What’s happening to gay life in Nashville? We’ve had what six or seven bars and our local gay coffee shop close in the past year. Just this past week what was one of our strongest gay organizations, the Music City Bears, announced they were closing. The much heralded GLBT community center, Out Central, still hasn’t opened and is apparently several months behind schedule. Is the community just not supporting itself like it used to? Is this important or have “gays” become so much part of the mainstream that we don’t need an identity or community of our own?
I see it too, and I think a lot of people are noticing it. This trend isn't exclusive to Nashville either. Many of the major hot spots in larger cities like New York and Los Angeles are also seeing gay bars close their doors. Even San Francisco, which has reigned as the "gayest" city in America for decades is seeing a dramatic shift in culture.
Being gay is slowly but surely becoming more accepted in the mainstream. As it becomes more accepted, the need to segregate ourselves from the rest of society disappears. That means we go to "regular" bars instead of "gay" ones. We go to regular coffee shops too. We once needed these special places to feel safe and comfortable, but now we are strong and independent members of society. We don't feel the need to run and hide in a gay bar, because we feel just as entitled to mix and mingle with straight people.
This is bad news for gay business owners because they have to work twice as hard to keep their gay patrons coming back. Running a bar, cafe, restaurant, or retail store is challenging to begin with. Throw in the factor that you're reaching out to a very specific group of society, and then it gets really tough. You have rent, taxes, employees, maintenance. It takes thousands of dollars per month to keep a place in business, and you have to make more than double that just to keep your doors open each month.
So what can we do? Well, the obvious solution is to tell everyone to run out and support your local GLBT businesses. But it's not that simple. I'll openly admit that I've never been to a gay bar or gay club in Nashville. It just doesn't appeal to me or my partner to go out. Instead, we socialize with our gay friends at our homes. We have get-togethers, parties, cookouts. It's more low key and much more personalized.
I guess the challenge goes back to the GLBT business owners. I'd recommend looking at everything from a business perspective and deciding how you can thrive. Maybe several business owners should combine forces and consolidate into one place. You can split the cost and bring our own unique contributions to the table. Bring your patrons together and create an atmosphere that will re-invent the gay culture in Nashville.
If that doesn't work, you can expand your thinking and turn your business into a "gay-friendly" place that's inviting to the straight community but has an emphasis on the GLBT one. Remember that segregation works both ways.
Please feel free to share your opinions on the changing culture of gay Nashville. You can comment below, or send an e-mail to [email protected].
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