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By Dakota Elliott
Last year, more than 25,000 people attended Nashville’s Pride parade in the city’s downtown. Between the parade and the other events held for the two-day Pride festival, more than 75,000 people joined in celebration of the LGBTQ community, making it the most attended Pride Festival in Nashville’s history.1
The 2019 festival was important for another reason as well: it marked the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Inn riot in New York City, when members of the LGBTQ community stood up to police following a late-night raid at the bar. The uprising at the Stonewall Inn sparked the modern LGBTQ movement that would set off waves of activism, protests, and liberation across the United States, including Tennessee.
Sign from a 2011 event in Nashville to advocate for LGBTQ rights (Tennessee State Museum collection, 2011.111.51)
That 25,000 people attended a Pride parade in Nashville is an impressive feat, considering the turnout for the city’s first official Pride parade, 32 years ago in 1988, was about one percent of that. It was not unlike what might be considered the modest beginnings of many of Tennessee’s major cities’ Prides parades – Knoxville’s first official parade was in 1991; Memphis’ in 1994. Held amid the AIDS epidemic, the Nashville gathering in 1988 saw approximately 250 people marching along a path that began in Fannie Mae Dees Park, or Dragon Park, and ended in Centennial Park, near Vanderbilt University. To organizers, it was considered a success.2
Penny Campbell. Photo from Vanderbilt News Service
The first Nashville Pride parade was made possible in part due to the work of Penny Campbell. Born in 1953, Penny Campbell was the daughter of Brenda Campbell and the Rev. Will D. Campbell, who worked alongside the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. during the Civil Rights movement.3 Identifying openly as a lesbian, Penny Campbell’s activism evolved while studying at Vanderbilt University. She began using her voice to help fight for LGBTQ rights by protesting, writing to newspapers, and organizing marches. In 1987, as a Vanderbilt University Divinity School student, Campbell helped organize a group of Tennesseans to attend the Second National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay rights. As quoted in The Tennessean in 1987, Campbell remarked, “a massive demonstration against bigotry and oppression is needed now, more than ever before.”4 In fact, it was the momentum from the March on Washington that helped make Nashville’s first Pride parade successful the following year.5
Campbell’s work didn’t stop after the first Pride parade was completed. In 1996, Campbell was the lead plaintiff in Campbell v. Sundquist. Tried by attorney Abby Rubenfeld, the momentous case fought against the Tennessee law that banned same-sex relations, and won.6
Additionally, Campbell volunteered for the Center for Gay and Lesbian Community Services in Nashville, and worked as the director of residential services at Park Center, which assists those with mental illness in finding housing and employment.
Penny Campbell Historical Marker in Nashville. Photo from Vanderbilt News Service
Campbell died in 2014 at age 61. For all her work and dedication in advocating for LGBTQ rights and Nashville’s underserved communities, a historical marker honoring Campbell was unveiled at her former home in East Nashville in 2017, making it the first publicly sanctioned LGBTQ historical marker in the state of Tennessee.
Dakota Elliott is a curatorial assistant at the Tennessee State Museum
 “Gay Pride Rally Marks Renewal of Movement,” The Tennessean, June 26, 1988
 De la Cruz, Bonna, “Rev. Campbell will receive ACLU award,” The Tennessean, October 29, 1996.
 “Backing urged for gay march,” The Tennessean, September 25, 1987.
 “Gay Pride rally marks renewal of movement,” 1987