As barriers to gay rights and marriage equality continue to fall throughout the United States, the National Park Service is also moving to become more inclusive.
On Friday, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell will officially announce an effort by the Park Service to add places that hold historical significance to LGBT Americans’ fight for equality to the list of National Historic Landmarks and the National Register of Historic Places, or even to consider some sites for possible future national monuments.
Friday’s event will take place at New York City’s Stonewall Inn, the historic Greenwich Village bar often considered the birthplace of the modern gay rights movement. On June 28, 1969, police raided the bar – which was designated a national historic landmark in 2000 – arresting customers and employees on moral charges.
New York City Councilman Corey Johnson represents the portion of New York City which includes both Manhattan’s Chelsea and West Village neighborhoods, as well as the Stonewall Inn, and he plans to attend this Friday’s ceremony with Secretary Jewell. Johnson told msnbc, “My council district has more sites related to the LGBT community than, definitely anywhere else in New York City, and possibly anywhere else in the United States.”
Calling the new effort “incredibly important,” the Democratic councilman said, “So many young people aren’t taught about gay and lesbian history, and this will hopefully be the beginning of a process.”
Beyond the already-landmarked Stonewall Inn, Johnson said he hopes the National Park Service will consider other, more obscure sites within his council district that also hold political importance for the LGBT movement. Among them, he said, is the brownstone on West 22nd Street that was the first home of the Gay Men’s Health Crisis, the world’s first HIV/AIDS advocacy organization. The launch of the GMHC at the height of the 1980s AIDS crisis is portrayed in the Tony-award winning play and new HBO film, “The Normal Heart.”
The new National Park Service effort is being supported with a $250,000 pledged donation from The Gill Foundation, an LGBT organization that funds equality initiatives. The group’s founder and chair, computer software entrepreneur and gay rights activist Tim Gill, told msnbc, “LGBT history is American history.”
“While we take this important step to recognize the courageous contributions of LGBT Americans,” Gill said, “we need to unite together in the days ahead to ensure we leave none of our fellow Americans behind.”
Gill will also attend Friday’s ceremony with Secretary Jewell at the Stonewall Inn. Stacy Lentz, a key investor at the Stonewall, says the event has been in the works for about a month. She says it is important that the new project launches there, “Because we’re where the movement started.”
In June, Secretary Jewell will convene a panel of 18 scholars to evaluate the nationwide locations to be considered by the Park Service. In telling the LGBT movement’s history through sites across America, the panel will pay particular attention to different areas like law, religion, media, civil rights and the arts.
The Interior Department says this new initiative is part of a bigger effort by the Obama Administration “to ensure that the National Park Service reflects and tells a more complete story of the people and events responsible for building this nation.”