U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and other government officials announced on Tuesday the release of a first-ever National Park Service “theme study” identifying places and events associated with the history of LGBT Americans.
Jewell, joined by National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis and gay philanthropist Tim Gill, founder of the Gill Foundation, which helped to fund the new study, provided details of the study Tuesday afternoon, Oct. 11, at a ceremony at the Interior Department’s headquarters in Northwest Washington.
The 1,262-page study consisting of 32 chapters written and peer reviewed by 27 experts in LGBT history and historic preservation is entitled “LGBTQ America: A Theme Study of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer History.”
“For far too long, the struggles and contributions of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer-identified Americans have been ignored in the traditional narratives of our nation’s history,” Jewell said in a statement.
“This theme study is the first of its kind by any national government to identify this part of our shared history, and it will result in an important step forward in reversing the current underrepresentation of stories and places associated with the LGBTQ community in the complex and diverse story of America,” Jewell said.
Officials said the release of the study was timed to coincide with National Coming Out Day, which has been celebrated each year on Oct. 11 since 1988 to highlight the visibility of LGBT people and their quest for equal rights.
About 100 people attended the announcement gathering. Many of them were current and former LGBT officials and employees of the Obama administration, including White House staff members.
Several panels of the National AIDS Quilt hung on the wall behind the podium where Jewell and others spoke.
Eliza Byard, executive director of the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network, who worked on the study, told the gathering it would have a profound, positive impact on LGBT young people, who continue to face discrimination and disparagement in the nation’s schools.
“Today just 10 percent of LGBTQ youth learn anything positive about LGBT people,” she said. “This study is a roadmap to changing current disparities.”
Gill said the study was made possible by the Obama administration, which he called the most LGBT supportive administration in the nation’s history.
“I cannot thank you enough for having done this,” he said of the co-authors of the study who attended the reception and the Park Service officials who helped organize it.
Jewell first announced plans for the LGBTQ theme study in 2014 at an event outside the Stonewall Inn in New York City. In June of this year, Jewell and National Park Service Director Jarvis returned to the Stonewall Inn to participate in a public dedication ceremony in connection with President Obama’s designation of the Stonewall site as a National Monument.
The designation represented the first U.S. monument to honor an historic development associated with LGBT Americans – the 1969 riots in New York’s Greenwich Village sparked by a police raid on the Stonewall Inn gay bar.
“In 2016 the National Park Service is marking our centennial anniversary and the upcoming 50th anniversary of the National Historic Preservation Act on Oct. 15 with a renewed commitment to share a more complete history of our nation with the next generation of Americans,” Jarvis said in a statement.
“Through heritage initiatives like the LGBTQ theme study, the National Park Service is commemorating the inspiring stories of minorities and women who have made significant contributions to our nation’s history and culture,” he said.
“The National Park Service coordinated the study with support from the National Park Foundation and funding from the Gill Foundation as part of a broader initiative under the Obama administration to ensure that the NPS reflects and tells a more complete story of the people and events responsible for this nation,” an Interior Department statement says.
“Thanks to the generous support of Tim Gill and the Gill Foundation, this important study was possible,” said Will Shafroth, president of the National Park Foundation, which identifies itself as the official charity of America’s national parks.
Among other things, the LGBTQ theme study’s authors say the study’s aim is to lay the groundwork for increasing the number of listings of LGBTQ-related properties in the National Register of Historic Places. They said another objective is to identify, document, and nominate LGBTQ-related sites or properties as National Historic Landmarks.
The study notes that as of June 2016, there were a total of 10 places listed on the National Register of Historic Places or that have been designated as a National Historic Landmark.
Among them are the D.C. house of the late gay rights pioneer Franklin E. Kameny, which is on the National Register of Historic Places; and D.C.’s Furies Collective House, which in the early 1970s became the operational center for the lesbian feminist and separatist Furies collective.
It identifies 130 LGBT-related sites that it says should be considered for designation as historic landmarks or for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places.
The introduction chapter of the study, written by LGBT anthropology studies expert Megan Springate, says the study got its start in June 2014 when a panel of more than 20 LGBT scholars convened in Washington, D.C., to “define its goals and discuss the direction and content of its core product: the theme study.”
Springate said that among the decisions made by the panel of scholars was to add the word “Queer” to the title of the study, possibly making it the first official U.S. government document to use that word in its title.
“Recognizing that the word queer is charged, and uncomfortable to some, the scholars wanted to acknowledge the importance of groups like Queer Nation who influenced the trajectory of both LGBTQ and national histories in part through their reclaiming of the word, as well as to have the initiative be explicitly inclusive of those who, for personal reasons, do not feel represented by lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender identifiers,” Springate wrote.
Jewell told the Washington Blade after she spoke that she is pleased that no opposition has surfaced so far to the Interior Department’s and National Park Service’s involvement in the production of the LGBTQ theme study.
“I certainly was prepared that there could be people that disagreed with this work,” she said. “But none of that came up,” she said, in a telephone press briefing she held earlier in the day.
Other co-authors of the study include Mark Meinke, former director of D.C.’s Rainbow History Project and co-founder and current co-director of the Rainbow Heritage Network; and gay historian David K. Johnson, author of the book “Lavender Scare.”
“These chapters chart LGBTQ histories across the United States – from the native mahu of Hawaii and Ihamana of the Zuni, to the drag queens of the Stonewall Uprising, from private residences, hotels, bars, and government agencies to hospitals, parks, and community centers,” the Interior Department statement announcing the release of the study says.
“Authors and peer reviewers included professors, filmmakers, historians, geographers, archaeologists, journalists, and members of the clergy,” the statement says.