Is Knoxville Really One of the Gayest Cities in America?

Pridefest on Market Square

We’ll start our poll discussion with one that I will readily admit surprised me. Advocate magazine, which is a gay and lesbian themed magazine, focused their annual poll on smaller, less obvious cities. In their words “we look at the per capita queerness of some less expected locales.” So, while no one nationally necessarily thinks first of these towns as gay friendly, they want to suggest some unexpected, smaller cities which are just that. Knoxville came in at number eight.

The criteria used is an entire discussion in itself. One point is assigned for each occurrence of the following: LGBT elected officials, WNBA teams, International Mr. Leather competition semi-finalists, Imperial Court chapters, softball teams that competed in the Gay Softball World Series, LGBT bookstores, Nude Yoga, Transgender protections, and concerts by Gossip, the Cliks and the Veronicas. I’d never heard of some of these things like Mr. Leather, Imperial Court, Nude Yoga and the Cliks. Some of the people who commented on the article expressed resentment that stereotypes were being used as a criteria. I took it that they were having a bit of fun.

Would all these things combined be indicative of gay friendliness? I’m not sure. I can see the LGBT elected officials and the LGBT bookstores as well as Transgender protections, but the rest seems a bit off. It doesn’t really mention gay-friendly bars or restaurants. It doesn’t mention gay-rights parades or celebrations. Points aren’t deducted for hate crimes against gay citizens. What about gay-friendly churches? What about number of high schools with a Gay-Straight Alliance?

A few of the comments online, presumably from gay and lesbian readers, questioned the inclusion of a number of the cities, including Knoxville. One person wrote, “Knoxville is one of the straightest places I’ve ever been.” Another person who said she is in Knoxville said, “there is no way we should be making any lists.” One reader pointed out the Dolly Parton connection as a leg-up for Knoxville’s gay friendliness. Another says, “OK, I wasn’t even out when I was living there, but Knoxville? Knoxville? I’m speechless.” There were over five hundred more comments which was way too many for me to wade through looking for Knoxville references.

So, how did Knoxville gain points in the competition? They indicate that Knoxville made the list despite legislative antagonism toward gays at the state level (Stacy is mentioned directly). Of Knoxville they say, “Nevertheless, Knoxville has defiantly produced a robust gay scene, including the University of Tennessee”’s Commission for LGBT People; a welcoming spot for queer, trans, and other marginalized teens at Spectrum Café (; gay-affirming churches; and thriving nightlife.”

So, there you have it. It makes no mention of Knoxville having anything listed in the criteria, but sites things that are not included, such as “gay-affirming churches.” I learned that the cafe they mention is one evening on alternating weekends at the Unitarian Church. It seems pretty slim. 

Club XYZ, Happy Holler, Knoxville

We have no openly gay elected officials, though one has garnered mention recently due to his strenuous opposition to anything gay. An openly gay local man considered running for mayor this past election, but decided against it.

My perception is that downtown is more gay-friendly than the rest of the city and county. Gay couples routinely hold hands and stroll through Market Square and down Gay Street with no observable reaction from people they pass. We do have an annual parade and rally on Market Square, Knoxville Pridefest, which is always crazy fun. At least one restaurant downtown attracts a large gay clientele and Happy Holler features a gay bar. 

Still, we do have those pesky state legislators. We also have a large dose of gay slurs commonly thrown around in the city. Any article on Knoxnews that focuses on gays or lesbians draws a large amount of vitriol. They cannot cover Pridefest without a meltdown on the comment section. So, I’m not so sure this ranking is deserved city-wide. Downtown, maybe. What do you think? Deserved or not? Do we embrace our gay and lesbian citizens?