Only a handful of Nashville’s official historical markers recognize contemporary achievements, but the city is getting another.
The Metro Historical Commission has approved Nashville’s first marker recognizing an LGBT rights activist.
The marker will be erected at the former East Nashville home of Penny Campbell, a local gay rights hero who passed away in 2014. Campbell organized the city’s first pride parade in 1988, at the height of the AIDS epidemic. She also acted as the lead plaintiff in the court case that decriminalized homosexual acts in Tennessee.
MTSU professor Pippa Holloway says commemorating Campbell is a milestone, since most gay rights achievements are fairly recent.
“If we go back 50 years, the pickins’ are pretty slim for LGBT history," Holloway says.
Holloway is referencing the so-called “50-year rule,” an old guideline from the National Park Service that says places and achievements should be at least half a century old to have historical significance. That’s why markers for late 20th-century figures like Campbell are still relatively rare.
Members of the Metro Historical Commission say that approving the new marker isn’t exactly bending the rules — they see the rule as more of a recommendation. The approval process wasn’t controversial either, since everyone on the board voted in favor.
In fact, staff member Jessica Reeves says the Commission is prioritizing several historical sites that might otherwise be precluded by the “50-year rule.”
“Women’s history, African American history, LGBT history – all of those things are things we’ll sort of be looking for," Reeves says.
Penny Campbell’s marker is a first for Nashville, but with the Commission promoting more recent figures to historical status, it likely isn’t the last.