In March 2023, Tennessee passed the first anti-drag legislation in the United States, and it was the first to be signed into law. However, a federal judge ruled that a state law limiting public drag show performances represented an “unconstitutional restriction on the freedom of speech.”
For LGBTQ+ travelers, local politics and how we identify are important factors when choosing a travel destination and planning a trip. If you identify as Black and LGBTQ+, you may want to consider planning a vacation to queer-friendly Nashville not only because of its rich Black history but also because of its LGBTQ+ safe spaces.
Hear first-hand stories about Black trans Soul/R&B singer Jackie Shane at the Jefferson Street Sound Museum. Visit the Nearest Green Distillery where they celebrate the life of the enslaved man who schooled Jack Daniel on the whiskey distilling process. Create fun rap tracks at the new National Museum of African American Music and find out which gay bars are popular hangouts for Black queer patrons. Plan your gay getaway to Nashville with a few recommendations provided by our Black queer guide.
Civil Rights Room at the Nashville Public Library
A visit to the Civil Rights Room at the Nashville Public Library is a must-do stop when in the city. The library’s Civil Rights Collection focuses primarily on Nashville’s grassroots movement in Nashville from local lunch-counter sit-ins to the desegregation of public schools. The collection is composed of primary sources and first-hand experiences, detailing the heart-wrenching and historic situations occurring during the Civil Rights Movement in Nashville from the 1950s-1960s. Learn about how Marion Barry, a former Mayor of Washington, DC, was instrumental in protests in the city, and how Reverend James Lawson was recognized this year for organizing sit-ins in 1959. And if you’re on a quest to hit all the stops along the U.S. Civil Rights Trail, you’re in luck. The Civil Rights Room is one of 14 stops in Tennessee and a must-see stop for history buffs.
National Museum of African American Music
If you love music, then you can’t leave Nashville without stopping at the new National Museum of African American Music (NMAAM), which officially opened its doors in 2021. The museum celebrates and innovatively catalogs many music genres – from the early 1600s to the present – inspired by African Americans. In addition to the mention of notable LGBTQ+ artists such as Bessie Smith, Little Richard, Queen Latifah, and Lil Nas X, the museum pays homage to music legends and icons including Prince, Whitney Houston, Tina Turner, Michael Jackson, and yes, Janet too! Make sure you block out at least two hours to spend at the museum primarily because of its interactive stations where visitors can create their own music, spit a few bars, or follow the dance moves to some of Beyonce’s most popular tunes. Visitors can record and download it all as souvenirs from their visit.
Jefferson Street Sound Museum
The Jefferson Street Sound Museum is another must-visit gem in Nashville for music lovers. Founded by native Nashvillian Lorenzo Washington, the museum preserves and promotes the music and legacy of the city’s historic Jefferson Street from the 1940s through the 1970s. If you’re lucky enough, Washington will be available to tell you his personal stories about Etta James, James Brown, Ike and Tina Turner, and Jackie Shane, a local transgender Soul/R&B singer known for her 1962 hit “Any Other Way.” Not surprisingly, Shane had more success in Toronto than in the U.S. Speaking of successful artists, Legendary Jimi Hendrix learned to hone his guitar-playing skills in Nashville.
At the peak of its popularity, Jefferson Street was once lined with Black music venues – Good Jelly Jones, Anne’s Place, Fireside Club, Club Stealaway, Black Diamond’s Club, and others – where the aforementioned artists, as well as Ray Charles, Otis Redding, Little Richard, B.B. King, Marion James, and Marvin Gaye, performed.
The LGBTQ+ nightlife in Nashville is more diverse than most would think, especially with dozens of music venues, restaurants, and bars found along Music Row, centered on 16th and 17th Avenues South. And if you’re looking for good music, those are all the places you’ll find good music of all genres. But if you’re looking for popular queer watering holes, Black queer visitors should check out Canvas Lounge, a neighborhood bar with a mixed crowd (ethnically and gender), and regular theme nights such as game nights, jazz nights, karaoke nights, Eagle nights, and a community night for lesbian, queer, and gender non-conforming folx. Queer women normally congregate at Lipstick Lounge, a lesbian karaoke bar in the East End neighborhood that has a cozy lounge area on the second floor.
A 13-minute Uber ride away, Tribe and Play Dance Bar are located on Church Street. Located side-by-side, both bars are owned by Todd Roman and David Taylor. Tribe has a sports bar vibe with pool tables, a small stage for performances, a pool table, and a spacious outdoor space that includes a deck to give patrons a cool view of the city. Next door, Play Dance Bar has a large dance floor with a DJ playing popular tunes, while on the side of the bar, you can grab a drink and check out fun drag performances throughout the night.
Nearest Green Distillery (Shelbyville, Tennessee)
Black queer travelers who enjoy whiskey should consider a visit to Nearest Green Distillery, just a little more than an hour’s drive from Nashville. It’s worth a trip to discover that enslaved Nathan “Nearest” Green was Jack Daniel’s mentor and guide when it came to mastering the whiskey distilling process. Green is also touted as not only the best whiskey maker in the world but also the first-known African-American Master Distiller on record in the U.S. Uncle Nearest Green Premium Whiskey is the “fastest-growing whiskey or bourbon brand in U.S. history and the top-selling Black American-owned spirit of all time.”
Don’t leave here without checking out the new Humble Baron, the world’s longest bar at 518 feet, that serves elevated fare, hand-crafted cocktails, and live entertainment. Arrange a whiskey tasting and tour of the expanding property. Looking for some tasty barbecue for lunch or to go? Grab a bite to eat at Barrel House BBQ where the Grilled Cheese on Crack, Pulled Pork, Collard Greens, Mac & Cheese, and Peach Cobbler are recommended.
Carnton Plantation (Franklin, Tennessee)
Located a 30-minute car drive south of Nashville, Franklin is a small-town vibe that may or may not be comfortably suitable for Black queer folks. However, there are a few cultural sites to see, including the Carnton Plantation, which witnessed the bloodiest battles of the entire American Civil War. It also served as the largest field hospital in the area for hundreds of wounded and dying soldiers.
Franklin’s Public Square (Franklin, Tennessee)
If reliving that period of time is not something you wish to do, then you should check out the city’s new historical markers and a statue that tell the fuller story of what really happened in Franklin’s public square, including slave markets, race riots, the Battle of Franklin, and freed slaves signing up at the courthouse to fight in the US Colored Troop division of the Army. The “March to Freedom” statue honors USCT soldiers and was added to the public square in 2021. It is one of six in the nation and the only one displayed in the public square of a city.
McLemore House (Franklin, Tennessee)
For more Black history in Franklin, you may want to consider visiting McLemore House and African-American Museum, the home of former slave Harvey McLemore, which reopened this year (2023) after a $125,000 renovation. Following the Emancipation Proclamation, McLemore became a successful farmer and one of the first Black landowners in Franklin. The McLemore House dates back to 1880 and it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Alma McLemore, a direct descendent of Harvey McLemore, leads the African-American Historical Society and is a principal of the public elementary school across the street from the museum.
Where to Stay in Nashville: LGBTQ+-Friendly Hotels
Although there may not be any notable LGBTQ+-owned hotels in Nashville, the adults-only Urban Cowboy Nashville is a Black-owned hotel that you may want to consider staying when visiting the city. Jersey Banks is the co-founder and co-owner of the Urban Cowboy brand, and this hotel features a live music venue, porch, garden, and the Parlor House Bar, which serves good craft cocktails and food, including award-winning pizza. It’s located in Nashville’s East End neighborhood, but if you’re looking for a hotel that’s located in the city’s downtown area, you may want to consider the LGBTQ+-friendly Bobby Nashville, which celebrated its 5th year in April 2023. The trendy, hotel has 144 guest rooms and suites, located next to historic Printer’s Alley. It also features the chef-driven Tavern, quirky Garage Bar, Café at Bobby, and a Rooftop Lounge with an AstroTurf-covered area for games (think cornhole) and live music performances, a bar that serves handcrafted cocktails, a pool, and a full-sized bus that serves as a lounge.
This hotel is conveniently located within walking distance of some of the places mentioned above, including the Nashville Public Library, Music Row, the National Museum of African American Music, and upscale dining experiences such as The Twelve Thirty Club or the popular spicy chicken joint, Prince’s Hot Chicken, located inside the Assembly Food Hall on Broadway Place.
For more information and inspiration about Nashville, visit https://www.visitmusiccity.com.