Yesterday, I talked about my desire to develop a connection to queer heritage, culture, and history in the United States. There are so many people that have contributed to the struggle for the rights that I and millions of others currently enjoy. There are also those people who helped shape our culture and in some cases, help steer the course of US history. Beyond that, there are the places where queers gathered and loved, lived and died, and where they endured great trials and enjoyed amazing successes. Queer history in the US is more than facing down mob violence, defying “the man”, or pushing back against restrictive and prescriptive social norms regarding gender or sexuality. It is also about the quest for love and acceptance (internally and externally) in a harsh and uncaring world, as well as the formation and dissolution of the ties that bind us (whether socially, religiously, or politically). One incredibly important aspect of our history is the recognition among those in our community (and later, by society at large) that the right to ‘life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness’ is our right as well; that our lives have value and that we are an important part of the fabric of this country.
I suspect it is that recognition–that we exist, that our lives matter, that we have value, that we are an essential part of the narrative of United States history–that played a role in the creation by the National Park Service of a multi-part (32 to be exact), peer-reviewed theme study into queer history. Megan Springate, the prime consultant for and editor of the LGBTQ theme study describes it thusly:
On October 11, 2016, National Coming Out Day, the National Park Service (NPS) announced the release of LGBTQ America: A Theme Study of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer History, a 32-chapter, 1,200-page work designed to provide a broad context for understanding LGBTQ history in the United States and for evaluating the significance of places associated with that history.
This theme study was the key piece of the NPS LGBTQ Heritage Initiative. The purpose of the initiative was to increase the representation of LGBTQ people and history in NPS programs, particularly in the realm of interpretation in the parks, and in the National Register of Historic Places and National Historic Landmarks programs which are both overseen by the NPS. It was funded by a $250,000 donation from the Gill Foundation to the National Park Foundation in 2014. Other NPS initiatives representing underrepresented groups include the Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Initiative, the Latino Heritage Initiative, and the Women’s History Initiative.
Two days ago, I had no idea something like this existed. I don’t even recall what I was looking for when I stumbled across the theme study, but boy howdy did it come along at the perfect time (were I inclined to believe in higher powers or destiny or other such unevidenced beliefs, I might think this more than wonderful happenstance). The funny thing is though, when I first began reading about the LGBTQ theme study, I wasn’t refreshed and was feeling drowsy, so I failed to grasp just how expansive and in-depth it is. Then a Facebook friend mentioned how thrilled she was to find the wealth of information and history contained in Chapter 10: Transgender History and the Places that Matter, and I began to realize that this project was even more important than I’d previously imagined. When I came home from work today, I took a look at the theme study with fresher eyes, and I was even more pleased with this endeavor.
For one thing, the authors were very much cognizant of the need to include a diverse range of voices from the various groups that comprise the queer community. Several chapters are prefaced with this note about inclusion:
Although scholars of LGBTQ history have generally been inclusive of women, the
working classes, and gender-nonconforming people, the narrative that is found in
mainstream media and that many people think of when they think of LGBTQ history
is overwhelmingly white, middle-class, male, and has been focused on urban
communities. While these are important histories, they do not present a full picture
of LGBTQ history. To include other communities, we asked the authors to look
beyond the more well-known stories. Inclusion within each chapter, however, isn’t
enough to describe the geographic, economic, legal, and other cultural factors that
shaped these diverse histories. Therefore, we commissioned chapters providing
broad historical contexts for two spirit, transgender, Latino/a, African American
Pacific Islander, and bisexual communities. These chapters, read in concert with the
chapter on intersectionality, serve as examples of rich, multi-faceted narrative within
a fuller history of the United States.
It makes my heart swell to see such attention being paid to inclusivity. It is very clear that the authors wanted to ensure that marginalized groups within the queer community had a voice in this project. Speaking of the project, here are just a handful of the 32 chapters contained in the study:
Part of me wants to dig right into Chapter 13, while another part wants to start at the beginning and go in order. No matter what reading order I choose, one thing is clear, this massive undertaking came at an absolutely perfect time and I cannot thank the authors enough for putting this entire theme study together. I suspect that sentiment will be shared many times over as more and more people discover this valuable resource that acknowledges and celebrates both who we are and what we’ve done.