Creating a very different future than our past has been.
Sally Jewell, October 11, 2016
Thank you, Ken, for the introduction.
As Ken said, I am Chad Lord, Senior Director for Water Policy at the National Parks Conservation Association.
If I was sitting in your seat, I’d be thinking, what does water policy have to do with lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender history? The answer: nothing – other than LGBT people, like all Americans, like clean water. Instead, I’m here because I’m a gay man who likes to go to national parks with his family. I’m here because on our road trips to Andersonville, Eugene O’Neill, Pipestone, or Little Rock Central High…
In our visits to national park sites across the country, my husband and I got to see the faces of America. We got to experience the essence of the national park service as “America’s storytellers.” Yet, and this didn’t really become apparent until we started visiting parks with our daughter after she was born, there was something missing from the memories being preserved,
The stories that were being told, The American history that is being preserved. What was missing? Simply -- it was us. It was our faces and the faces of other LGBT families. It was our history; the story of our community’s struggle for equal rights. It was any mention of the history of my daughter’s two dads and our contributions to our nation. It was that realization which motivated me to do something about it.
Not really for myself. But for my daughter.
I wanted her to be able to visit our parks and see her family reflected back at her. I wanted her to be able to see that her family mattered. That is the power of place. Place and identify are inextricably linked.
My friend, Mark Meinke, a D.C.-based historian and founder of the Rainbow History Project in his writing, has quoted Tom Mayes of the National Trust for Historic Preservation as saying: “the continued presence of old places helps us know who we are, and who we may become in the future.”
Adrienne Rich has said:
“Invisibility is a dangerous and painful condition…When those who have power to name and to socially construct reality choose to not see you or hear you…When someone with the authority of a teacher, say, describes the world and you are not in it, there is a moment of psychic disequilibrium, as if you looked into a mirror and saw nothing.Yet you know you exist and others like you…”
There is an importance of being seen. There is an importance in positive portrayals in popular narratives. Seeing oneself as part of the story or history is important to feeling like part of a society – a sense of cultural belonging. Scholar Megan Springate says that “The inclusion of ‘minorities’ in popular narratives also helps increase awareness and acceptance in broader society.”
Who are we? What is our history? Whose story gets told?
These are some of the questions that the park service is trying to answer. The park service, as America’s storyteller, has acknowledged that important histories and stories of many Americans are underrepresented in the memory it keeps for our nation. It is striving to tell a more inclusive story from the white, straight, elite, male perspective that has shaped much our historic retellings. The effort is to focus more on the rich, complex, and important histories of non-male, non-wealthy, non-Protestant, non-heterosexual, and non-white Americans…Essentially: To tell the untold stories.
Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender history is only one part of this effort. As Secretary Jewell said recently: “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.” This is in part not all that surprising.
Mark Meinke has also pointed out that for most of the 50 years since the National Historic Preservation Act was enacted, the LGBT community was still emerging from hiding and learning to value itself. It is of little surprise that LGBTQ people have not been actively identifying and preserving the places we love. But members of LGBT communities across the United States knew –know! – and remember the places that were significant in our emerging history.
It is this emerging history that now will hopefully be integrated into our nation’s story more fully so when my daughter looks into her the mirror that Adrienne Rich talked about, she sees an accurate reflection of her nation looking back. It is our national parks that are this mirror.
Why national parks?
Because our national parks belong to all of us. And unlike a city or state park, national parks in their own unique way declare that there are people, places, and things in our country that aren’t just important to cities or states – they are important to us all. These stories…these places…this history is something each generation passes down to the next.
Our national parks are the physical embodiment of America’s character and our conscience. They tell increasingly more diverse stories and teach us about our wonderfully complicated shared heritage.
Our national parks allow us to celebrate our most beautiful places and take pride for our most amazing people and achievements while at the same time asking us to grapple with dark and shameful moments in our past.
Our national parks reflect the journey generations of Americans have walked together and nowhere is this more beautifully outlined than in the places where Americans fought together for equal rights. The Civil Rights story in America is one of pain and progress. It’s a story that underscores a large part of the American experience. It’s a story that our national parks protect and tell—however incomplete and evolving the story remains.
You can find examples of it all over the country:
- Visit Seneca Falls, New York, or my hometown of Washington, D.C., and you can visit national parks about the struggle for women’s rights.
- Little Rock Central High School in Arkansas and the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, among others, describe the African American civil rights experience.
- The Manzanar Japanese American internment site focuses on the forced removal and relocation of Japanese Americans during World War Two, one of our darkest moments.
- The Cesar Chavez national monument commemorates the legacy of an organizer and farm labor movement leader who prevailed against long odds and inspired hope in millions.
While these places make up only a small percentage of our national parks, they are part of an increasingly focused effort to preserve the diversity of Americans and our history as an even more important part of our National Park System.
Yet, until only this summer none of our 411 national park sites represented or connected to lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) people, places, or events despite the contributions and sacrifices of so many, Of course, that changed when President Barack Obama created the Stonewall National Monument on June 24. Stonewall became our nation’s first national park specifically created for the purpose of adding the LGBT struggle for equal rights to the American Civil Rights story.
President Obama talked about Stonewall in his second inaugural address. He said: “We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths – that all of us are created equal – is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall.” The three places the President talked about – iconic representatives of our nation’s struggle to live up to its constitutional ideals – are now all protected as national parks!
Because Stonewall is an important touchstone - an incredibly important symbol in the fight for LGBT rights. Before Stonewall, LGBT people were dangerous criminals according to the law; Severely mentally ill according to the scientific profession; and Deeply immoral according to religious institutions.
The federal government was firing us – a lot. LGBT people were blackmailed, entrapped, arrested, and imprisoned just for being who they are. In New York City alone, 500 people a year were arrested for the crime against nature. 3000 to 5000 people were arrested for solicitation or loitering crimes. This was just in one city.
It’s not hard to imagine the nightmare for LGBT people caught up in what William Eskridge has called “this juggernaut” of city-sanctioned oppression. People lived in the closet out of fear. There was no being out; there was just being in.
But in the late 50s and early 60s things were changing. The African American Civil Rights movement galvanized African Americans and others to fight against Jim Crow and discrimination. The anti-war movement demonstrated to people how to protest and resist. These lessons began to be picked up by LGBT leaders.
The beginnings of the LGBT movement had already started before Stonewall. For example, in 1965 the Mattachine Society picketed at the White House and with the Daughters of Bilitis and others marched at Independence Hall in Philadelphia later that year. People rioted at Compton’s Cafeteria in San Francisco in August 1966 – the first known instance of collective LGBT resistance to police harassment in U.S. history. Following a violent police raid on New Year’s Eve in 1966, protesters stood in front of the Black Cat in Los Angeles demanding an end to LAPD intimidation, humiliation, and brutality.
Stonewall, however, marks a turning point. This dirty, expensive mafia-run bar opened in 1967 and became the most popular gay spot in New York City. It was the only club that featured unfettered dancing for its patrons, with two dance floors and a good jukebox. It was also a large club and all segments of the community had a presence.
Tommy Lanigan-Schmidt, a regular at the bar, said: “The Stonewall pulled in everyone from every part of [LGBT] life.” He characterized it as a refuge – a place to dance with each other – a place to find love.
In 1969, police raids and harassment increased. It was an election year and a mayor wanted to be re-elected. It was only a matter of time before something exploded – and something did in the early hours on June 28th. For the second time that week, in a highly unusual morning raid for the New York City police department, a small group of cops showed up at Stonewall.
This time, instead of watching LGBT people walk away, the New York City police faced an enraged crowd. The homeless gay youth and the trans women were the first to resist, inspired in part by the sight of a lesbian being brutalized by the police on the sidewalk outside the bar. Their actions inspired the crowd, which turned on the police, who retreated inside the club to save themselves.
Riot police were called in and the blocks around the Stonewall Inn were fought over for six nights, with thousands of protesters facing off against the police. The intensity and the scale of resistance were unprecedented and shocked LGBT people and their allies. What happened at Stonewall was powerful. It came out of nowhere and was unexpected. It was spontaneous, totally unplanned and undirected. It happened at a seedy club run by the Mafia.
And the groups that first turned against the police were effeminate boys who lived on the streets, rejected by their families and society, A butch lesbian, Trans women. Others. The police were astonished by what they witnessed. The world would be astonished at the consequences. LGBT people had stood up for themselves– spontaneously – and won!
Indeed, activists and non-activists, inspired by what they had seen, formed new kinds of organizations that were more militant than the preceding homophile organizations. Those who witnessed the uprising were transfixed by it. Less than half a year later, New York’s LGBT leaders would vote to annually celebrate what had happened. Pride marches and festivals, first celebrated in New York, surged across the country and then the world. A movement -- started in rebellion - stayed alive with that very spirit.
What came next has been summarized by my friend Janet Weinberg:
- The ‘70’s was liberation. Movements were starting and the bars were hopping. They were safe places to meet other LGBT people. It was a decade of discovery and pushing boundaries.
- The ‘80s was the decade of AIDS; and it forced LGBT people to organize. It was clear the establishment did not care about gay men dying of some mysterious disease. The community came together and found their voice and learned how to penetrate mainstream institutions such as the CDC and FDA.
- The 90’s started as a decade of profound sadness. Many LGBT people in their 20’s and 30’s were burying more people than our parents ever had to do. Our lives were taken up by survival. By the end of the ‘90s hope was being restored. The first effective drugs to fight HIV disease looked like they were going to be successful. We started to think about life. The first decade of this century brought attention to the fight for rights other than healthcare and survival. The cry to be able to get married began.
- Here we are in 2016. Marriage is legal. We can serve openly in the military. With that progress, however, has also come pushback.
North Carolina and Mississippi are just a few examples of a wave of backlash we’re facing. Stonewall and the bigotry and fear-mongering that led to the uprising are, in many ways, as much with us today as they were in 1969. The history surrounding Stonewall—White House marches, Compton’s, the Black Cat, AIDS, marriage—is American history.
It’s being woven into the national narrative. But there are many more untold stories to tell. Many more untold stories in many more places. As I already noted, the National Park Service has been and is working to tell the stories about the struggle for freedom, justice, and equality for our country’s most underrepresented populations, including
- Latino Americans
- Asian Americans,
- Pacific Islanders
- American Indians
- Native Alaskans and Hawaiians.
This effort is called the Heritage Initiative and it has already resulted in the expansion of the number of sites dedicated to the legacies of underrepresented people while expanding upon interpretations currently shared at existing parks.
In May 2014, Secretary of the Interior, Sally Jewell, extended this commitment even further when she announced outside of the Stonewall Inn in New York the start of the L-G-B-T-Q Heritage Initiative. This first-of-its-kind project, funded through a generous contribution from Tim Gill and the Gill Foundation, explores how the legacy of L-G-B-T-Q people can be recognized, preserved, and interpreted for future generations. This massive, amazing work was written and peer-reviewed by over 30 subject matter experts and completed and released on National Coming Out Day on October 11.
Its four goals have been:
- To increase the number of listings of L-G-B-T-Q-associated properties in the National Register of Historic Places, including amendments to current listings.
- To identify, document, and nominate L-G-B-T-Q-associated National Historic Landmarks, including amendments to current designations.
- To engage scholars and community members who work to identify, research, and tell the stories of L-G-B-T-Q associated properties and to preserve and nominate properties for appropriate levels of recognition, and
- To encourage national park units, National Heritage Areas, and other affiliated areas to interpret associated L-G-B-T-Q stories.
When it started, there was nothing like this being undertaken by any other national government anywhere in the world. Slowly, as the initiative’s work progressed, some of its goals were already being achieved. For example, Stonewall, which was already a national landmark, was designated on June 24 as a national monument. Last year saw the second national landmark to be designated representing L-G-B-T-Q themes.
- The Henry Gerber House in Chicago was designated as a national landmark on June 19, 2015. Henry Gerber co-founded and ran the Society for Human Rights, the first gay rights society in the United States, in the 1920s.
- Bayard Rustin’s home in New York was listed on the National Registry for Historic Places on March 8 of this year. Rustin moved into this apartment in 1962 and lived here until his death in 1987. While living here he helped organize the August 28, 1963 March for Jobs and Freedom in Washington, D.C. He also helped create and lead the A. Philip Randolph Institute.
- Julius’ bar, which is around the corner from the Stonewall Inn, was added to the National Register of Historic Places on April 21. This bar was the site of a 1966 “sip-in”, where members of the New York Mattachine Society, a gay rights group, challenged laws that prevented gay men and lesbians from being served alcohol. As a result, the law was changed leading to the growth of legitimate gay bars and the development of bars as important social spaces for urban L-G-B-T-Q people.
Even as sites get added to the National Registry or become national landmarks, existing historic places, landmarks, and even national parks can be reinterpreted to include fuller stories about what happened at these places.
- For example, at Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site, or Val-Kill. Eleanor Roosevelt was close friends with many influential and powerful lesbians, including couples Nancy Cook and Marion Dickerman and Esther Lape and Elizabeth Read. Roosevelt credited Lape and Read as playing an important role in her development as a political activist. Cook and Dickerman were frequent visitors at Val-Kill, residing there for three decades. Eleanor herself had a lengthy and intimate relationship with journalist Lorena Hickok. They vacationed together, Hickok had a bedroom in the White House, and the two wrote long, sensual letters to each other every day. The park would benefit from refreshed interpretation that brings insights from a quarter century of scholarship into the preservation of Eleanor Roosevelt’s life and legacy.
- Alcatraz Island also waits for new interpretation. Frank Bolt became prisoner number one at Alcatraz when the prison switched from a military installation to a federal prison. Bolt had been arrested for sodomy while in Hawaii and was transferred to Alcatraz where he served for almost two years of a five-year sentence in the 1930s.
There are myriad other sites ripe for re-interpretation or re-examination.
- The homes of author Will Cather in Red Cloud, Nebraska, and painter George O’Keefe in New Mexico come up frequently because of the relationships both artists had with other women.
- Places where the sexes were routinely segregated such as the frontier West, whaling boats, remote Army posts, and sites related to the Civil War and American Revolution have great potential, because intense same-sex bonds often formed during times of upheaval, re-evaluation, or isolation.
The park service protects many of these places.
As existing sites look to expand their interpretation to include richer, more inclusive interpretation of history, there are existing places in the system that have already taken steps in this direction.
- Independence Hall in Philadelphia three years ago started talking about the historic gay rights marches that took place there starting in 1965.
- Rosie the Riveter/World War II Home Front in Richmond, California, also proactively launched an initiative to collect stories of gay and lesbian civilians on the home front.
We can learn from these examples. Interested parks can also turn to the theme study report itself for both inspiration and guidance.
The last two chapters of the recently release report on interpreting LGBTQ history at historic sites and teaching LGBTQ history in the classroom are designed to be resources for park service interpreters, museum staff, teachers, professors, students, parents and others that want to incorporate LGBTQ history and heritage into their programs, lessons, exhibits, and courses.
Megan Springate, who edited the theme study, is also available to anyone with questions. She said can be reached her: email@example.com.
And as an aside, I spoke with her this week and she said I could share her contact information with you.
So, where are we left?
I’d like to leave you with two stories by way of summing up what I think are the most important reasons for including the voices and faces of all Americans in our national parks. The first one is from a NPCA colleague of mine. Alan is an African-American man. I was talking to him about why telling untold stories is so important and here’s what he said:
“If I am seen, even by neutral eyes, as being a rootless, non-contributing element of society, my right to equality, my value as a neighbor, citizen, fellow human being and advocate for America’s national parks is diminished. And with it our ability to form effective and respectful collaborations with which we might tackle the challenges that face our people and our planet. I think that an accurate portrayal of the African American experience in the United States complicates and defeats that thinking. The strength of our contributions, struggles, failures, shortcomings and triumphs is inextricably woven into the fabric of this nation like the red and white stripes of the flag. Knowledge of Mali, Ghana and Songhai, of Harriet Tubman and Bayard Rustin, of the Tuskegee Airmen and Mae Jemison, will not abolish racism any more than it will secure equality and justice for all. Elevated public awareness of and appreciation for that history will, however, help to retard and hopefully reverse decades of prejudice that like sediment filling in a river bottom has impeded our ability to navigate from past to present to future together.”
The second is my retelling of a story Secretary Jewell told at the release of the LGBTQ theme study. She stopped at Little Rock Central High School with Anthony Fox, then U.S. Secretary of Transportation, to hold a roundtable discussion with two of the Little Rock 9 and others, including a gay student among a group of students.
She visited the school with Anthony Fox, Secretary of Transportation, to hold a roundtable discussion with two of the Little Rock 9 and others, including: The High School’s student body president, vice president, and senior class president. Always rely on the youth to be terrific not really knowing what to say. Apparently, the class president was white, gay man.
When it was time for the students to talk, this young man told the Secretary that he wanted to thank her for the Stonewall National Monument; that when you named Stonewall a national monument it "made it okay for to be me.” She finished by saying: That’s why this is important.
And I agree. I hope you will to.
Thank you for inviting me to be here with you today.