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How a Preservation Grant Will Retell Kentucky's LGBT History

Standing outside the Henry Clay building in downtown Louisville, a small group of people on Thursday celebrated a big day for LGBT history.

Members of Louisville’s Fairness Campaign, along with local and state preservationists, said they were excited because the Kentucky Heritage Council had been awarded a $25,000 grant from the National Park Service that could lead to significant changes in the recognized history of buildings such as the Henry Clay and Whiskey Row.

The small, yet competitive, grant aims to highlight the history of “under-represented communities,” said Craig Potts, executive director of the Kentucky Heritage Council.

Thirteen state preservation offices were awarded these grants, and only two of the states will focus on LGBT history. New York is the other state.

“This is a tremendous opportunity,” he added.

The grant funds will enable Kentucky preservationists and historians to delve into the history of places on the National Register of Historic Places and uncover “an LGBT connection that most people don’t know,” Potts said.

He said Kentucky has the fourth-highest number of National Historic listings in the country.

“Not one of those has a direct documented association with the LGBT community,” he said.

The grant will likely change that, at least at some historic places—like the Henry Clay on Third Street and Whiskey Row along Main Street in downtown Louisville.

The Downtowner, a building on Whiskey Row, is known as one of the first gathering places in Louisville for residents in the LGBT community, Preservation Louisville executive director Marianne Zickuhr said on a 2014 episode of Strange Fruit.

The Henry Clay has ties to the LGBT community dating back to the 1940s, said Chris Hartman, executive director of the Fairness Campaign.

The University of Louisville Photographic Archives 1947 Photograph of the Beaux Arts at the Henry Clay

Zickuhr said she was unaware of the grant opportunity until she met with a colleague in San Francisco, a city which is a national leader in LGBT history preservation.

Hartman said historians, preservationists and scholars will gather oral histories of historic places and examine archived arrest records to determine which Kentucky places on the national historic register have historic ties to the LGBT community.

Potts said scholars will also explore the William-Nichols Collection at the University of Louisville. It is the the third largest collection of LGBT related materials in the country.

If a history is identified and substantiated, then LGBT-specific amendments to the official historical context of the locations will be submitted to the state historic review board for approval, then on to Washington, D.C., for final approval by the National Park Service, Potts said.

The initiative to identify historically significant places in the LGBT community will be statewide, Hartman said. He expects much of the history to be in Louisville and Lexington, but said some work is already being done to gather details on LGBT history in eastern Kentucky, too.

Hartman said the grant allows an important part of Kentucky history to be saved. It also will provide a “blueprint to preserve the history we are making today.”

“It’s easy to get lost in the historic moments we are living in,” he said, adding LGBT history is “constantly being made in Kentucky” through the passing of anti-discrimination ordinances and local plaintiffs taking their case for same-sex marriage to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“We need to remember this history well, and preserve it, in the midst of everything we are doing,” he said. “This is a big step.”


Copyright 2015 89.3 WFPL News Louisville

Jacob Ryan is the urban affairs reporter forWFPL.