Penny Campbell served as one of Nashville’s greatest civil rights activists. While her name might be unfamiliar, Campbell, born 1953, was a defiant and visible fighter for LGBT+ justice in Tennessee and advocated freedom and equality for all peoples. Her labor for social equality led to the recognition of her home as a significant historical site in Nashville, despite its recent chronology. The plaque outside the home is a historic relic, as it represents the first marker in Nashville to recognize LGBT+ history.
Campbell began her career in activism early and ferociously. Following the path of her own father, a minister who marched alongside Dr. Martin Luther King in the fight for equality, Campbell was a warrior for justice throughout her life. Beginning her legacy of activism during her enrollment in Vanderbilt University, Campbell realized the importance of visibility and voice. Campbell used her words in newspapers to peaceful protests and as tools to enact social change, championing and defending communities facing institutional and public discrimination. In 1988, Campbell organized Nashville's first gay pride parade. Campbell frequently organized protests against biased laws, once organizing a group of LGBT+ couples to apply for marriage licenses.
In addition to her consistent fight for LGBT+ rights, Campbell was a staunch advocate for justice and aid to those suffering from mental illness and substance abuse. Campbell acted as director of residential services at The Park Center, working to provide housing to those in need and increasing the center’s housing capacity. In 2014, The Park Center renamed their women’s safe haven shelter “The Campbell House” in her honor. Her greatest achievement may be remembered as her role in the 1996 Tennessee supreme court case “Penny Campbell et al. v. Don Sundquist et al.,” which led to the reversal of anti-sodomy laws that targeted LGBT+ peoples and violated their privacy. The reversal of these laws represented a new wave of acceptance for LGBT+ lives.