Archive for the ‘parks’ Category

This week, LGBT history was ready for its close-up when the National Parks Service (NPS) of the Department of the Interior brought together 16 history scholars – myself included – for the launch of an LGBT initiative on June 10. This was a personal thrill for me, getting to hang with colleagues like pioneer gay historian John D’Emilio and to chat about same-sex marriage with the Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell.

June 10 LGBT roundtable at the Dept. of the Interior; photo by Gerard Koskovich

June 10 LGBT roundtable at the Dept. of the Interior; photo by Gerard Koskovich

Two immediate goals of the LGBT initiative over the next 18 months are to increase the number of LGBT site listings on the National Register of Historic Places and to nominate sites for the more rigorous National Historic Landmarks program, or to amend current designations.

Currently, we have just one landmark – the Stonewall Inn in Manhattan – and four sites on the National Register: Frank Kameny’s home in Washington, DC; the Cherry Grove Community House and Theater on Fire Island; the James Merrill House in Stonington, CT; and the Carrington House on Fire Island.

Considering the richness and breadth of LGBT history in this country, that’s far too few. And in addition, these sites are all very heavily East Coast-centric and “G.” What about the L, B and T? Where are our sites in California, Pennsylvania, New Mexico and Florida, and all the other states? Who are the people and what are the events that shaped LGBT history and civil rights in the Heartland or in the Deep South? Put your thinking caps on, folks!

The confab of scholars was a call to all of us to dig in and contribute. LGBT people don’t just live in New York City and San Francisco – we are, literally, everywhere and always have been. The NPS is looking for public input and comments on the initiative, which you can give by heading over to the dedicated website for this project or emailing lgbthistory@nps.gov.

Don’t be afraid to suggest sites that you think have a place on the National Register or to bring attention to LGBT local history projects in your town or city that may be interested in contributing to this historic drive for the visibility of our heritage. Or, if you prefer, email me at queerestplace [at] gmail.com and I’ll be happy to pass your suggestions along.

Let’s take advantage of this opportunity. June 10 was a moving day and I am still on a “history high” realizing that the work queer historians have been doing for years is finally getting the spotlight and recognition it deserves.


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Lambda Rising Bookstore at its original location

For fans and friends of our nation’s capital, there’s an amazing online history project that attempts to pinpoint and chronicle the social spaces frequented by LGBT people in Washington, D.C., from 1920 to 2000. You’ll have to squint to read the map, but if you click on the database link, you’ll find an exhaustive list of places where queers congregated in the 20th century. Many, of course, were bars, which served as informal queer community centers (and in many places in the country they still serve that function today); but there were also bathhouses, social clubs, parks, churches, bookstores – see the photo above of Lambda Rising Bookstore at its first location in 1974; sadly, the store closed last month after 35 years – and other queer spaces. The author of the project is Mark Meinke, who did a wonderful job of documenting our physical past.

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Washington, D.C.

Lafayette Park
Pennsylvania Avenue and H Street, NW; Jackson and Madison Places, NW

Across the street from the White House, this public park has long been a cruising place for gay men. As early as 1892, Dr. Irving Rosse, a professor of nervous diseases at Georgetown University, addressed the topic of “the spread of sexual crime” in the park and elsewhere around the capital. “Only of late,” he wrote, “the chief of police tells me that his men have made, under the very shadow of the White House, eighteen arrests in Lafayette Square…in which the culprits were taken away in flagrante delicto. Both black and white were represented among these moral hermaphrodites, but the majority of them were negros.”

Lafayette Park also features statues of several prominent figures of the American Revolution, whom we now claim as gay. There is a statue of Alexander Hamilton and John Laurens, who were inseparable in life and whose hands in the statue appear to be lightly touching. The two were colonels in the Continental Army and together served as interpreters for Baron von Steuben, the Revolutionary War hero and lover of men. John Laurens was killed during a battle with the British, and Hamilton later went on to become the first U.S. Secretary of the Treasury.

In 1777, Baron Frederick Wilhelm von Steuben, then a captain in the Prussian Army, faced charges of taking “familiarities” with young men, and, to avoid a public scandal, he accepted a commission with the Continental Army, arriving in the American colonies with a 17-year-old French nobleman whom he called his “secretary.” Von Steuben, who was well-acquainted with the rigorous drills of the Prussian Army, is credited with introducing much-needed discipline into the revolutionary forces and thus aiding immeasurably in the eventual American victory over the British. The baron is honored by a monument in Lafayette Park, at the base of which is this statue of two warriors in an appropriately suggestive position (see above).

“…I went into Lafayette Square and near the Von Steuben statue watched two fellows furtively engaged in mutual masturbation under cover of the dimness….Both were handsome, clean-looking chaps, refined and cultured.”

–Jeb Alexander (a pseudonym), August 1920

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