(Above: GSA co-founders Michelle Sciarappa and Lauren Horbal. Photo by Emily April Allen)
Queer people need queer communities. We need queer spaces of all shades and varieties, but for many of us in Middle Tennessee, our options to meet queer people outside of the internet are generally limited to a gay bar or sporadic special events that are rare and hard to find. Many areas of Tennessee are growing, and accessibility to queer communities need to grow with them. Because of the pandemic, creating and building new queer spaces has prove challenging and costly, but two brave Nashville souls have created something special: an 18 and up Gender and Sexuality Alliance.
Michelle Sciarappa (they/them/theirs) and Lauren Horbal (she/her/hers) met in college. Desperate to meet other queer peers, the two of them founded their university’s GSA chapter.
“It was the most affirming experience I’ve ever had,” Michelle said. “GSA was what I woke up excited about every day, it was my life blood, I found myself and my skills through it. I also found my best friend.” Michelle and Lauren have been best friends ever since, and as they graduated and moved on to their careers in social work and music respectively, they both had the itch for building a GSA that extended beyond students, adolescents, and young adults.
Michelle explained that their vision for Nashville GSA was the same as that of their university GSA: “We as people never stop needing a community that values and understands us. GSAs are an intentional space for LGBTQ+ people. They can be critically important, even life saving.” The only requirement to participate in their meetups is to be 18 or older and to identify as LGBTQ+ in some way.
Beyond being an organization for queer people to meet and build community, Nashville GSA is intentionally sober. Michelle and Lauren explained the need for different types of queer spaces, stressing that we cannot solely rely on night life.
“We are proud of our local bars and clubs,” said Michelle, “we know their legacy is important and they certainly meet a need for our community. We also know that our demographic struggles with addiction at remarkably higher rates due to a variety of factors. In response to this reality, we created a space that offers queer community minus the atmosphere of substances. We want to support queer people in recovery because we need one another.” They added a small but crucial point that the bulk of queer events in Nashville are late night events, and there is an obvious need for earlier evening options.
While Nashville GSA is intentionally sober, it is not a recovery program. Michelle is an excellent social worker, but GSA is centered on making connections and building friendships. Lauren’s vision for highlighting this distinction was to add a variety of programming to their meetups. Before the pandemic, GSA meetings could include yoga, improv workshops, writing workshops, self defense classes, cookie decorating, open mics, etc.—all kinds of activities to meet the diverse interests of our community. Unfortunately, Nashville’s queer scene often lacks these types of events, which are necessary spaces for all types of queer people to come together. Most, if not all, of these workshops are led by LGBTQ+ people in these fields as well.
Like the rest of the world, COVID-19 impacted GSA’s programming. Lauren explained that community engagement has always been a pivotal GSA priority, and after lots of trial and error during the pandemic, GSA is developing solid programming again.
“There are so many wonderfully talented people who have been generous enough to donate their time and energy to our group in a variety of ways,” said Horbal. “Before the pandemic hit, we were fortunate enough to have Carol Improv be guests at one of our meetings. We also had community members lead us in yoga, meditation, and a self-defense course. We look forward to continuing this in 2022! Some things we have on the books for this year include a “free market” (clothing, plants, books, and household items to swap!), a potluck at the lake, and an emergency preparedness course. Check out our Instagram account @nashvillegsa to see a full schedule of our upcoming events and feel free to reach out if you have something you’d like to share with us! Everyone has gifts to share and I look forward to meeting queer Nashvillians who are looking to build community through running and participating in our events.” Other upcoming items on the schedule are an open mic night and gathering to walk in the Pride parade. Follow their social media and sign up for their newsletter for date/time/location announcements.
Wherever you are in Tennessee, Nashville GSA is for all of us, so take advantage of their virtual meetups. There is a consistent member base, but each meeting they have hosted has always had at least one new person, and your level of involvement is completely up to you, no cost or commitments. Michelle and Lauren are hoping to host more outdoor events as we move into springtime. For all other inquiries, email firstname.lastname@example.org.