SAN FRANCISCO - The National Park Service is launching an initiative to make places and people of significance to the history of lesbian, gay, transgender and bisexual Americans part of the national narrative.
Interior Secretary Sally Jewell is convening a panel of 18 scholars next month that will be charged with exploring the LGBT movement's story in areas such as law, religion, media, civil rights and the arts. The committee will identify relevant sites and its work will be used to evaluate them for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places, designation as National Historic Landmarks, or consideration as national monuments, Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis said.
"The Park Service is, in my view, America's storyteller through place," Jarvis said "It's important that the places we recognize represent the full complement of the American experience."
The process mirrors efforts the service already has undertaken to preserve and promote locations that reflect the roles of Latinos, Asian-Americans and women in U.S. history.
Jewell plans to announce the initiative on Friday at New York's Stonewall Inn, which was made a national historic landmark in 2000. Stonewall is widely regarded as the birthplace of the modern gay rights movement. In 1969, a series of riots took place outside when police raided the Greenwich Village bar and arrested patrons and employees, citing morals charges. The riots broke out when the LGBT community fought back.
But Gerard Koskovich, a San Francisco scholar who will be part of the panel, said the movement actually pre-dates Stonewall by decades and goes back to the founding of the first American gay rights organization in Chicago in 1924. The freedom World War II gave gay men and lesbians to associate and the 1953 publication in Los Angeles of the first magazine with a positive portrayal of homosexuality are other early chapters that merit recognition, he said.
"When you consider that until the 1970s the federal government was still rallying around persecuting LGBTQ people and devoted to punishing us, arresting us and excluding us, that we now see after a 40- or 50-year process a federal government saying that we are now part of the stories that deserve to be told and protected is really remarkable," Koskovich said.
The scholars' study, which is expected to be completed by 2016, is being financed by Colorado philanthropist Tim Gill, the founder of software company Quark Inc. and a major donor to gay political and civil rights causes.
"While we take this important step to recognize the courageous contributions of LGBT Americans, we need to unite together in the days ahead to ensure we leave none of our fellow Americans behind," Gill said.
The Park Service already has been trying to incorporate LGBT perspectives into its ranger-led interpretations of sites such as the National Mall. It's currently trying to collect stories and artifacts from gay people who worked in Navy shipyards for the museum at Rosie the Riveter/WWII Home Front National Historical Park in Richmond, California.