ABOVE: The National Park Service under Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has, so far, continued to include LGBT sites in the National Register of Historic Places. Photo by Gage Skidmore; courtesy Flickr.
The National Park Service last year approved at least four LGBT-related sites for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places as well as a Postdoctoral Fellowship in Gender and Sexuality Equality that’s expected to conduct research on women’s and LGBT civil rights issues.
The four LGBT sites – two in Los Angeles and one each in New York City and Louisville, Ky. – were part of a project initiated during the Obama administration to review 130 LGBT-related sites throughout the country for possible inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places or for designation as a National Historic Landmark.
LGBT history advocates said they are pleased that the program so far appears to be continuing under the Trump administration.
The fellowship program, which was in the planning stage during the Obama administration, was approved in June 2017 by National Park Service Acting Director Mike Reynolds, who assumed that position two weeks before the Trump administration took office. He remained as acting director until January of this year, when Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke appointed him as superintendent of Yosemite National Park in California.
Zinke named longtime National Park Service official Paul Daniel Smith as the new acting director of the NPS.
Smith’s views on the fellowship program and efforts to increase the number of LGBT-related sites for federal recognition couldn’t immediately be determined. But a press release announcing the official launching of the fellowship program last November says it will be privately funded through a grant of nearly $1 million from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. It will be carried out by the National Park Foundation, which raises private funds to support national parks.
In addition to approving the four LGBT historic sites and the fellowship program, the National Park Service last month also continued the implementation process begun during the Obama administration of details related to the Stonewall National Monument in New York City’s Greenwich Village.
President Obama in June 2016 issued a presidential proclamation establishing the Stonewall Inn gay bar, a park next to the bar, and surrounding streets, which were the site of the 1969 Stonewall riots, as a U.S. National Monument, the highest federal designation of a historic site or park.
ABOVE: President Obama in June 2016 issued a proclamation establishing the Stonewall Inn gay bar, a park next to the bar, and surrounding streets, as a U.S. National Monument. Photo courtesy of the National Park Service.
Park Service officials announced last month that they were seeking public comments on plans for developing a “monument foundation document” to define and explain the historic significance of the Stonewall Inn and the role the 1969 police raid on the bar that triggered several days of rioting by LGBT people has played in launching the modern LGBT rights movement.
“This is a normal part of the process for a new national monument,” said Andrew Berman, executive director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation.
“I think this is a good faith effort, but of course we should all be vigilant to ensure that forces opposed to the message of equality and inclusion that Stonewall stands for, both within and without the administration, do not hijack the process,” Berman said.
He said his organization is encouraging members of the LGBT community and allies to submit comments on the National Park Service’s draft monument foundation document, which can be accessed through a page on the NPS website.
The deadline for submitting comments is Feb. 18.
The effort during the Obama administration to expand the number of LGBT-related sites recognized by the National Park Service as historic was announced in October 2016 by then-Interior Secretary Sally Jewell. During a ceremony at the Interior Department headquarters, Jewell and then-National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis released a first-of-its-kind National Park Service report entitled “LGBTQ America: A Theme Study of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer History.”
The report included recommendations for integrating LGBT history into the Park Service’s programs for showcasing American history through national parks and historic sites. It recommends that 130 LGBT-related sites be considered for federal historic designations. According to the report, as of June 2016, there were 10 LGBT sites listed on the National Register of Historic Places, including the D.C. home of gay rights pioneer Frank Kameny.
Listed below are the four LGBT-related historic sites approved last year by the National Park Service for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places:
Mitchell Camera Building (Studio One/The Factory) – Los Angeles
The Mitchell Camera Building, also known as The Factory Building, became the home of the famous gay disco and nightclub in West Hollywood called Studio One from 1974 to 1994. Lesbian activist Kate Eggert and her wife Krissy Gosney, who wrote the document nominating the building for inclusion in the National Register for Historic Places, report that Studio One in its heyday drew more than 1,000 mostly gay men on weekends and nearly that number on weeknights. “The popularity, prominence and influence of Studio One were pivotal in normalizing LGBTQ existence in the dominant mainstream/heterosexual society,” the nomination document says. Among other things, it “influenced gradual social acceptance and self-affirmation of homosexuals in the Los Angeles area,” according to the document.
Great Wall of Los Angeles/History of California by Judy Baca – Los Angeles
Artist and community activist Judy Baca is credited with conceiving in the early 1970s what has become the world’s largest wall mural. At that time the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers contacted her to help beautify a near mile-long cement wall the corps built to control flooding in the San Fernando Valley section of L.A. A team of more than 80 youths, 10 artists, and five historians collaborated with Baca, a Chicana rights activist, to begin painting dozens of sections of the wall that depicted different time periods in the history of L.A. The project has continued nearly every year since then, with three LGBT history related sections of the wall painted in 1984. Allison Lyons, an L.A.-based historic sites expert who wrote the nomination document for the wall to be added to the National Register of Historic Places, said the LGBT sections include a general statement of LGBT rights, the story of the 1960s-era lesbian group Daughters of Bilitis, and the first known early gay rights group, Mattachine Society of Los Angeles.
Whiskey Row/LGBTQ Amendment – Louisville, Ky.
A section of Main Street in downtown Louisville has been known since the 19th Century as Whiskey Row because of its reputation for popular saloons and nightspots. In 2010 it was approved for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places. Last year the National Park Service approved a request to amend the historic nature of the site to include the history of two gay bars located in the Whiskey Row historic district, The Downtowner, which was in business from 1975 to 1989, and the Beaux Arts Cocktail Lounge, which is believed to have been Louisville’s first gay bar. The nomination document for the amended site was prepared by Catherine Fosl, director of the University of Louisville’s Anne Braden Institute for Social Justice and Research and the author the Kentucky LGBT Heritage Initiative.
Caffe Cino – New York City
Located in New York’s Greenwich Village, Caffe Cino opened in 1958 as a coffeehouse with space for art exhibitions by Joe Cino, an openly gay man. With Cino’s support it quickly evolved into a space where experimental theater productions were performed, including productions with gay themes. It has since been recognized as the birthplace of Off-Off Broadway Theater in New York City. “At a time when depicting homosexuality on stage was a crime, many of the Caffe Cino’s early productions featured gay characters or subject matter,” according to a write up by the New York City LGBT Historic Sites Project, which submitted the nomination with the National Park Service to include its building in the National Register of Historic Places. The venue closed in 1968 following Cino’s death.