LGBT Heritage Theme Study Launched by National Park Service

Rainbow Flag
The National Park Service has launched a new LGBT theme study as part of its ongoing Heritage Theme initiatives. | Photo: Kevin Goebel/Flickr/Creative Commons License

The National Park Service has implemented a new heritage study as part of an initiative to preserve and celebrate the historic milestones and stories of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender communities in the U.S.

The initiative was recently announced in Stonewall Inn in New York City, a historic site that gave birth to the LGBT civil rights movement after the 1969 Stonewall Riots.

Currently, none of the 401 national park sites in the country include an LGBT component in its interpretation, says Kati Schmidt of the National Parks Conservation Association. The new theme study, still in the development phase, may lead to proposed additions to the National Register of Historic Places, a new national monument, or historic site proposals, she added.

Over the span of 50 years, the National Park Service has conducted more than 75 theme studies as a way to identify subjects in American history as well as historic sites around the country associated with a particular theme, according to Mike Litterst, spokesperson for the National Park Service.

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There are approximately 144 historic sites, monuments, and memorials in California that are listed as part of the National Historic Landmarks program. Of those, a handful in Southern California were identified through theme studies like Space Flight Operations Facility and a space simulator at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, both from the Man in Space study. The Santa Monica Looff Hippodrome and the Rose Bowl were identified in a theme study about recreation in the United States.

Elsewhere, San Francisco's cable cars which were identified in a 1963 Travel and Communication theme study. The Presidio of San Francisco was noted following a 1959 theme study on Spanish Exploration and Settlement.

"The Park Service, in recent years, has been involved in a number of heritage initiatives and this is taking a look at different groups, minority groups, and seeing how we can better represent them in the National Register," says Litterst.

The NPS recently conducted an American Latino Theme Study and a one for Asian-American Pacific Islander communities is underway.

"What this theme study will do, like the others, is examine the history of the LGBT community in America and identify important historic sites associated with the community," says Litterst.

The LGBT theme study will identify and look for important historic sites in the U.S. that contribute to the history of the LGBT community and the civil rights movement.

"The main thing the theme study will do is see what areas around the country related to the LGBT community are eligible for listing in the National Register or designated as national landmarks," notes Litterst.

The end process will include a document listing various historic sites recommended in relation to the 2-year theme.

The study was made possible by a $250,000 donation from the Gill Foundation. The multi-year project is expected to end in 2016.

National Park Service director Jonathan Jarvis and Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell hosted a discussion on the LGBT study earlier this week. "We look forward to engaging with scholars, experts, and others interested in LGBT history to develop a theme study that will help us tell a more complete story of American history," said Jarvis.

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