GLBT life in Clarksville thrives despite setbacks

Nashville, Memphis, Knoxville. These three major Tennessee cities all have one thing in common: they contain a thriving GLBT community. Yet, nestled among the farm lands and miles of forest of Montgomery County lies a stretch in the road known as Clarksville, and much like the crops budding around the city, it too is rapidly growing. But what is there to say about a city with a population over 100,000?

Two words: a lot.

Clarksville may not have a lot to offer as far as dazzling clubs, bars and streets flagged as "GLBT." It does, however, offer many sites and sounds not found elsewhere. Yet, to know Clarksville like a true Clarksvillian, you first got to know what makes Clarksville so unique.

From small to great

"The Gateway to the New South," as the city is often referred to, was founded way back at the end of the 18th century. The city grew steadily as time passed, often experiencing many of the nation’s ups and downs. It was during this time that Clarksville produced many of its historic features. The local museum, with its strange architecture, the courthouse, as well as Tennessee’s oldest newspaper, The Leaf-Chronicle, all arose during this time.

It wasn’t, however, until the 20th century that Clarksville, like most of the GLBT community, began to pick up serious speed. Clarksvillians saw the building of their university, Austin Peay Normal School, now known as Austin Peay State University, and the arrival of a new U.S. military neighbor, Fort Campbell. Each new development helped to further Clarksville, both as a city and its GLBT community.

Yet, there existed gloomy days as well. It wouldn’t serve the memories of those gone to not mention the legacy that many have left upon Clarksville. The Montgomery Country area currently has more than 150 people infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. The heartbreaking murders of Jerry Cope, "P’Knutts" and Pfc. Barry Winchell cultivated both anger and fear. However, Clarksville won't be labeled by such events; instead it grows stronger.

Clarksville...not exactly a gay metropolis

Like mentioned earlier, Clarksville isn’t a city with overt GLBT culture. With only one designated gay bar, known as L-n-J’s Sports Bar on Riverside Drive, individuals looking for more gay zeal would have to turn to Tennessee’s capital. This isn’t to say that a GLBT culture doesn’t exist at all. Like a patient tiger, Clarksville too is waiting for the right opportunity.

"Much of Clarksville’s GLBT culture comes from the quiet majority…those of use who have settled down into the lives with our partners, or even without them," said Clarksville resident and GLBT author and activist David Shelton.

Sadly, Clarksville Pride, Inc., which held the 2005 and 2006 pride festivals disbanded. Whether it was a lack community support or interest, GLBT Clarksville missed its 2007 pride festival, yet still maintains a gallant spirit.

Yet the gay spirit of Clarksville lives on. Future generations of the gay community are dotted here and there in the various high schools, the struggling GSA of APSU, and the many gay and lesbian individuals who call Clarksville home.

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