In all honesty this was not truly my first week working on the National Park Service's LGBTQ+ Heritage Initiative, I have been conducting research, both on what the Park Service has already preserved with regard to LGBTQ+ history, and on what could be preserved here in Philadelphia. This past week I conducted research on a Kiyoshi Kuromiya, an often overlooked but impressive figure in Philadelphia's LGBT history, began condensing my list of significant LGBTQ+ historic sites into a more orderly Excel spreadsheet per a model from someone working within the Park Service's Northeast Regional Office, met with Dr. Lowe, and my Park Service supervisors Helen Mahan (NER Conservation & Recreation Assistance), and Bonnie Halda (Program Manager, Preservation Assistance) to discuss my next steps on the project, attended the city Office of LGBT Affairs' first monthly Community Conversation, and stayed up-to-date on current events in Philadelphia's LGBT Community.
By pure serendipity I came across Kiyoshi Kuromiya's story last weekend, and on between Monday and Tuesday I researched his life and activism thoroughly. Kuromiya was born in a Japanese Internment camp in 1943 in Wyoming, and he later grew up with his family in California during the 1950s. Having excelled in High School, Kuromiya went on to study architecture at the University of Pennsylvania where he became better known for his anti-Vietnam War activism, opposing the use of napalm. Among other things, Kuromiya was a founding member of Philadelphia's Gay Liberation Front in the 1970s, served as a gay delegate to the Black Panthers endorsing gay rights, and earlier was a Civil Rights activist who served as an assistant to Martin Luther King Jr. in the 1960s. During the HIV/AIDS epidemic, Kuromiya involved himself heavily with the AIDS movement, especially in the empowerment of people with AIDS (PWA). After his own diagnosis, Kuromiya founded the Critical Path Project in 1997, a project which sought to educate PWA's, first through a newsletter, and later through free internet for PWA's. The Critical Path Project still exists today. Kuromiya died from AIDS related complications in 2000. On the website hosting historian Marc Stein's oral history interview with Kuromiya are addresses where Kuromiya lived. Preliminary research suggests to me that his residence at 2062 Lombard Street would be an excellent option for prospective preservation on the National Register, as the structure still stands and seems to remain true to its appearance from Kuromiya's time living there (1985-1997).
With regard to my Excel Spreadsheet documenting potential sites for nomination to the National Register, I currently have eighteen such sites listed, including those from documents provided by a colleague at the National Park Service. Work on this document is currently preliminary, as I am still filling in names and addresses of sites, but next steps for this part of the project will involve drafting brief narratives for those sites, determining under which criteria they could be nominated, and which NPS preservation themes they fit.
On Monday, I met with Dr. Lowe, and my Park Service direct supervisors Helen Mahan and Bonnie Halda. We discussed what directions we might move with my involvement on this project. One project for me to work on is to develop an idea for an NPS-Independence National Historical Park booth to engage Philadelphia's LGBTQ Community at Pride Fest in June. The idea behind this project is to tap into individual community members' memories of their community to both let them know what we are doing, and to gauge what matters to them with regard to their history in Philadelphia.
Last night, May 25th, saw the Philadelphia Office of LGBT Affairs's first Community Conversation, a series of meetings through which the Office of LGBT Affairs seeks to connect with, listen to, and learn from their LGBT constituents' concerns. One clear goal for these meetings is to help the community address and work through its serious current issues with racism and transphobia. Amber Hikes, executive director of the Office of LGBT Affairs, opened and managed the meeting. She took several questions during a Q&A section which dealt with topics ranging from crime along the 13th Street corridor, to increasing visibility of trans*women of color on the Commission on LGBT Affairs, what plans exist to improve care for LGBT elders, what plans exist to improve engagement with LGBT people with disabilities, and more. A general summary of Hikes's answers to these questions is that plans are largely already in motion to address these issues, but she encouraged the people who asked them, and who shared those concerns, to get involved with their resolution. A significant section of the meeting was devoted to introducing the community members in attendance to the Office's various committees which want grassroots involvement from the community itself. These committees included: Community Outreach; Elders; Civil Rights, Immigration, and Faith; Economic Empowerment; Transgender Equality; Race Relations; Youth; Health and Wellness; and City Relations. This meeting seemed a strong and sincere step towards tackling some of LGBT Philadelphia's most serious issues. Perhaps the clearest indicator of this is that these monthly meetings will vary in their location. This month's meeting was at the William Way Community Center, but in coming months meetings will take place in North Philly, Northeast Philly, Germantown, and all throughout the city. The goal here is to ensure accessibility for all sections of Philadelphia's LGBT community at these meetings, not just the sections that live in Center City.
With regard to the current events in LGBT Philadelphia, which I assert will shape the work I do with the Park Service on this LGBTQ+ Heritage Initiative, this morning I saw only one article covering last night's meeting. This article, from the PhillyVoice, largely reflected my own experiences and impressions from the meeting which were primarily hopeful. Another, unrelated, article which caught my attention was from Philadelphia Gay News (PGN) and written by Bob Skiba, head archivist at the John J. Wilcox Jr. Archives. In this article, Skiba told the story behind Dewey's, a restaurant on 17th Street which was the site of the nation's first successful LGBT sit-in in 1965, and which is now Little Pete's on 17th Street. What was different about this article from other editorials about Dewey's Skiba has written, was that it addressed the impending closure and demolition of the former Dewey's location. Little Pete's last date open will be Memorial Day, this coming Monday. Although I have not yet found a date for the slated demolition, most sources confirm it will be sometime this year.
While it is unlikely that my work will be able to save Little Pete's from demolition, this revelation has encouraged me in the importance of the work I am doing with the Park Service. There are far too few LGBT sites preserved on the National Register of Historic Places, and generally on local Historic Registers, and places like Dewey's will continue to meet the same fate if no one steps in to protect them, whether that be an individual or a collective grass-roots movement. While I hope to achieve the latter in my work, if it comes down to it, I will gladly do the work myself.
Since I last posted about my Philadelphia LGBT history Google Map, I decided to take that project a step further. Where before the map served to visually represent how significant and far-reaching the histories behind the Barbara Gittings, Annual Reminders, and Giovanni’s Room state commemorative markers are, I moved beyond to incorporate a new map that also shows how much work still needs to be done in preserving Philadelphia’s diverse and expansive LGBT history. Ultimately, my goal for this project was to provide a map that shows the viewer that there is very little preserved LGBT history in Philadelphia, but that this is by no means due to a deficit in LGBT history itself. Not only did I want to visualize for the audience that there is expansive history, but also that this history is diverse within the LGBT community. I wanted to impress upon the viewer that Philadelphia’s LGBT history does not necessarily center around white gay men and lesbians, but that queer people of color also have a proud and significant history in Philadelphia as well. This is not to discount white gay men and lesbians, because they have contributed significantly to Philadelphia’s LGBT history, but oftentimes queer people of color are relegated to the background, and my goal for this project was to bring them to the forefront. This culminated in my selection of eight LGBT historic sites in Philadelphia that have yet to receive recognition through preservation or commemoration. These sites include: The Attic, The Humoresque, The Gilded Cage, Washington Ave., Labyrinth, The Strand Ballroom, Barone’s Variety Room, and Maxine’s, and on the embedded map above you can search around for more information about each of these places. These eight sites contrast with the existing three sites commemorated through state historical markers to present just a preliminary understanding that Philadelphia hosts vastly more LGBT history than it currently remembers through preservation or commemoration. These sites also show that this LGBT history reflects the many experiences that different sections of Philadelphia’s LGBT community encounter. The Attic, as one can learn from the embedded map above, was one of Philadelphia’s most popular Black gay bars from as early as the 1960s, and it stood in Germantown. Washington Ave. and the Strand Ballroom were host on several occasions to drag balls or house balls, an iconic gender non-conforming celebration of identity which stems from queer Black and Latinx culture. Barone’s Variety Room, The Humoresque, and the Gilded Cage are all examples of gay bars and restaurants raided by police forces, a darker, but no less important, chapter of a national LGBT narrative. Labyrinth was a lesbian feminist organization and publication since 1984, reflecting the unique history of lesbians who might not have been able to find feminist spaces with heterosexual women, and so in response they established their own. This is another significant section of a national LGBT historical narrative. I chose each of these sites to reflect these different identities that all fall under “LGBTQ+,” and while there are hundreds of other LGBT historic sites in Philadelphia that others have identified, I chose these to ensure that this map’s message rang clear: Much of Philadelphia’s LGBT history is not yet recognized through preservation or commemoration, and there are significant histories for all sections of the LGBT population that deserve such recognition. My hope is that this map will inspire members of Philadelphia’s LGBTQ+ community to connect with local organizations like the Preservation Alliance of Greater Philadelphia, or even the National Park Service’s Northeast Regional Office to get involved in such preservation efforts. The National Park Service is currently undertaking a Philadelphia LGBT Heritage Initiative which strives to preserve histories like those on this map, and they encourage community members to get involved and lend their voices and suggestions.
As you engage with the map, be aware that the icon on the top right of the map window opens and closes a tab with the maps three layers which you can turn on and off. To fully appreciate the discrepancy between what is and is not formally recognized through preservation or commemoration I would encourage turning off the second layer. Credits for information and images are in the individual map spots, and the main description.