Even though Tennessee has some of the most restrictive laws against the LGBTQ+ community in the country, citizens of Memphis are preparing for the largest pride parade the city has ever seen.
Organizers said they expect the Sept. 28 parade to top last year’s attendance of 15,000 and are aiming to use the increased exposure to create more unity within the local area.
Ray Rico, the publisher of the LGBT+ magazine Focus Mid-South, said pride celebrations in Memphis give the community a chance to come together and shine, as well as offer those in smaller towns a voice
“Love is love, plain and simple,” Rico said. “Join us and fight for what’s right - equality.”
The parade is one of three events over the weekend, which organizers hope will help to create a safe space and raise awareness of LGBT+ causes. A Big Gay Dance Party will be held Sept. 27 at Minglewood Hall, and a Brunch Crawl on Sept. 29 will end the weekend.
Research has shown that Tennessee is not as tolerant of the LGBT+ community as other, more progressive states. People in Tennessee can still be dismissed from work or be denied housing based on gender or sexual orientation. Findings from the Transgender Law Center found that 47% of transgender citizens from Southern states have experienced violence. There are currently no restrictions or bans against conversion therapy, the process of attempting to change one’s sexuality using psychological methods.
Mid-South Pride (now Memphis Pride) was founded in 2004 to promote diversity, unity and equality among all groups in the Mid-South region. Opera Memphis, a local performance company, is taking part in this year’s pride parade with their float and have incorporated pride into their 30 days of Opera campaign.
“Events like pride encourage people to think and recognize connections to other people such as the LGBTQ community,” said Opera Memphis’ Ned Canty.
Canty said Opera Memphis is involved with pride due to the parallels between opera as a musical form, and the LGBT community.
“Opera is about having empathy, feeling what others are feeling,” Canty said. “We draw many similarities with the LGBT community.”
Although Tennessee is a conservative state, many people in Memphis hold more liberal views. LGBT+ media expert Dr. Robert Byrd, who is a journalism professor at the University of Memphis, said a more progressive attitude might be due to the Mississippi River, allowing more movement of culture.
“You had the civil rights movement here and a lot of conservative white people left,” Byrd said. “The acceptance of those who came back in changed the makeup of the city.”
Byrd said Memphis’ diverse history has created a “majority-minority,” leading to further tolerance within the city.