I’m Black, I’m Gay, and I just Cancelled My Vacation to Tennessee. Here’s Why…

Map of Nashville Tennessee-Adobe Images

About a month ago my partner came to me and said for his birthday this year he wanted us to take a road trip. Now mind you, he and I are nearly 20 years together, and except for driving to Boston or Provincetown from New York during the summer, we have never taken a “road trip,” just the two of us, across or through other parts of the country.

I asked him where we were going? In the past, he had expressed an interest in visiting the very artistic and reportedly very gay city of Asheville, North Carolina, and this was the destination he decided upon. It’s his birthday, so I said Ok, let’s do it. But wait, “There’s more,” he said. He went on to explain that he thought it might also be fun to drive through the countryside to Nashville, Tennessee, and then into the Smokey Mountains to visit Dollywood.

I had always wanted to see Dollywood, as I have been a major Dolly Parton fan my whole life. Visiting Nashville was a dream too. I’m a singer-songwriter, and that town is the songwriting capital of America! I had always wanted to see the Johnny Cash Museum too. This was shaping up to be an excellent idea for a road trip. I was excited.

The Johnny Cash Museum – Adobe Images

But then reality set in … and I remembered a few current news headlines.

In recent months, Tennessee has been a hotbed of intolerance and racial tensions on the rise. During October 2018, four gay bars in Nashville received anti-gay, pro-Trump threats via email.

According to NewsChannel 5: ‘On Thursday, Melvin Brown, owner of Stirrup, received a flyer in the mail with the letters LGBT on the front of it. But instead of standing for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender, the letters LGBT are portrayed with a picture of the Statue of Liberty, a gun, a beer and an image of President Trump. The postcard has a “MAGA” stamp on the back of it and has a return address that traces back to an empty lot in downtown Nashville. “When you put a picture of an assault rifle on there which was used in the Pulse shooting, and you mail it to every LGBT bar in Nashville, that is coming from a hateful place. To say that it’s disturbing is an understatement,” Brown said.’

In a separate incident, Tennessee made the news when a man was arrested for a homophobic attack. His arrest came about after he went online, covered in blood, to brag about the beating. He claimed the victim had “grabbed his junk and molested him,” but as yet that allegation is unsubstantiated and the police suspect he is lying. The victim suffered a broken nose and orbital eye socket. He denies he made any physical advance toward his attacker but does admit he propositioned him.

With all these homophobic incidents occurring in Tennessee I wondered was there a reason for concern or was I just being paranoid? I mean bad things can happen anywhere, right? So, I convinced myself that I should give Tennessee another consideration. I mean, after all, I hear they have the most kickass BBQ in the country, and that alone could sway my decision.

However, around this same time, came more disappointing news from Tennessee. Reportedly hate-crimes are on the rise across the entire state, and a landmark civil rights building had been burned to the ground. White supremacy symbols were found nearby in the charred rubble:

The Southern Poverty Law Center has reported that Tennessee today has 36 hate groups. The “hashtag symbol” found painted near the site of the fire indicates one of these groups could be the culprit. The symbol is commonly used by many white supremacy groups in the area through its actual meaning is not known. Jefferson County Sheriff Jeff Coffey told the Knoxville News Sentinel, “It’s not a traditional, throw-it-in-your-face symbol that you would immediately recognize.”

Landmark Building Arson-Adobe Images

The city of Nashville, Tennessee is supposedly more progressive and metropolitan as a city as compared to the outskirts of town, but if you are driving there, from New York City as I was planning, what happens if you accidentally end up on a back road, as a gay interracial couple? How safe are you?

All things considered, I really would like to visit Tennessee one day, but with gays and blacks being targeted in hate crimes, I check both those boxes. I would love some of that good BBQ, but until Tennessee gets a grip on its 36 and counting white nationalist hate group problem, I’m going to have to hold off on the Smokey Mountains ribs and Dollywood … for now.


This piece is an opinion piece by one Contributing Writer for Instinct Magazine and may not reflect the opinion of the magazine or other Contributing Writers.

19 thoughts on “I’m Black, I’m Gay, and I just Cancelled My Vacation to Tennessee. Here’s Why…”

  1. What is the point of this piece? The Southern Poverty Law Center reports that, in 2018, there were 47 hate groups tracked in New York. This number exceeds the 36 known groups in Tennessee, but the author seems to feel safe while driving in New York. With this fact alone, he completely loses his credibility with this blatant exhibition of hypocrisy. There is hate all over our nation, and unfortunately, it’s not going anywhere; it is woven into the tapestry that defines it was the United States of America. What we certainly don’t need is the fear mongering that this biased point of view perpetuates. I, too, am a gay, Black man who has exclusively dated white men. I have lived not only in Tennessee, but I grew up in Arkansas, spent most of my adult life in Chicago, and have called Baltimore, Miami, St. Louis, Atlanta, Little Rock, Memphis and various other stops along my American journey home. None of them are utopias by any means, but neither of them can be completely defined by an isolated, negative experience. I am not afraid to travel anywhere. If I really want to visit, I certainly won’t be deterred by one or two negative reports from a metropolitan area of 1.903 million people. The probability of being attacked are slim to none. The writer’s indignation has garnered the attention it needed. Now I suggest he either proceeds with the road trip and enjoys everything he’d originally set out to see and do, or stay home and live in the unnecessary fear to which he has chosen to exiled himself. Either way, Nashville will never know the difference.

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  2. Thanks. Can you please site the full source data on which you have shared these numeric statistics? Provide the links in your reply and cite the sources if you don’t mind. I too am in NYC and can find no data to suggest that 90% of gay bashings are committed by African Americans.

    Brooklyn has a decades long history of tribalism and racial tension among Blacks and Jews and between Russians and Blacks. This is not to be conflated with white nationistic terrorism in which a hate group burns down the homes and buildings of a minority group to intimate them and proclaim supremacy over them based on skin color

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    • I don’t even know if there are statistics on race and gaybashing in NYC. But if you want to start listing the gaybashings this year and….going back…it will be like I said, percentage-wise. Except for that one summer of 2013 when every gaybashing was by a Hispanic (which had people wondering if it hadn’t become a gang initiation) and Mark Carson (African-American) was murdered. Whether a place has alleged hate groups or not, when it comes to personal danger, NYC might very well be more dangerous for a gay black man in an interracial relationship than Tennessee. I’m only using the specific attacks as evidence (I’ll admit there are more people in NYC than any town in Tennessee though, which might account for some of it). In December Allahseed Allah beat the lesbian on the subway so bad he fractured her spine after he saw her kiss her girlfriend….

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      • “But if you want to start listing the gaybashings this year ” – but I don’t. I just want you to provide proof for the statics you offered.

        You distinctly made a point to claim African Americans are culprits of 90% of gay bashings and anti-Jewish crimes. Then I asked for proof and you, you had none, and instead pivoted the conversation elsewhere. As an African American I find that offensive. If you do not have any data statistics to provide, then why and how are you making that claim?

        That sort of reckless language is dangerous.

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        • If you consider it reckless language. But I can start links to the attacks in Brooklyn (always brought up on Gothamist) of the incidents, and feel free to counter it with attacks on NYC Jews by non-A.A. assailants. I think your being “offended” should be directed somewhere else. (BTW : I would be amiss if I didn’t bring up the beating of AA and gay Taj Patterson in Brooklyn by Hasidic Jews. That was a pretty severe attack). But, again, another reminder that maybe NYC is more dangerous than anywhere in Tennessee in a zillion ways ?

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  3. As for BBQ, we here in Memphis have the most famously good BBQ in the world; we even have a world championship BBQ contest on the Mississippi River every May.
    We’re also the most liberal part of the state, home of Sun Studios and the National Civil Rights Museum.
    If you do decide to ever come to Tennessee, I humbly recommend our sane corner of the state. Thank you.

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    • Actually, I doubt he ever really had plans to visit Tennessee. He just wanted to be over-dramatic. But cool that you stick up for your state. I live in NYC and we have nothing here lately but very overly-expensive boredom and lots of gaybashings, unfortunately.

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      • Wrong. I was pretty detailed as to my interest in going when my partner suggested it. His birthday is April 12th and we did infact make alternative travel plans this week instead of the original plan of going to Tennessee. How are you doubting me when you don’t even know me? What are you talking about? ??‍♂️

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  4. As a gay family from Ohio that visits Dollywood four or five times in an average year, we have never felt threatened or unsafe there or in any of the surrounding communities. We also visit Memphis at least a couple of times a year (where I recently was a finalist candidate to run their local LGBTQ community center). Regardless of the headlines, Tennessee is just as safe as anywhere in the US. Simply remember, the media splatters every shark attack all over the news, but out of the hundreds of millions of people who swim in the ocean each year, only about 80 are attacked by sharks. I’d say your chances of a bad experience in Tennessee because of being gay are about the same as a shark attack if you swim in the ocean.

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  5. As a white, gay man in an interracial relationship and a nearly lifelong resident of greater Nashville, I can say with 27 years of experience under my belt that this city is a thriving culture center with plenty of friendliness for the large and active LGBT community here. From initiatives to highlight and celebrate LGBT-owned or welcoming businesses around town to its vibrant annual Pride celebrations, any tension form the “other” is little more than a nuisance to be silenced with a sweet-as-pie “Bless your heart!” Likewise, your concerns of the more outlying areas of our state are an equally unfortunate assumption. We have traveled east to Knoxville and west to Memphis with no problems whatsoever, and I frequently visit extended family in rural West Tennessee. The Smoky Mountains have long been a favorite family getaway going back to my childhood, and Dollywood is a must. You’ll encounter people who perhaps don’t understand you or even openly disapprove of you no matter where you go. On that front, the great state of Tennessee is not unique, but with the exception of random crime, a risk in any city, safety on the basis of sexuality or race is of no greater concern for us than anywhere else in the United States. I sincerely hope that you will reconsider, because both Nashville and the Smokies are well worth the drive through some of the prettiest country you’ll find, and I know you won’t be disappointed.

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    • What a beautiful reply and I appreciate you sharing your details in response to my article. You do make me want to give Tennessee another consideration.

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  6. It’s really, really sad that going to a city in a state in this country has become more and more dangerous in the last few years. I’ve been to Nashville. As conservative as the “country” in our county can be, it was not my experience. It was a great city and a great state to see.
    The direction should be going the other way but even in cities in “liberal” California, idiots can make life perilous. Take a look at San Francisco. Hate crimes there are higher than they have been in years. We’re in a very, very sad state of the union. Eliminate the hate. Move on.

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  7. I’m gay and white and in NYC. 90 percent of anti-gay attacks here are by African-Americans. Black-on-Jewish crime is bad too (especially in Brooklyn). Ill give links from Gothamist to several incidents. So…….any place is dangerous, I guess. Go anywhere, just be careful. (Within reason. Definitely stay away from Muslim countries if you’re going to not be discreet about being gay. Or even Muslim sections of European cities).

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