Nashville Honors Historic Gay Bars Where Men Had to Gather in Secret

The Jungle and Juanita's offered a place for LGBTQ people to be themselves at a time when persecution ran rampant.

Nashville is honoring its first two gay bars, The Jungle and Juanita’s, today with a plaque on the corner of Commerce St. and 7th Ave., where the since demolished establishments once stood.

The bars, which were affiliated with one another, were opened in the early 1950s, and by the early 1960s had become a hangout for gay men, and also a target for raids by police at a time when being openly gay in public could still result in a trip to the police station.

In 1963, 27 men were arrested at Juanita’s for “disorderly conduct,” a charge police relied on to arrest gay men who were minding their own business. A patrolman testified there was “lewd and boisterous” conversation, The Tennessean reports.

“There are younger gay people out there that have no sense of this history,” Nashville writer John Bridges, who led the effort for the historical marker, told Nashville Public Radio. “They really have no sense of what it was like to just go find a place in the middle of the night for you to go to, and it was the only place to go.”

Ironically, during the day, both locations were popular among the non-LGBTQ crowd, including government employees who frequented the Jungle for lunch.

“I don’t think they had any sense of it, because of course they existed in the daytime, and then it changed at night,” Bridges recalls.

The bars were torn down in 1983, when the block was leveled to widen the street. By then, there were a number of gay bars that were able to operate in the open.

The historical marker, which is a project of the Metro Historical Commission, with funding support by the H. Franklin Brooks Fund of the Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee, will be unveiled at 11am.

It is the second marker to honor the city’s LGBTQ history. The first, installed last year, recognizes Penny Campbell, daughter of civil rights activist Will Campbell, for her work in the gay rights movement and her mental health advocacy. Campbell, who passed away in 2014, was the lead plaintiff in Campbell v. Sundquist (1996), which overturned a law prohibiting consensual gay sex.

Journalist, editor, and artist.