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.