The D.C. Historic Preservation Review Board voted unanimously Thursday to designate the home of veteran gay rights leader Franklin Kameny as an historic landmark — the first time a gay-related site has been approved for landmark status in the nation’s capital.
The Rainbow History Project, a local gay organization, nominated Kameny’s home at 5020 Cathedral Ave., N.W., for the status. The group submitted a detailed application to the board describing Kameny’s use of his house as an office and center for carrying out his widely recognized role as local founder and national pioneer of the modern gay rights movement beginning in the early 1960s.
“Historians consider him a landmark figure in articulating and achieving gay civil rights in federal employment, criminal law, security clearances cases, and in reversing the medical community’s views on homosexuality,” said the Rainbow History Project in its application to the board.
Kameny, 83, still lives in the house. He said he has lived there since 1962, initially as a tenant. He purchased the home in 1984.
“I coined the slogan ‘Gay is Good’ in this house in 1968,” Kameny told the Blade after learning Thursday about the board’s decision. “Today’s action represents official endorsement of that. Gay is good, and that has now become official truth.”
The Rainbow History Project said Kameny’s home “served as a meeting place [and] de facto headquarters of the Mattachine Society of Washington, D.C., and the planning center for much local and national gay civil rights activism, primarily from 1961 to 1971.”
The Mattachine Society, one of the nation’s first gay organizations, had been in existence in other cities since the early 1950s. Nearly all of the group’s members concealed their names and worked quietly behind the scenes to make gays more socially accepted.
Kameny, who founded the group’s local chapter in 1961, is credited with pushing to transform the organization into a far more aggressive and activist civil rights organization. He coordinated the first gay protest demonstrations at the White House and Pentagon.
Tersh Boasberg, chair of the D.C. Historic Preservation Review Board, said shortly before the board voted on the application that Kameny’s case was “highly unusual” because historic landmark status is rarely, if ever, given to a site associated with a living person.
But he said the Rainbow History Project’s detailed and “scholarly” application, along with endorsements from respected historians and preservationist organizations, provided a convincing case for approving the application.
The D.C. Preservation League signed on as a co-sponsor to the application.
The selection of Kameny’s house also is unusual because its modest, 1950s colonial style was not considered distinctive architecturally. Most homes and buildings selected for historic landmark status in D.C. are chosen, in part, because of their architectural distinction as well as their historic significance.
The designation of the Kameny house as a historic landmark in D.C. qualifies the house to be considered for placement on the federal government’s National Register of Historic Places.
If approved by the National Park Service, the Kameny site would be only the second gay-related site recognized on the national register, according to the Rainbow History Project.
New York City’s Stonewall Inn, the gay bar where a police raid sparked the 1969 Stonewall riots, so far has been the only gay-related site recognized in the National Register of Historic Places, Meinke said.
He said only a “handful” of other gay related sites have been recognized by cities or states as historic landmarks. Among them are Harvey Milk’s camera shop and home in San Francisco, the home of early gay rights leader Henry Gerber in Chicago and the Stonewall Inn.