In the early morning hours of June 28, 1969, New York police raided the Stonewall Inn, a popular gay bar in lower Manhattan. Having been repeated targets of harassment, the gay and transgender patrons did not quietly disperse that morning as the police had come to expect. Instead, they rioted. There was no leader, no larger than life figure to inspire the crowd that morning. Rather, it was the collective actions of ordinary Americans, born of a desire for nothing more than the basic American bargain of equal treatment for all that gave rise to the event that today is recognized as the start of the modern movement for LGBT equality and commemorated in Pride Month celebrations around the world.
Our American heritage is, at its core, a shared experience. Our strength as a sometimes messy, diverse nation comes from how much we have in common and in recognizing the contributions of groups of people to our shared heritage. This includes gay and transgender Americans whose stories and struggles are an integral, but largely unrecognized, part of our national fabric.
To help address this omission, the National Park Service recently launched an LGBT Heritage Initiative with a goal of integrating places and events of historic significance in the struggle for LGBT equality into the larger American story as told through National Park Service’s educational programs, the National Register of Historic Places, and sites designated as National Historic Landmarks. Fittingly, the initiative was launched at an event outside of Stonewall Inn, the first LGBT site in the country to be designated as a national landmark. The Gill Foundation, one of the nation’s largest funders of work promoting LGBT equality, also announced a donation of $250,000 to underwrite the initiative.
The LGBT Heritage Initiative is the latest in a series of initiatives by the National Park Service to preserve and tell the broader American story, including initiatives focused on women, Asian American Pacific Islanders, and American Latinos. The National Park Service also has a long history of protecting and interpreting the stories of the civil rights movement and recently designated the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama as a National Historic Landmark in 2013.
This week, the LGBT Initiative began in earnest with a convening of LGBT historians by the National Park Service in Washington, D.C., to discuss the development of a theme study, which will be a central component of the LGBT Heritage Initiative.
In 2016, the National Park Service will celebrate its 100th birthday, and this year, the Gill Foundation celebrates its 20th Anniversary. As we approach these milestones, it is our common goal to share stories that are relevant to all Americans, including those of underrepresented groups that have struggled for civil rights and equal treatment under the law.
This initiative will honor the stories of LGBT Americans and their contributions to our shared American heritage. But it will do more than that. It will help our country take another step toward full recognition of LGBT Americans as fellow citizens and toward greater equality.
Just a few short years after the Stonewall riots, America’s first openly gay elected official, Harvey Milk, implored LGBT people everywhere to come out and share their stories with family, friends, and co-workers. Harvey understood then, as Tim Gill understood when he created the Gill Foundation in 1994, that there is no more powerful force in uniting us than a greater understanding of our common identity as Americans and our shared aspirations of freedom and opportunity for all. We hope this Initiative will contribute to that understanding through the stories of our past, and that it will inspire the future work that will be part of the next chapter of LGBT, and American, history.
Jonathan B. Jarvis is director of the National Park Service. Courtney Cuff is CEO of the Gill Foundation.
Source: The Denver Post, Opinion, “National Park Service’s Heritage Initiative aims to honor LGBT contributions,” By Jonathan B. Jarvis and Courtney Cuff, Guest Commentary, Posted: 06/17/2014 12:55:46 PM MDT, Updated: 06/18/2014 05:34:42 PM MDT