(This story has been edited to correct some inaccuracies in the timeline and formation of Franklin Pride and PFLAG Franklin. The lede was also edited to include a more diverse spectrum of the community.)
A local effort launched and driven to help the parents and friends of LGBTQ or gender non-binary kids, PFLAG-Franklin, has significantly impacted Williamson County and surrounding areas through advocacy and support.
Its own members have been pleasantly surprised to see the community embrace them as much as it has.
Sharon Collins founded the Franklin chapter of Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays in 2012 with regular monthly meetings beginning that same year at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church on West Main Street in downtown Franklin, which is when its current Board President Ginny Bailey came onboard — both for similar reasons: “Parents have to come out of the closet as well,” as Bailey put it.
The organization, recently spawning Franklin Pride TN as a separate yet supplementary entity, supports the social wellness of LGBTQ persons, their family and their friends who are enduring the challenge of an ill-informed and often unwelcoming society by fighting prejudicial treatment and advocating gender equity. Meanwhile, Franklin Pride — incorporated under its own name as a 501(c)(3) — provides a welcoming atmosphere through regular events for the "out and proud" crowd, operated by the same board members.
Robert McNamara, current Franklin Pride board president and former PFLAG-Franklin president board member, told the Home Page he is surprised to see Williamson County’s progressivism fuel the chapter’s growth so far.
“For me, the big surprise is our new social groups popping up in Williamson County in Franklin, Spring Hill and even Columbia,” McNamara says. “Every month there is at least one new family unit reaching out for support or comfort. And the board members step up to the challenge every time. I have never seen a more dedicated group of women dig into the root of the problem in every situation that comforts them.”
Even the pandemic has failed to stop the group’s growth as Zoom meetings, board members feel, have presented a unique opportunity, albeit a challenge, to expand those who are included in the meets, reaching people from surrounding rural areas in Maury County and Columbia, for example, and many attendees have also been inviting friends and family from out of state as well.
Approaching its 10-year anniversary, PFLAG-Franklin's monthly meetings have grown from about eight attendees to between 30 and 35 prior to introducing the Zoom component, which has sustained about 20 attendees on average throughout the pandemic.
The organization’s evolution comes a long way from when Collins and founding member Marjorie Halbert — a former board president — first created the organization and discovered PFLAG as a viable means by which to do so.
“The first milestone was getting a viable chapter up and running in Franklin,” Halbert says. “I also think reaching out to local therapists was a way we let the community know that a support group existed. Almost no one knew we were here, so talking to school counselors, therapists and doctors’ offices was a way for us to reach out to family and friends who needed support.”
PFLAG-Franklin's maturation has pushed through a period of significant growing pains for the city apropos of diversity and inclusion as the community has weathered the storm of both municipal and state policy in a court of public opinion. Bailey says she feels the city of Franklin was more ready to think outside the box on matters of diversity of inclusion, after endeavoring to complete the Fuller Story project. She explained that Mayor Ken Moore and others were exceedingly helpful to facilitate the Franklin Pride Festival.
“I think City Hall was ready for us because of the work they’ve done on [the Fuller Story project], and I’m just so proud of the city of Franklin for doing that, for working with community leaders,” Bailey says. “Seeing that was happening, we thought, here’s another place where the city of Franklin can get it right.”
The community strained under the weight of its decision to provide context around its 1899 Public Square Civil War monument with plaques providing more information on the African-American experience — all of this much to the chagrin of the United Daughters of the Confederacy and others. Franklin continues to battle over critical race theory in Williamson County Public School curriculum with facilitation from diversity-inclusion consulting firm, Fostering Healthy Solutions, and opposition from community groups like Moms for Liberty.
Bailey added that there are always more areas in need of improvement in any community.
“I just would like to kind of keep in people’s minds that we need to remove the Confederate flag from the Williamson County seal,” Bailey says. “I think there are many ways to represent our county that are positive for everyone, and we need to acknowledge that the Confederate flag is just a symbol of divisiveness and that we don’t need to promote it anymore.”
Tennessee is also suspended in limbo on the General Assembly’s so-called business bathroom bill against which the Nashville LGBT Chamber galvanized over 130 Tennessee companies of all sizes with a call to arms in the form of an open letter that saw a robust response of corporate signatures. Signatories included Dell, Mars Petcare, Nashville International Airport and D’Andrews Bakery & Cafe, the latter a winner of one of the Chamber’s flagship awards: Small Business Diversity.
The food industry is expected to be one of the major points of economic impact from the business bathroom bill as downtown Nashville restaurants like D’Andrews, as well as hotels, stand to gain the most from sporting events that pundits claim are at risk if and when Gov. Bill Lee signs the bill into law.
“If the sports world reacts as expected, we could expect to see significant economic fallout for the hospitality industry in Nashville,” Jennifer Robinson, an employment attorney at Littler Mendelson P.C., says. “Here in Nashville, the 2019 NFL Draft generated an economic impact of $224 [million] for the city in terms of spending on food, retail, transportation, lodging and local attractions. The Music City Bowl has produced more than $350 [million] in direct economic impact since its inception. The consequences of signing the ‘business bathroom bill’ into law, coupled with the devastating effects of COVID-19, could plunge the local and statewide hospitality industries into a hole too deep to crawl out of.”
Losing opportunities to host major sporting events in the near future would not be without precedent, Robinson notes. North Carolina is another state to sign a similar bathroom bill into law, and the NBA relocated its 2017 All-Star Weekend elsewhere in immediate retaliation. That same year, the Tar Heel State also lost seven NCAA championship events with the threat of losing more if action was not taken. Both dealt an ongoing, estimated $3.76 billion blow to the Carolinian economy to be realized by year-end 2028.
Franklin Pride has provided an oasis for local members of the LGBTQ+ community who endure the fallout from what can seem like an incessant barrage of policies against them by holding events for the LGBTQ+ community, such as an upcoming Happy Hour at the Hyatt House Cool Springs on Oct. 17, while PFLAG-Franklin continues to hold monthly support meetings in a confidential setting.
When Independence High School’s homecoming parade on Sept. 17 featured a pride float, it was met with indignation from the county chapter of Moms for Liberty. Local Moms for Liberty leaders invited Independence parents to voice their outrage at the Williamson County Board of Education meeting that following Monday night, and PFLAG-Franklin promptly came out in support of the pride float in opposition to Moms for Liberty.
“Through our Franklin Pride connection, we got alerted to an Instagram post that went up, and we were really concerned about it because, not only was it misrepresenting what happened, we happened to be good friends with the president of [Indy Club],” Bailey says. “We wanted to support them and their world there and support that club being in existence,” Bailey explains. “We didn’t want Independence High School to feel like they’d made a mistake in allowing that club to happen.”
The K-8 homecoming parade was said by many parents to local Moms for Liberty Chair Robin Steenman that the pride float involved students “kissing” and “groping” one another with at least one account of breasts having been exposed, which galvanized the organization to action. PFLAG-Franklin refuted the claims, but Williamson County Schools announced it was investigating the incident. McNamara speculated that someone merely made a “hyper comment” for the sake of rabble-rousing among those less tolerant.
This comes as schools are already compelled to comply with an ostensibly anti-transgender sports bill, mandating that middle and high school students prove their congenital sexes before participating on junior varsity and varsity, academic teams, also addressed by the aforementioned open letter and corresponding press conference. Exactly a week after Gov. Lee ratified it, the world’s first transgender billionaire, Jennifer Pritzker, penned an op-ed in The Tennessean, threatening to withdraw her business dealings from Tennessee companies due to these “discriminatory bills” that Pritzker claimed “do not reflect conservative values.”
On May 6, the American Society of Association Executives sent Lee a letter, appealing for his veto of the business bathroom bill. The letter threatened to withdraw the already scheduled 2022 ASAE Annual Meeting from Nashville along with its millions of revenue dollars otherwise by claiming “laws like [the business bathroom bill] put that type of economic gain in peril.”
Additionally, a Los Angeles-based LGBT-focused media watchdog, GLAAD, published its Pathfinder Opinion Poll on April 23, reporting that 31 percent of LGBTQ adults claim they will not spend tourism dollars in states that pass legislation like the business bathroom bill or the transgender sports bill. Moreover, 24 percent say they would not spend money on national brands headquartered in such states.
Franklin Pride board members consider current affairs to reflect reasons why their optimism makes sense because, despite less than conservative elements having a sonorous voice in the community and the state as a whole on many issues, the group has seen a level of growth and acceptance that gives them hope, and the recent pride celebration demonstrates that.
“I feel that having a pride celebration in downtown Franklin was a massive step for Williamson County,” McNamara told Home Page. “In organizing the event, we had zero pushback from the city. We had a much larger than expected turnout. ... We have heard from so many people that grew up here that we’re completely overwhelmed that Franklin finally had a pride celebration. Several parents told us that their child lit up when they drove down the long driveway and saw all the rainbow flags; they felt like they could be themselves.”
The pride festival, Bailey adds, accomplished two key objectives. It proved to the community how large its own LGBTQ support network actually is.
“Maybe the more important thing was that the LGBTQ+ people found each other,” Bailey says. “It can be lonely and isolating thinking you’re the only one at your office who’s gay, and if you can come to an event like we had and see it packed with other gay people, other trans people, other gender-fluid people — it was a very colorful event.”
President-Elect Heather Bottoms will begin her tenure in January, and she has helped foster growth for PFLAG-Franklin with a book club to read literature from LGBTQ authors or focused on LGBTQ issues, which presents a new opportunity for further expansion. At present, she represents the immediate future for Franklin Pride.