Interior Department announces LGBT-history initiative

Photo: Sally Jewell. Credit: Department of the Interior.

Photo: Sally Jewell. Credit: Department of the Interior.

The National Park Service will conduct a study to determine key locations and events associated with LGBT history in order to better tell America’s story, Secretary of Interior Sally Jewell announced Friday.

The theme study, which will stretch over the next 12 to 18 months, is part of a broader initiative under the Obama administration to ensure the National Park Service adequately represents the story of the nation’s minority communities. Jewell made the announcement during an event at the Stonewall Inn in New York City, the site of the 1969 riot considered the birthplace of the modern LGBT-rights movement.

“We know that there are other sites, like Stonewall Inn, that have played important roles in our nation’s ongoing struggle for civil rights,” Jewell said in a statement. “The contributions of women, minorities and members of the LGBT community have been historically underrepresented in the National Park Service, and the LGBT theme study will help ensure that we understand, commemorate and share these key chapters in our nation’s complex and diverse history.”

Currently, the Stonewall Inn is the only LGBT-associated site that has been designated a national historic landmark by the National Park Service. There are four LGBT properties included in the National Register of Historic Places: the Dr. Franklin E. Kameny Residence, Washington, D.C.; the Cherry Grove Community House and Theater, Fire Island, New York; the James Merrill House, Stonington, Connecticut; and the Carrington House, Fire Island, New York. But it appears those numbers will soon increase under the new initiative.

“The National Park Service is America’s storyteller and protector of the places where America’s history can be found,” stated National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis. “As we prepare to celebrate the National Park Service’s Centennial in 2016, we have rededicated ourselves to sharing more diverse stories of our nation’s history, particularly the struggles for civil rights. By telling these stories, we are inviting new audiences to visit their national parks and historic sites and to discover a personal connection in these special places.”

The study will be a public-private partnership partially funded by the charitable foundation of Tim Gill, a philanthropist and LGBT-rights activist. The Gill Foundation has put forward $250,000, according to the Associated Press. 

“LGBT history is American history,” Gill said in a statement. “The contributions of LGBT people are part of the great American journey toward full equality, freedom and liberty for all our citizens. While we take this important step to recognize the courageous contributions of LGBT Americans, we need to unite together in the days ahead to ensure we leave none of our fellow Americans behind.”

According to the Department of the Interior, the goals of the heritage initiative include: engaging scholars, preservationists and community members to identify, research, and tell the stories of LGBT associated properties; encouraging national parks, national heritage areas, and other affiliated areas to interpret LGBT stories associated with them; identifying, documenting, and nominating LGBT-associated sites as national historic landmarks; and increasing the number of listings of LGBT-associated properties in the National Register of Historic Places. 

The National Historic Landmark Program began their search for historic LGBT sites in 2010 and the study announced today will expand upon that search. Scholars working with the National Park Service to identify key places and events celebrating LGBT heritage will hold their first public meeting in Washington, D.C. on June 10.

Justin Snow is Metro Weekly's political editor and White House correspondent. He can be reached at jsnow@metroweekly.com.

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