The National Park Service has added two properties commemorating the history of America’s gays and lesbians to the National Register of Historic Places, including the Washington home of a separatist lesbian collective in the early 1970s.
Tuesday’s decision to add the Furies Collective, a Capitol Hill rowhouse in Southeast Washington, and San Juan’s Edificio Comunidad de Orgullo Gay de Puerto Rico comes as the Obama administration is making a concerted effort to recognize the contribution of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans to the nation’s past. President Obama is preparing to name Stonewall — the New York City site where gay rioters and police clashed in protests in 1969, considered a watershed moment in the gay rights movement — as a national monument as early as next month.
In a Facebook post, the Park Service noted that the Furies Collective, at 219 11th St. SE, was “home to a lesbian feminist collective that in the early 1970’s created and led the debate over lesbians’ place in American society.” It is the first historic landmark to specifically highlight the role of lesbians in U.S. society.
Ginny Berson, one of the original members of the 12-women collective, said she welcomed the designation because “lesbians, in particular, are so often forgotten when people talk about gay liberation and the gay movement.”
The D.C. Historic Preservation Review Board listed the red-brick rowhouse as a historic landmark on the D.C. Inventory of Historic Sites in January. Members of the collective lived in three different houses on Capitol Hill and operated in the townhouse between the fall of 1971 and summer 1973, publishing the tabloid-size newspaper the Furies as well as one lesbian feminist edition of the United Methodist Church magazine called motive.
Mark Meinke, who co-founded D.C.’s Rainbow Heritage Network and nominated the site for the national register, said the collective was important because it played a key role in “starting the discussions on what it meant to be a lesbian” when mainstream feminist groups, such as the National Organization of Women, were expelling lesbians.
Berson, who now lives in Oakland, Calif., and is director of outreach for a racial-justice organization, said the collective “existed for a minute, really, and had an impact that was much greater than the time that we existed.”
The members were mainly in their early-to-mid-20s, and they taught classes for other women, including self-defense and how to do electrical tasks at home. They also studied other revolutions and how they had lost their way. And they organized a softball team.
Many straight women were threatened by them, Berson said, because they argued that “living with a man is basically choosing to live with her oppressor, even if he’s a nice guy.”
“What the collective was trying to do was trying to overthrow the patriarchy, and capitalism, which was a part of the patriarchy,” she said. “That was our big goal. I guess we haven’t finished it yet.”
With these new designations, there are roughly a dozen LGBT sites across the country that have made the national register or been named as national landmarks, including Julius’ Bar and the Bayard Rustin residence in New York City and the Cherry Grove Community House and Theater, in Cherry Grove, N.Y.
The San Juan building served as “the meeting hall for the first gay/lesbian organization established in Puerto Rico,” according to the Park Service.
“The road to civil rights is a long one, and adding these important places to the National Register will help recognize the LGBT communities’ fight for equality,” said Kristen Brengel, vice president of government affairs for the National Parks Conservation Association. “It is fantastic that the National Park Service is acknowledging more LGBT sites, and we hope the administration will approve its first national park honoring LGBT history with Stonewall soon.”