Pride was memorialized on the streets of Nashville, Tennessee on Saturday when city officials renamed a street for Bianca Paige, one of the city’s most legendary drag queens and HIV/AIDS activists.
Nashville city officials, including Mayor John Cooper, dedicated the former Carney Street as Bianca Paige Way at a dedication ceremony Saturday. The location is significant to Paige’s history as the gay bar Trax, where Paige regularly performed and held court, is located on the street.
“Today, I joined so many to celebrate and honor the life of Bianca Paige, a Nashville legend,” said Cooper. “It’s really amazing. Mark’s legacy in town is so memorable, and everything he’s done for HIV and AIDS. Eleven years later, we’re still celebrating him and honoring him,” Ron Sanford, a close friend of Paige, told News4 Nashville.
Brought to life by performer Mark Middleton, Paige was a staple at drag performances across Nashville for decades until his death from lymphoma in 2010, but Middleton’s true legacy lies in his fundraising efforts for HIV/AIDS research and treatment. He put a face to the cause in Nashville in the mid-90s when he publicly revealed his HIV-positive status on-stage during a performance.
“Mark decided that he was going to be the one, to be the only performer, to use his stage and his persona to get it out there,” Sanford said. “He was determined to not only tell kids and people what was going on, but to get tested and to know your status.”
Middleton donated tips from his performances to Vanderbilt University Medical Center’s Pediatric and Adolescent HIV/AIDS clinic. Middleton and Sanford founded the Bianca Paige Awareness Network to continue their HIV?AIDS advocacy and Middleton added charity events and advocacy work with Nashville Cares, ultimately raising upward of $1 million dollars for the cause before his death.
“That’s how we took care of our sick. If we – our own people – would not have come in and done the things that we did, there would have been thousands and thousands more that died,” Sanford told the Nashville Scene. “When we lost Mark 11 years ago, Nashville became a little less colorful and a lot less raucous,” Cooper said. The city celebrated Paige during Pride month in Nashville with Bianca Paige Day celebrations since 2011.
Cooper and others claimed during the dedication that Bianca Paige Way was the first street named for a drag queen, but there have been at least two streets previously rechristened to honor notable queens. The first known street to hold that honor is San Francisco, CA’s Jose Sarria Court, named for groundbreaking drag performer and political activist Jose Sarria in 2006.
Sarria, proclaimed as Empress Jose I, founded the League for Civil Education in 1960, the Imperial Court of San Francisco in 1965 and became the first out gay man to run for political office when he pursued a seat on San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors.
In 2019, Columbus, OH renamed Hull Alley to Nina West Way for notable Rupaul’s Drag Race competitor Nina West.
Even if Bianca Paige Way isn’t the first in the nation, the historic nature of its dedication isn’t lessened. It guarantees that the memory of Nashville’s most prolific and beloved queen will persist and inspire for years to come. “Do I think that he thought that he would ever have a street named after him? No. He knew he was doing good,” Sanford said. “He used to say, ‘My talent is God’s gift to me. What I do with that talent is my gift to God and my community.’ … we have to keep the name out there and get people revitalized with it.”