By Laura Valentine
“It’s one thing to be tolerated, but another to be celebrated,” shares Greg Cason, as he and husband Landry Boyle share the challenges they face as an outspoken, black, gay couple in Middle Tennessee.
When Greg and Landry began planning their wedding, a ground-breaking decision by the Supreme Court on June 26, 2015 made it possible for them to move the location from New York to Tennessee. With deep familial and peer groups in Nashville, and across the state, they were faced with the very real challenge most couples face — who to invite to the wedding.
They knew they wanted to be surrounded by family and friends who would not just “tolerate”, but “celebrate” their union. Holding up those two words next to each name on a potential guest list made it easier for them to know who would not only “celebrate” their vows, but support their marriage beyond the festivities of the wedding day.
“I was surprised at how easy it was to get a license and how cordial everyone in the County Clerk’s office was toward us,” recalls Cason. Now that they had the license, the first challenge was identifying who would officiate. Normally, a couple would turn to their pastor to preside over their wedding, but like so many in the LGBT+ community, they had been forced to leave their church home when lambasted with anti-gay rhetoric from the pulpit. And what wedding would be complete without music? Their first call was to a friend, a gifted church musician by profession. Imagine their disbelief when he wanted to say “Yes!”, but felt he must first gain permission from the pastor of the church that employed him. Luckily, permission was granted. And, like many couples, Greg and Landry were depending on their wedding planner to consider and plan for all contingencies when it came to their important day. They were a bit deflated when their wedding planner insisted they hire security in case someone was intent on disrupting the ceremony. It was a contingency that in the end proved unnecessary, but one wonders if the same suggestion would have been made, had they not been a same-sex couple?
Despite the challenges, love prevailed and on September 3, 2016, they were married in the company of 300+ people, whom they consider their support network, ensuring a long and happy life together.
The Beatles may have written, “All you need is love,” but Greg and Landry know a long, happy life together depends upon equal protection under the law and equal access to all opportunities and privileges (afforded to some people) in this nation. To them, it’s a variation on the theme of being “tolerated” versus being “celebrated”. Nowhere is this more evident than in the LGBT+ African American community. As Greg and Landry adamantly stated, “someone needs to be the catalyst for change and we are doing what we can.”
Indeed, Cason is doing what he can, not only at work as Regional Supplier Performance Manager of Purchasing at Nissan Group of North America, but through volunteer service at the committee and board level for many vital businesses and non-profit organizations in service to the LGBT+ community. He has or is serving on committees or boards of Nissan Gay-Straight Alliance, Nissan of North America where he serves as the Community Engagement Director and Treasurer of Nissan’s Multi-Cultural Business Synergy Team, Nashville CARES, Nashville Black Pride, Nashville Pride, Nashville LBGT Chamber of Commerce, Common Ground Cooperative, and MashUP Nashville.
This level of service has given Cason a bird’s-eye view of the complexities of issues facing the LGBT+ community and the agencies attempting to serve them. It also affords him an opportunity to build bridges of understanding with community leaders, policy makers, and educators on the needs of people of color who identify as LGBT+. As a gay, black man, he has the credentials and life experience to articulate the isolationism that comes from a lack of safety in or nurturance from communities of origin, as well as the sense of disenfranchisement from the larger LGBT+ community. “Especially in Nashville, people of color who identify as LGBTQ and have outgrown the bar scene are starving for a gathering place where they feel welcomed, valued, safe, and can build community,” Cason reveals.
Cason and Boyle may very well be the couple to create a welcoming space so many are craving. Alongside his 18-year career with Nissan, Greg’s passion has been planning events and parties for family and friends. Needing something outside of the corporate setting [at Nissan] to feed his creative spirit, Cason founded Inspired Concepts & Events, LLC in 2017, a full-service event planning company. In its first year of operation, revenue projections were surpassed and in 2018, they planned and executed 40 signature events. Employing 10-12 part-time employees at all times, they take the client’s vision and turn it into reality. “It’s my goal to one day be able to retire from corporate America and do event-planning full time,” Cason says with a smile. With a 2-3 year business plan geared toward growth in their niche market, he may realize this dream very soon, a dream shared by Boyle, who is involved in all aspects of the event-planning business, working side-by-side with his husband.
Change agents don’t wear signs or capes or have a special handshake; they show up again and again. The next time you’re at a community event, look around; you’ll most likely find Greg Cason and Landry Boyle among the crowd, with an extended hand, a wide smile, a kind word and a willingness to put in the hard work for change.