With new initiative, National Park Service will put LGBT sites on the national map

As gay American landmarks go, you won’t find more hallowed ground than the West Village bar on Christopher Street with the Dorothy dress in its window.

Regarded as the birthplace of the modern gay rights movement, it couldn’t be a more appropriate place for the National Park Service to announce its new initiative to fold LGBT landmarks into the narrative of American history.

Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell is expected to announce the initiative Friday, the Washington Blade reported. Starting next month, Jewell will work in conjunction with 18 scholars to study and identify landmarks around the country that should be included on the National Register of Historic Places or deemed national historic landmarks or national monuments. Stonewall was named as a national historic landmark in 2000.

In a release, the Park Service explained its reasoning for the study, expected to be completed in 2016:

The Stonewall Inn is the site of a riot in 1969 that is widely recognized as a catalyst for the modern civil rights movement in the LGBT community. It is currently the only LGBT-associated site that has been designated a national historic landmark by the National Park Service as a property having extraordinary significance in American history.

The theme study is part of a broader initiative under the Obama Administration to ensure that the National Park Service reflects and tells a more complete story of the people and events responsible for building this nation. The National Park Service has ongoing heritage initiatives to commemorate minorities and women who have made significant contributions to our nation’s history and culture, including studies related to Latinos, women’s history, and Asian American and Pacific Islanders.

Obama faced a rocky road during his first term, enduring criticism from the LGBT community regarding his perceived lack of action on their issues. With one paragraph in his 2013 inaugural address, he elevated the struggles of the LGBT community alongside the great civil rights struggles of American history.

“We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths – that all of us are created equal – is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall; just as it guided all those men and women, sung and unsung, who left footprints along this great Mall, to hear a preacher say that we cannot walk alone; to hear a King proclaim that our individual freedom is inextricably bound to the freedom of every soul on Earth,” Obama said.

It did not go unnoticed.

Friday’s announcement is a continuation of the administration’s efforts signaling the president’s commitment to LGBT rights. After his first election, Obama resurrected the presidential proclamation for Pride month — a proclamation that originated with Bill Clinton and was discontinued during the Bush administration. Obama is the first president to include transgender people in the June LGBT Pride proclamation.

This undated image released by the United States Postal Service shows the Harvey Milk Forever Stamp. On Thursday, The U.S. Postal Service started issuing stamps honoring the late San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk, who was one of the first openly gay men elected to public office and represented the Castro before he was assassinated in 1978. (AP Photo/U.S. Postal Service) The Harvey Milk Forever Stamp. (AP Photo/U.S. Postal Service)

Last week, the U.S. Postal Service released a commemorative stamp honoring slain San Francisco city supervisor Harvey Milk. People in San Francisco’s Castro neighborhood, which Milk represented, lined up to buy it the first day it became available.

Said Bilerico‘s John M. Becker: “Sure, he may not be perfect, but once again I’m glad that we have President Barack Obama in office — because if you think a Mitt Romney administration would give two hoots about LGBT history, I’ve got a bridge in Brooklyn I’d like to sell you.”

 

Soraya Nadia McDonald covers arts, entertainment and culture for the Washington Post with a focus on race and gender issues.

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Nick Kirkpatrick · May 29, 2014