Unfortunately, you’ll need a car. Don’t come here without one. Despite its size, Nashville has crappy public transportation and is terribly bike un-friendly. Fortunately, the city is taking steps to improve both.
Nashville Queer Friendliness
The South is notoriously friendly. It is also notoriously bigoted. In 2006, the year I (Jordan) moved to Nashville, an anti-marriage equality proposition passed by a 4:1 margin. It felt like a slap in the face and a sign to leave.
Six years later, I couldn’t be more happy that I stayed. Having toured the United States and spent time in every major American city, I can safely say that I’m never more comfortable as a queer person living my queer life as I am in my own neighborhood. East Nashville is a haven for queer people from all over the south, and I am proud to call it home.
Why the dramatic shift?
What queer organizers in Nashville realized was that the queer community was there, it just needed outlets from which to blossom. Over the years, queers have been trickling into this city, but never felt they had a place to go. Mostly, we took over straight spaces with our 20 friends (like this). The traditional gay bars existed but were so gender-segregated and hook-up oriented that anyone with a progressively political outlook avoided them. What it took was a unifying force. Enter QDP, our burgeoning dance party, and suddenly 500 queer people are in a room together celebrating. Most queers I know, including myself, wouldn’t have guessed there were that many queer-identified people in the entire city. And now we know.
It can only get better. Due to tons of national press and the fact that Nashville is home to the nation’s best music scene, young, progressive people are moving here. People in other cities don’t grunt or say “I’m sorry!” when I tell them where I’m from. We read each day of new queer friends and friends of friends moving here looking for housing. IT’S HAPPENING. I couldn’t be more excited about it.
In April 2011, the Nashville Metro Council approved a bill to include LGBT in the current nondiscrimination ordinance (requiring contractors with the city to agree to follow Metro’s rules barring discrimination against gay, lesbian and transgendered people). Unfortunately, it was overturned by Governor Bill Haslam in May 2011. The Tennessee ACLU, however, is extremely active in cases of gender and sexual orientation discrimination.
About the authors: Erin Manning is a musician, writer and editor originally from Louisville, KY who moved to Nashville in 2005. She is a graduate of Belmont University with a passion for living and her little dog, Murphy. While she believes Nashville holds a quality queer scene, she will be departing Music City for the sprawling queer badlands of Brooklyn and Manhattan.
Jordan Caress is a singer/songwriter, touring musician and barista, as well as a freelance writer and graduate of Bard College. After living in Nashville for 6 years, she is a veteran of the local music AND queer scene.
Alexis Hoag is a federal defense attorney who moved to Nashville from NYC over four years ago for a one-year gig and never left. She lives in East Nashville with her partner, who moved here from Miami to open a family business (No. 308). Nashville has everything you’d find in a big city, plus small town charm and friendliness.
Amelia Winger-Bearskin is an Assistant Professor of Art and Film at Vanderbilt University, a performance artist, writer and speaker, as well as the founder of Women’s Art League. After moving here in 2008, Amelia has become very involved in continuously enhancing the queer community and the art scene with her work.
Kendra Schirmer is a Vernon, New Jersey native who should probably be crowned “Nashville Queen of DIY Projects.” The Bard College graduate spends her time making pizzas at Bella Nashville and improving her quality of life through a variety of home projects, recipes and healthy activities. While the Nashville queer scene could never contain Kendra, she still embraces it.
Erin Fagot is a women’s health nurse and feminist activist from the Washington D.C. area. She has lived in Nashville for over 10 years and is currently a member of the Planned Parenthood of Middle and East Tennessee’s junior board.