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Nashville: Why Will's story line is gut-wrenching for this Southerner to watch

Julie Sprankles is a freelance writer living in the storied city of Charleston, SC. When she isn't slinging sass for SheKnows, she enjoys watching campy SyFy creature features (Pirahnaconda, anyone?), trolling the internet for dance work...

Nashville makes an important point with Will Lexington's homophobia story line

Tonight on Nashville, fans finally got to see Will Lexington get back in the saddle, so to speak — after a considerable hiatus, the twangy hunk took the stage to perform a new song he'd penned.

If you've been tuning in regularly (which I hope you have since ratings are important, people!), you know that Will stepped out of the spotlight shortly after revealing that he was gay and receiving backlash for that revelation from some of his conservative fan base and even his family.

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During this time, of course, Will was understandably struggling to come to terms with his own sexuality. He'd spent a lifetime being indoctrinated to believe being gay was a sin and something to be ashamed of.

So the fact that he was finally ready to take the stage again was a big deal, his song choice clearly representative of his journey. "Sometimes life is messy/it ain't always pretty/ain't it beautiful?/From skinning knees and breaking arms to broken hearts, just trying to find out who you are."

And then, barely a few verses into the song, it happens. Some drunk idiot starts to heckle — some drunk homophobic idiot, to be precise. Will presses on and the heckler chucks a beer bottle which nails Will right in the nose, breaking it.

At that point, the heckler is escorted out and a police officer tells Will they're going to pursue the incident as a hate crime. Only, when Will goes to the station to make his statement, he decides against doing so.

When he tells Gunnar he isn't going to let the guy get away with it and then actually goes back to the bar where the whole debacle went down, Gunnar and Scarlett assume he's looking for a fight. When they get there, though, he has taken the stage — and taken away the heckler's power to inhibit him.

The heckler and his friends are essentially shunned out of the building and, as the crowd cheers Will on, he finishes his song.

He rose above. He answered hate with compassion. It was a powerful moment, for sure.

So why did tonight's episode break my heart? Simply for the fact that there is still such a need for episodes like this. Depending on where you're from, you may not think hate crimes and homophobic hazing like this are "still a thing," but they are.

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I'm from a small town in the South. And when I say small, I mean small. As in, a population of 315 people. While I think fondly of my childhood and count myself blessed to have grown up around so many of the kindhearted people I knew, I am also very realistic about the fact that homophobia is still an issue in many of the conservative, rural areas of the South.

When I was 17, I moved 5,000 miles away for college, and I'll forever be grateful I went out on a limb and challenged myself in that way. Not only did it incite impactful personal growth, but it also helped me appreciate the things that are wonderful about the South and the reasons I wanted to return to my favorite city, Charleston, to raise my own children.

Which is why tonight's episode of Nashville is so relevant, in my opinion. While it isn't representative of all people in the South, it does hold a mirror up and make us as a community of people take stock of our misgivings. I can't think of one person from my hometown who doesn't know someone like "that guy" in the bar heckling Will.

There's a problem with that, and we can't change it if we pretend like it doesn't exist.

It's hard not to get defensive when someone points out something unfavorable about you or where you're from or the people you love. I get it. Believe me, I truly get it. I grew up in a no-stoplight town and spent my spare time with people named Bubba and Skeeter. We partied in fields, went mud-boggin' and frog-giggin' and punctuated our lives with "y'all"s and "yes ma'am"s. I am Southern, and that's something I embrace.

But I'm a firm believer that growth comes through accountability, and I applaud Nashville for reminding us that — while the South has made tremendous strides and is filled with many compassionate, inclusive people — there are still people who are holding on to certain backwoods mindsets and behaviors.

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I'm also aware those people aren't just from the South. There's good and bad everywhere if you look for it, and homophobia isn't a bad that is exclusive to this corner of the world.

The important thing then, no matter where we're from, is what we do when we come across those people. We need to be like the outspoken patrons at the bar who wouldn't stand for the heckler's ignorance. And we need to be like Will, who proved that love always wins out in the end.

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