Two members of the SF State community have contributed to the National Park Service’s first LGBTQ theme study, helping U.S. citizens and visitors learn about the people and events responsible for building civil rights in America.
Marc Stein, the Jamie and Phyllis Pasker Professor of History, writes on “Historical Landmarks and Landscapes of LGBTQ Law.” Amy Sueyoshi, College of Ethnic Studies associate dean, contributes a chapter titled “Breathing Fire: Remembering Asian Pacific American Activism in Queer History.”
“LGBTQ America: A Theme Study of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer History” is the first-of-its-kind study conducted by a national government to chronicle the historical places, documents, people and events that have shaped the LGBTQ civil rights movement in America. The National Park Service released the study October 11, which is National Coming Out Day.
Law: ‘a complicated and multifaceted resource’
Professor Stein’s 44-page chapter explores how law is “a complicated and multifaceted resource, simultaneously freeing, limiting and producing human sexes, genders and sexualities.” He goes as far back as 1629, when Thomas/Thomasine Hall of Virginia was accused of wearing women’s clothing inappropriately and having nonmarital sex with a woman.
“After intrusive investigations of Hall’s body, Virginia’s General Court at Jamestown decided that Hall was a man and woman and required Hall to dress in partially male and partially female clothing, which was a form of public humiliation,” Stein writes.
Stein also cites several locations in San Francisco, including City Lights Books, raided in 1957 on obscenity charges for selling Allen Ginsberg’s homoerotic Howl and Other Poems. The store’s owner, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, was acquitted later that year.
Burgeoning Asian American movement
Sueyoshi begins by noting that Asian Americans have been at the forefront of the two biggest issues in the LGBTQ politics of the 21st century — “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” and marriage equality.
A youth movement has emerged, as SF State and other universities have student organizations for LGBTQ Asian Americans, she notes. The nonprofit group API Equality is researching oral histories of communities in Northern and Southern California, presenting educational workshops and leading Wikipedia hackathons.
“For these [Asian Pacific American] activists, sexual freedom, economic justice and gender and racial equity are inextricably intertwined in their fight for a more compassionate and inclusive world,” Sueyoshi writes in her 38-page chapter.
Things have come a long way since the first wave of Asian migration in the 1800s. Not only were racist and homophobic oppression the norm, but “historians though have rendered [Asian] stories invisible through a heteronormative recounting of history,” she writes.
‘Reversing the current underrepresentation’
“For far too long, the struggles and contributions of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer-identified Americans have been ignored in the traditional narratives of our nation’s history,” U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell says. “This theme study is the first of its kind by any national government to identify this part of our shared history, and it will result in an important step forward in reversing the current underrepresentation of stories and places associated to the LGBTQ community in the complex and diverse story of America.”
The study will help these places become designated as National Historic Landmarks or nominated to the National Register of Historic Places. It will also inform the presentation of LGBTQ history by professors and teachers and serve as a reference for the general public.
Experts in LGBTQ studies wrote and peer-edited more than 1,200 pages in the 32 chapters of the study. The study charts LGBTQ histories across the U.S. — from the native māhū of Hawai’i and lhamana of the Zuni, to the drag queens of the Stonewall Uprising, from private residences, hotels, bars and government agencies to hospitals, parks and community centers. Authors and peer reviewers include professors, filmmakers, historians, geographers, archivists and museum curators, researchers, experts in historic preservation, historical archaeologists, journalists and members of the clergy.
The National Park Service coordinated the study with support from the National Park Foundation and funding from the Gill Foundation.
- LGBTQ America: A Theme Study of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer History
- National Park Foundation
- Marc Stein
- Amy Sueyoshi
Photo: City Lights Books, which was raided by police in 1957 for selling Allen Ginsberg’s Howl and Other Poems. Photo by Lydia Fizz.