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Group Seeks Inclusion of Sites Important to Gay Community

By Debbi Wilgoren
Sunday, January 16, 2005; Page C05

Neighborhood and community history is increasingly celebrated in the nation's capital, as blighted buildings are reclaimed and revived by residents -- old and new -- who are fascinated by the buildings' pasts and convinced that others will be, too.

The nonprofit coalition Cultural Tourism DC, working with neighborhood groups over the past few years, has created walking tours featuring illustrated signs of downtown, the U Street NW corridor and Eighth Street SE/Barracks Row.

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A tour of the Southwest waterfront was dedicated yesterday. There are tours of African American places of interest throughout the city and of the historic Jewish sites in the East End of downtown.

Now, Washington's robust gay community is offering up its history as well.

A fledgling group called the Rainbow History Project, www.rainbowhistory.org, has published brochures on Dupont Circle, Capitol Hill and the South Capitol Street corridor -- future home of a major league baseball stadium.

The group also has published a brochure detailing important sites across the city for the African American gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community and one highlighting places where lesbians and women's group have gathered. It is working on several others.

Mark Meinke founded the Rainbow project nearly five years ago when he was researching a book on the District's drag community. He was looking for such archival material as photographs, programs from events, names of clubs and anything else that could document how the community existed through the decades.

"Nobody had any collection. Nobody knew who had any collection," said Meinke, 57, director of finance at a health care-related nonprofit organization.

He began spending his off hours searching for material on the history of gay men and lesbians in Washington and seeking oral histories from gay, bisexual and transgender people who were natives of the city or had lived there a long time. As he gathered information, Meinke began charting what he calls the "social geography" of the community -- important places, people and events that had come and gone over the years.

"There are whole swaths of gay history that are below the radar," said Meinke, who runs the project on donations and grants that started at about $5,000 a year but have recently climbed to $20,000.

The brochures, which can be viewed on the Rainbow History Web site, also are available at some stores along the routes. Among the sites they identify are clubs and bookstores that welcomed or catered to gays, the Capitol Hill rowhouse where Metropolitan Community Church was founded, the Dupont Circle block where, in 1975, the city's first Gay Pride celebration was held and the Southeast Washington street corner where a transvestite was denied medical care by an ambulance crew in 1995 and two lesbians were slain in 2002. Both events became well known in the gay community.

Meinke said he is frustrated that gay history sites generally have not been featured on the neighborhood tours compiled by Cultural Tourism DC. He recently initiated a lively online discussion on the topic, which can be seen at dcglbthistory.blogspot.com.

In the discussion, Kathryn S. Smith, executive director of Cultural Tourism, writes that the neighborhood tour sites are selected by residents, and she invites Meinke to recommend appropriate locations to people in Mount Pleasant and Shaw who are developing tours.

Meinke said his group will do so. "It's never been put on the agenda," he said.

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