When my alarm chimed at 4:30 a.m., I woke up to a dark and foggy Saturday morning. It was finally here—the 2021 Nashville Pride Parade and Festival! Excited and anxious to get my day started, I checked the weather only to see severe storms rolling into Nashville. An ominous sign I feared, especially as this was my first Pride festival ever. Never underestimating the power of strong, black coffee and some sugar, I poured myself a large cup of java and began to reminisce about my journey that had led me to this day.
This is like going from zero to one hundred, I thought to myself, as I reflected on how I only stepped into my truth just a few short years ago. Now, here I was, chair of Gresham Smith’s LGBTQ+ Alliance Employee Resource Network (ERN) and ready to fill my car to the gills with flags, T-shirts, stickers and glasses that were all the colors of the rainbow.
“As I headed out the door at 6 a.m., that old Barbra Streisand song “Don’t Rain on My Parade” kept running through my head.”
Perhaps most importantly, I was about to march in my first Pride parade, side-by-side with my ERN team along with a number of LGBTQ + allies who had also volunteered for the event. I was especially excited to reconnect with some of my colleagues whom I hadn’t seen in person since the COVID-19 pandemic began. A few members of the group were relatively new to Gresham Smith, so I’d be meeting them for the very first time.
As I headed out the door at 6 a.m., that old Barbra Streisand song “Don’t Rain on My Parade” kept running through my head. Just as I made up my mind that nothing was going to rain on my first Pride parade, I caught a glimpse of The Korean War Veterans Memorial Bridge—all lit up in rainbow colors in honor of Pride. The fog was so thick that morning that the light reflected off the haze, making the colors appear much brighter than usual. Despite the “pea-soup” conditions, it had clearly decided to shine—and so had I.
Photo courtesy of Good Neighbor Festivals
Only One Way to Go from Here!
We were one of the first vendors to arrive and begin setting up our booth at Bicentennial Capitol Mall State Park—a new venue for Pride since it outgrew its previous location at Public Square Park. Other Pride vendors soon began to roll up and ready their booths for the festival, including Metro Nashville Police Department, Nashville Cares, the Nashville LGBT Chamber, the Human Rights Campaign, Big Brothers, Big Sisters and many more.
As I watched the drag queens dancing in the rain, some of them with rainbow umbrellas in hand and doing their best to keep their wigs dry, it occurred to me that they, too, weren’t going to let the rain dampen their spirits.
The closer it got to the parade start time, I realized that I was beyond ready to “get my rainbow on” after waiting so long for this moment. I began to think about the significance of the event and what might have gone through the minds of those who marched in the very first Pride parade way back in 1970, which commemorated New York City’s Stonewall Riots just one year earlier. What a day it must have been for them. What a day it was for me.
As if right on cue, it began to rain harder than ever as the parade lined up at the Woodland Street Bridge. Those of us marching were toward the end of the parade, while the floats—which I thought might literally float away—were at the front. Even though it felt like we were standing directly under a high-pressure showerhead, the rain felt quite liberating to me. Between the storms and the COVID-19 pandemic, surely there was only one way to go from here—which was up!
Walking the Walk
Soaked to the bone and wearing our mostly solid-white Pride T-shirts, we started walking the parade route at around 10 a.m. As we squelched along behind our custom-designed Gresham Smith banner, carrying every type of LGBTQ+ flag in existence, it wasn’t long before we were buoyed by the sounds of encouragement coming from both sides of the street:
“LAWYERS OR ACCOUNTANTS?” shouted the onlookers. “ARCHITECTS AND ENGINEERS!” we proudly called back. “AWESOME—HAPPY PRIDE, GRESHAM SMITH!”
Photo courtesy of Good Neighbor Festivals
As we handed out our miniature rainbow flags along the way, I was overwhelmed by a sense of gratitude and comfort—Gresham Smith had wholeheartedly “walked the walk” by stepping up as a Pride sponsor. It was amazing to see a diversity of other sponsors, too, from Amazon, AllianceBernstein and Dollar General to Cracker Barrel and Tractor Supply—all uniting to support the LGBTQ+ community. I was also touched by how many people approached us and asked if we were hiring as we were one of the few firms in our industry that chose to participate in the event.
A Hollywood Ending
At around 4 o’clock, Dolly Parton’s words of wisdom: “If you want the rainbow, you gotta put up with the rain,” came to mind as the downpour turned into drizzle, the sun peeked through the clouds, and, as if in a colorful display of solidarity, dozens of rainbows appeared in the sky. Between Mother Nature and the festival, there were rainbows as far as the eye could see. I felt so blessed and proud of our group and how they soldiered on despite the rain.
Our team’s spirit of resiliency that day got me thinking about the resiliency of the LGBTQ+ community as a whole and the many storms that have been weathered over the years in an effort to simply be accepted for who we are. In Nashville and across the globe, Pride gives us an opportunity to celebrate that resiliency and to elevate the voices of all those who fall under the LGBTQ+ umbrella (sorry for the rain-related pun), which encompasses so many diverse identities.
If I had to sum up my very first Pride festival, I’d have to say two things: 1. It was one of the best experiences of my life, and 2. I didn’t let anything rain on my first “out and proud” Nashville Pride parade! It was so worth the wait.
Here’s to 2022 Nashville Pride—come rain or shine!
Somehow we made it through the rain! Pictured left to right: Amber Henson, Brandon Salas, Beth Hiltonen, Brandi Amos, James Amos, Ben Nicholas, R.J. Tazelaar, April Tazelaar and Alicia Fligg.