What Can You Do to Get Involved with the LGBTQ Heritage Initiative?

Thank you for your enthusiasm and desire to get involved in the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer (LGBTQ) Heritage Initiative. The participation of you and other LGBTQ community members and allies is absolutely crucial to the success of the initiative.

Tell people about the LGBTQ Heritage Initiative, share information about LGBTQ history and places, and invite them to get involved.

Inside the Webster dance hall in the 1920s, with an audience watching costumed performers
1920s Drag Ball at Webster Hall, New York City.

It is important that we all see ourselves, now and in the future, in the story of America. Learning about the contributions and lives of others helps us appreciate and value American diversity and each other as people. Whether you have one hour, one day, or lots of time, we invite you to get involved with the LGBTQ Heritage Initiative. This booklet provides suggestions for how you can get involved.

You can Identify Places, Nominate a Place, Add Information, and Mark Your Places. We urge you to Spread the Word, Design a Tour, Get Together, and Cast a Wide Net. You can also Advocate for LGBTQ Inclusion at Historic Sites, Visit and Share, Share Your Preservation Efforts, Advocate for Endangered Places, Teach, Share Your Knowledge and Ideas, Share Your Expertise, Exhibit Local History, Listen to Your Elders, Preserve Objects and Documents, Donate Your Papers and Things, or Organize Your Community. Some of these may require money, and we provide some information on Finding Funding. Finally, we let you know how to offer Financial Support if you are interested, and to Keep in Touch.

Identify Places: What places in your community are important to LGBTQ history and culture? Check out the online map to see what places in your area people have told us about. To send information about an LGBTQ place in your community, or to provide additional information or corrections, contact us via the links on the LGBTQ Initiative webpage.

Nominate a Place: Many places of local, state, and national significance to LGBTQ history are not yet listed in the National Register of Historic Places, the nation’s list of places considered worthy of preservation. Find out how to get started with the National Register Fundamentals. If you have questions, and to find out about available grants and other assistance, contact your State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO), Federal Historic Preservation Office (FPO), or Tribal Historic Preservation Office (THPO).

Add Information: Lots of places already recognized as historic by being listed on the National Register of Historic Places (or as National Historic Landmarks, National Monuments, or National Parks) have important LGBTQ history associated with them, but it’s not always officially included in the paperwork. Information on writing a nomination amendment can be found on the National Park Service website.

In addition to the national programs described above, many municipalities, including Chicago and San Francisco (whose lists include LGBTQ places), keep their own lists of locally significant historic places. States also recognize historic places. By working with local historic preservationists and planners, you can help get LGBTQ places included; contact your local planning or historic preservation office to find out about local registers.

Mark Your Places: Marking our historic places is an important way of remembering. The traditional way of doing this is by working with local and state organizations and governments to have historic markers and/or signage installed. There are also increasingly ways of marking historic places online. While nothing quite matches the feeling of place you get from being physically in a space, digital place marking allows interaction from around the world, and often supports multimedia information, including historic photographs, videos, and oral histories. HistoryPin is one example of this kind of digital place marking. Several communities have LGBTQ projects at HistoryPin (and a national project is being developed); you can also add places individually.

Spread the Word: Tell people about the LGBTQ Heritage Initiative, share information about LGBTQ history and places, and invite them to get involved. Person-to-person or via social media (#LGBTQhistory), get the word out!

Design a Tour: Identify places of LGBTQ interest in your community and create a walking, driving, or virtual tour. Looking for inspiration? Check out the work done by Baltimore Heritage in Baltimore, MD and the Rainbow History Project in Washington, DC.

Get Together: Organize a community event like a salon, book club, or meet-up to talk about LGBTQ history, places, preservation, and plans. You can meet in someone’s home, a local restaurant, or reserve a space at your local library. Don’t forget to take notes!

Cast a Wide Net: It is important that all LGBTQ communities be represented in the LGBTQ Heritage Initiative. Think about all the different aspects that affect our LGBTQ experiences: social class, gender, generation, ethnicity, religion, and whether we live in urban or rural areas, to name a few. When you are researching, writing, or sharing LGBTQ history, listen, acknowledge, and include the different histories of those whose experiences may not be your own.

Advocate for LGBTQ Inclusion at Historic Sites: Tour guides and staff at historic places often know about any LGBTQ history associated with their sites, and while they may not always include it in their presentation scripts, they are often happy to answer questions. Advocate in person, by mail, or email for inclusion of LGBTQ history and heritage in presentations, research, and interpretation at museums, parks, and libraries. If you are able, volunteer to help prepare and implement programs.

Visit and Share: There is nothing quite like visiting an historic place in person. Take the time to seek out LGBTQ historic places in your own communities and while traveling (but don’t intrude on private property). You can find a lot of places on the map of LGBTQ historic sites, and by asking around when you are traveling. Other sources include history apps like Quist (which brings LGBTQ history directly to your smartphone) and websites like KnowHomo and OutHistory. Share your adventures via social media, tagged #LGBTQhistory, and let us know about places we’ve not heard about yet!

Share Your Preservation Efforts: Lots of people care about preserving and learning from our heritage, and want to know what’s going on around the country. You can use these networks to ask questions, get support, and get in touch with others interested in LGBTQ history and preservation. The National Trust for Historic Preservation hosts an email listserv for LGBTQ preservation (to subscribe, email subscribe-lgbtpreservation-l@lists.nationaltrust.org) and the Rainbow Heritage Network is working to connect those across the country interested in LGBTQ history and historic preservation. You can also find out what other underrepresented groups are doing to preserve their places: check out the Trust’s other affinity listservs as well as organizations like Asian and Pacific Islander Americans in Historic Preservation (APIAHiP) and Latinos in Heritage Conservation.

Advocate for Endangered Places: There are many ways to advocate for endangered LGBTQ places, including many described in this document. In addition, the National Trust for Historic Preservation works to preserve and protect historic places across the country. Check out their website for ways to help fight for places significant to LGBTQ history.

Teach: Incorporate LGBTQ history and heritage into lesson plans. The National Park Service has tools available for all grade levels through the Teaching with Historic Places program. More information, examples, and inspiration are available via the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) and Quist. Information on teaching and thinking about diverse history is also available via the National Park Service’s Heritage Initiatives “Teaching Cultural Heritage Preservation.”

Share Your Knowledge and Ideas: Write an article or opinion piece for your local newspaper, blog, social media, and other outlets. Please share them with us!

Share Your Expertise: Are you a librarian, historian, archivist, museum curator, or have other preservation expertise? Share your knowledge with others interested in LGBTQ history and historic preservation. For example: Librarians can develop reading lists on local and/or national LGBTQ history, advocate for the inclusion of LGBTQ history in the stacks, and facilitate a book group. Historians could offer to write or review National Register nominations or amendments, have their classes research an LGBTQ historic place, and incorporate LGBTQ history into their lectures. Archivists can let people know about their repository’s LGBTQ holdings, help people conduct primary research, give advice on the proper care and storage of LGBTQ materials in private collections, and if appropriate, collect LGBTQ materials into their archives (or recommend an appropriate alternate repository). Museum curators can incorporate LGBTQ history into exhibits and interpretation, advise on the proper care and storage of LGBTQ-related items in private collections, and if appropriate, collect LGBTQ materials into their collections (or recommend an appropriate alternate repository).

Exhibit Local History: Talk to your local historical society or public library about putting together an exhibit or display focusing on or incorporating local LGBTQ history. You can also prepare a virtual exhibit on the internet.

Listen to Your Elders: Are you an oral historian? Capture the stories, memories, and associations with place of people in your community who have been around a while. They might be elders, activists, business owners, community leaders, or long-time residents. Not an oral historian, but want to help? Ask one of the ongoing LGBTQ Oral History projects how you can assist.  You can find them by searching the internet for LGBTQ Oral History; communities and institutions across the United States have ongoing Oral History projects. Check out the Oral History Association’s best practices for a sense of the kind of volunteer opportunities that might be available.

Preserve Objects and Documents: Do you have collections of LGBTQ objects or documents that should be cared for? Learn how to care for them so that they last for future generations, and/or consider donating them to an appropriate archive or museum. Local archivists and museum curators may be willing to share information on how to appropriately care for these items; there is also information available online. To find an appropriate archive or museum to contact about donating your items, search online for LGBTQ archives.

Donate Your Papers and Things: Many of us have LGBTQ flyers, books, chapbooks, newsletters, t-shirts, matchbooks, photographs, letters, organizational records, posters, guidebooks, event programs, etc. etc. among our personal things. These primary sources are at the foundation of writing our histories. Don't throw them away! See if an LGBTQ archive is interested in taking them. If you are concerned about privacy, many archives will agree to seal your collections for a certain number of years. A partial list of archives collecting LGBTQ materials is available via Wikipedia; the Rainbow Heritage Network can also help facilitate finding an appropriate museum or archival repository.

Organize Your Community: Being listed as an Historic District on the NR or as an NHL are not the only ways that you can recognize LGBTQ history and heritage in your community. The National Heritage Areas program of the NPS is a way that historic communities with national significance can come together and take advantage of NPS resources and funding to support stewardship.

The National Main Street Program through the National Trust for Historic Preservation likewise offers a way for communities to come together and preserve their histories. The Main Street program focuses on commercial districts. Each of these programs works in different ways with different criteria and goals. Read the websites to make yourself familiar with them to see if they can meet the needs of your community.

Finding Funding: While many of these ways of getting involved are low- or no-cost, others may require funds. The four basic funding sources are federal, state, local, and private non-profits and foundations. In certain circumstances, some funds are available through various NPS programs, including the Certified Local Government program, National Heritage Areas program, Historic Preservation Fund grants (including grants to underrepresented communities), and Tax Incentives. The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), National Education Association (NEA), and the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) are also federal agencies that offer certain kinds of preservation funding.

Additional funds may be available through state and local programs and through private granting agencies. Research will be needed to find the right funding source for your needs. Your local government and Preservation Office may be able to provide suggestions and guidance.

Financial Support: If you are interested in making a financial donation to support the LGBTQ Heritage Initiative, contact the National Park Foundation, official charity of America’s national parks. Be sure to let them know your donation is to support the LGBTQ Heritage Initiative.

Keep in Touch: We would love to know what you’re doing and of other ways you’ve explored and recorded LGBTQ history and heritage; drop us a line and e-mail us. You can keep up to date on the initiative at the NPS initiative webpage and via our partner, the Rainbow Heritage Network.

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Last updated: February 2, 2016