Grand Divisions

Tennessee Equality Project seeks to advance and protect the civil rights of our State’s gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender persons and their families in each Grand Division.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Won't you be my neighbor? The Neighborhood Movement and Equality in Nashville

Discussing the lack of openly gay country stars with the recent and notable exception of Chely Wright, The Independent (Ireland) observed yesterday:

"Yet Nashville has no corresponding equivalent of San Francisco's Castro district."

Certainly there is the business district on Church Street and there is a significant presence in East Nashville and in the 37212 Zip code, but the Nashville GLBT community is pretty well spread out in Davidson County. The Independent is basically right; we are without a defining gay neighborhood.

Coincidentally yesterday was also the Neighborhood Summit in Nashville sponsored by the Nashville Neighborhood Defense Fund, MNEA, IAFF (Nashville Firefighters), FOP, and SEIU. I attended to get a better understanding of the language of "neighborhood" that so animates Metro politics. I've specifically been interested in the points of connection and divergence between the neighborhood movement and our work for equality in Nashville. It's particularly important considering the passion that neighborhood issue evoke, equal to our own in the fight against discrimination.

Points of contact: Neighborhood associations and two of the sponsoring organizations of the Neighborhood Summit (SEIU and IAFF) endorsed the Metro non-discrimination ordinance last year. The majority of the current and former Metro Council Members who spoke at the summit have supported non-discrimination efforts. Current Council Members Emily Evans, Mike Jameson (who was a sponsor of the 2009 ordinance), and Jason Holleman all supported the ordinance. Former Council Members Ginger Hausser and David Briley supported the 2003 ordinance. It's difficult to find a theoretical point of contact, but it appears that many of the leading neighborhood advocates also happen to be equality advocates in our city.

Points of divergence: There aren't really any direct points of divergence. When it comes to GLBT homeowners, I don't hear any Not In My Back Yard rhetoric. Maybe that was part of old Nashville, but not so much now. Understandably the two movements will sometimes back very different candidates for office.

Why is that? The GLBT community is perhaps not as suspicious of business and development as the average person involved in his or her neighborhood. I think that's because business has led the public sector in establishing non-discrimination policies and providing partner benefits. I'm not making the case that our community shouldn't have a healthy suspicion of business and development interests. But I think this difference makes it so difficult for us to wrap our minds around why the Nashville Neighborhood Defense Fund endorsed Carolyn Baldwin Tucker for Vice Mayor in 2007. But NNDF didn't make that endorsement based on her opposition to the 2003 non-discrimination ordinance. It wasn't any attempt to glorify those positions at all.

That's precisely why it's important for equality advocates in Nashville to do more homework on neighborhood concerns if we want to be effective. It's a source of passion and power in our city's politics that could lead to new strategies for advancing legislation. Given the strong involvement of a number of members of our community in their neighborhoods, there's every reason to believe we can make those connections if we try.

-Chris Sanders

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