Earlier this month, Chicago's Henry Gerber House, a starting point for the gay rights movement in the United States, was designated a National Historic Landmark by Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell, making it the second such LGBT heritage site to be landmarked in the United States (after New York's Stonewall Inn). But that's far from the only such site on the radar of the Rainbow Heritage Network, a group trying to gain recognition and most importantly, protection, for the nation's LGBTQ History.
A coalition of more than 400 preservationists and gay rights activists, Rainbow Heritage, which started in January, has begun to push for preservation on a national level. According to one of the founders, Mark Meinke, who also worked with the Rainbow History Project, preserving LGBTQ sites on a local, state and federal level presents its own unique challenges.
"We're trying to spur local, grass roots interest in queer communities," he says, "and many of our community sites have traditionally been in marginal economic areas, since it was cheaper and less likely for neighbors to object. Our community isn't all about Mount Vernons. As these areas gentrify, we can easily lose historic sites, so the Rainbow Heritage Network is trying to ensure that more are saved."
Meinke points to the recent loss of the Michels-Carey house site in San Diego, demolished seemingly without notice, as an object lesson in why it's so important to focus on preservation now. The group has started working with the National Park Service on their LGBTQ Heritage Initiative, but believes it's important to be proactive about preserving their history.
"Recently, people were more worried about preserving their jobs, not preserving their history," says Meinke. "Now a new generation is aware there was a history that came before them. If you're, say, a Latino, you can see that history in front of you. Not a lot of our history has been preserved. People without a history can be erased."Read More