LGBTQ pride and place: National Park Service’s theme study

Posted in: Cultural Resources

Sebastian Renfield visits the Stonewall National Monument in 2018.
Sebastian Renfield visits the Stonewall National Monument in 2018.

June is Pride Month for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer communities in the U.S. Many people are unaware that LGBTQ Pride commemorates an actual historic event. Sparked by a police raid of a New York City bar called the Stonewall Inn on June 28, 1969, the six days of protest that followed are known as the Stonewall Riots. This event is largely credited with initiating the modern LGBTQ civil rights movement.

The National Park Service LGBTQ Theme Study, LGBTQ America, provides historic contexts to help identify and evaluate potentially historic properties associated with LGBTQ history. It includes guidance for updating nominations of properties already listed in the National Register of Historic Places to include LGBTQ significance that was previously unknown or left out. In my “American stories: National Park Service encourages diversity” blog article I highlighted the LGBTQ Theme Study as one of several NPS Heritage Initiatives intended to document the pasts of groups traditionally underrepresented in U.S. history.

Stonewall Inn, a great example

The National Park Service has recognized the historical significance of the Stonewall Inn for its association with LGBTQ civil rights activism. The NPS listed the Stonewall Inn in the National Register in 1999 and in 2000 it was declared a National Historic Landmark. Almost 50 years after the riots, the NPS designated the Stonewall Inn and surrounding area (where the protests occurred) as a National Monument in 2016, one of just 129 in the entire U.S. While the Stonewall Inn is one of the most famous examples, it is important that cultural resources professionals identify other important places associated with the struggle for LGBTQ rights.

Properties associated with LGBTQ history

At the time of the Theme Study’s publication, LGBTQ resources represented only a fraction of a percent of properties listed in the National Register (0.005%) or designated as National Landmarks (0.08%). The 2016 LGBTQ Theme Study has already begun to correct these numbers.

Since its publication, nearly a dozen historic properties have been nominated and/or listed in the National Register for their association with LGBTQ individuals or the broader LGBTQ history of the U.S., or had an existing nomination revised to include this particular association.

These include:

  • The NYC home of African-American Civil Rights Leader Bayard Rustin
  • Julius’ Bar in NYC, site of an early LGBTQ protest
  • The Durham, North Carolina home of African-American Civil Rights and Women’s Rights activist Pauli Murray
  • The NYC home of photographer Alice Austen
  • The Washington D.C. birthplace of the lesbian feminist Furies Collective
  • The home of Puerto Rico’s first LGBTQ civil rights group Edificio Comunidad de Orgullo Gay de Puerto Rico
  • Caffe Cino, a pioneer NYC venue in the development of LGBTQ theater
  • Columbia University’s Earl Hall, home to an early LGBTQ student activist group
  • LGBTQ AmericaLexington, Kentucky’s Elks Athletic Club in the Whiskey Row Historic District, home to the Downtowner bar (this was an earlier nomination that was amended to include the theme of LGBTQ history)
  • The Great Wall of Los Angeles Mural, depicting themes related to labor conflicts, women’s rights, fights for racial equality and LGBTQ rights

It is exciting to see how quickly the NPS LGBTQ Theme Study has been implemented and the number of resources that have been identified in its wake testifies to the need for and importance of documenting all aspects of U.S. history, especially histories belonging to traditionally underrepresented groups.

I look forward to the opportunity to use NPS Heritage Initiative Theme Studies like the LGBTQ publication in identifying potential resources in the future. Happy Pride!

Sebastian Renfield, Historic PreservationABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sebastian Renfield enjoys opportunities to research a wide range of building types, methods and materials.  His areas of interest include postwar architecture, concrete silos, and finding new ways to use GIS mapping to visualize historic data and trends.

Other blog articles by Sebastian:

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