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Knoxville: Gayest City in Appalachia?

By Beth Newberry

Garden and Gun magazine brought us best of small-town hideaways, including mountain faves Floyd, Va., Shepherdstown, W.Va. and Lake Lure, N.C.

Southern Living has offered up a ballot of 10 cities vying for readers’ votes this month for tastiest southern city, including the Appalachian city of Birmingham, Ala. and near-App cities of Charlottesville, Va., Baltimore, Md. and Louisville, Ky.

And now The Advocate magazine has named Knoxville one of the Gayest Cities in America for 2012.  The national LGBT news and culture magazine determined the list—giving Knoxville the number eight spot—by a unique, if tongue-and-cheek, list of criteria probably not used in the U.S. Census, unless there’s a category we don’t know about for counting attendance at concerts by Gossip, the Cliks and the Veronicas. Writer Matthew Breen says this year’s list took into account “per capita queerness of some less expected locales.”

But what factors got Knoxville in the top ten? Three points (one per team) for number of teams competing in the Gay Softball World Series and one point for its LGBT bookstore. Breen wrote of the capital of Vol Country, that “the University of Tennessee’s Commission for LGBT People; a welcoming spot for queer, trans, and other marginalized teens at Spectrum Café (SpectrumCafe.org) [and] gay-affirming churches” were attributes that made it gay-friendly. On the down side, it noted that the Tennessee state legislature is ruinous to state and local gay rights initiatives, but not awful enough to bump it from the top-ten list.

Knoxville was the only App city on this year’s top 10 and honorable mentions list, and so by default, could be considered by some as the Gayest City in Appalachia. While some readers commenting on the article took issue with the criteria or the winners (“WTH Knoxville?!? Nashville is such a better gay city.”), Jason Howard, Appalachian author, has some almost-hometown-pride in the designation having grown up “on the Kentucky/Tennessee border just an hour and some change above Knoxville,” he says. “Gay men in particular have loved Knoxville ever since Dolly Parton sashayed on to the set of The Cas Walker Show. We’ve always made cracks about Gay Street, which runs through the heart of downtown. Now it looks like Gay Street might finally be main street for all of us.”

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