Tennessee’s First LGBT+ Historical Marker Unveiled
If you don’t know Penny Campbell’s story, you are missing out. Penny’s story begins back in 1953 when she was born to Brenda and Rev. Will D. Campbell. It would be safe to say Penny was greatly influenced by her father’s fight for equality. Rev. Campbell walked alongside Martin Luther King Jr. and was quick to rush to the aid of those suffering from social injustice. Journalist David Halberstam has been quoted as saying, “His fingers were everywhere, but when you looked around — there were no fingerprints”. The same can be said for Penny. She fought long and hard for causes that were important to her. From advancing LGBT+ rights through actions such as organizing Nashville’s first pride parade in 1988 to helping individuals suffering from mental illness and substance abuse, Penny inspired those around her and embodied the spirit of social equality to which she dedicated her life’s work.
It is for these reasons there is now a historical plaque dedicated to Penny and everything she accomplished. Located at 1615 McEwen Ave in the Lockeland Springs area of East Nashville, it was dedicated in Penny’s honor today. The chilly December day did not stop a large crowd from being present to hear the speakers at the dedication ceremony. Mayor Megan Barry was present for the dedication reminding us Nashville is a “warm and welcoming place because of people like Penny” and “this marker reminds us of the history she made.”
Penny’s brother Webb Campbell and sister Bonnie Campbell were also on hand for the dedication. They told stories of growing up, vacation bible school, and even tricking Webb into giving up a chance to see the Beatles so one of Penny’s friends could go instead. When speaking on the marker, Webb explained, “it was really important to us that the maker showed she was (…) multidimensional” while Bonnie reflected on how Penny demonstrated “what you can change if you stick your neck out.” They also shared how they would bring their mother to visit Penny and that they spent every Saturday together for the last two years of Penny’s life.
Civil rights attorney Abby Rubenfeld spoke on the case that she and Penny worked on that reversed anti-sodomy laws in Tennessee Penny Campbell et al. v. Don Sundquist et al. 1996. Said Rubenfeld, “times have really changed and I wish she could be here to see it.”
Barbara Quinn of Park Center shared how Penny’s tireless work as Director of Residential Services enabled the center to offer housing to individuals they service. She was able to take them from just 27 beds to an additional 100 beds during her tenure. The women’s safe haven shelter provided by Park Center was renamed the Campbell House in her honor in 2014.
Jessica Reeves with Metro Historical Commission explained how she was hesitant to approve the application for the marker in the beginning. “I said no at first because 1996 is too soon and we usually look back 50 years. We need a lot of context to tell the story but Pippa was very persistent.” She explained how “now when other communities ask, ‘how can we tell a more inclusive story?’ they can look to Nashville to see it can be done.” Other speakers included District 6 Metro Council Member Brett Withers, Ellen Armour of Vanderbilt Divinity School, and Dr. Pippa Holloway of MTSU who helped push for the marker to be approved.
The current owner of Penny’s home, Jesse Correll, also shared a song that he had written. He said he had started on the song before learning of Penny but after he heard her legacy, she was the inspiration for the completion of his song, “Backyard Thursday”. Musical artist, Kristen Ford, also provided entertainment after the dedication ceremony.
For more information on Nashville’s Historial Marker Program visit: http://www.nashville.gov/Historical-Commission/Services/Historical-Markers.aspx