Thursday, June 4, 2015

The LGBTQ Web site Queerty this week ran an article about "Gay National Historic Landmarks You've Never Heard Of." They listed the Frank Kameny House in Washington, D.C.; the Carrington House on Fire Island, New York; the Cherry Grove Community House and Theatre on Fire Island; and the James Merrill House in Stonington, Connecticut. Petitions are now being reviewed to add the Henry Garbner House in Chicago, and the Harvey Milk House and Camera Store in San Francisco.

The reason there are only four listed here -- and, unsurprisingly, two are on Fire Island -- is because the National Park Service (NPS) has admitted to a massive, undercover effort to systematically deny recognition of LGBTQ historic sites. The NPS last year agreed to a formal, funded program to overcome this historic bias.

In D.C., the Jack Nichols House should be on the list. Nichols co-founded the Mattachine Society of Washington, D.C., with Frank Kameny. He later appeared on-camera on CBS News' notorious "documentary", The Homosexuals in 1967; founded and wrote "The Homosexual Citizen" column for Screw magazine, founded GAY magazine (the first LGBTQ newsweekly magazine), and was news editor of the San Francisco Sentinel.

The Lambda Rising bookstore is a historic site, about the only commercial LGBTQ historic site that's left in Washington, D.C. Nearly all of D.C.'s gay historic structures are long goen, razed in the name of urban renewal and office buildings. Sure, the bookstore is sadly closed, but the site still exists (unlike most other sites, such as Tracks, Lost & Found, Jimmy's Chicken Shack, Mr. P's, Chesapeake House, and the like).

Herman Lynn Womack was a Ph.D. and professor of philosophy at George Washington University. In the 1950s, he founed MANual Enterprises, a gay magazine press that published three beefcake magazines: MANual, Trim, and Grecian Guild Pictorial. He was raided in March 1960 and his magazines declared obscene by the U.S. Postal Service for depicting semi-nude or nude men (the USPS said that was de facto homosexual, and homosexuality was obscene). He sued, and in MANual Enterprises v. Day, 370 U.S. 478 (1962), the United States Supreme Court held that photographs of nude or near-nude male models were not obscene. The case opened the U.S. mail to nude male pornographic magazines, especially those catering to gay men. Womack then renamed his business Guild Press, and began publishing gay fiction and gay erotica novels. He owned the Mark II gay cinema at 808 K Street NW, and the Village Books a chain of bookstores -- the flagships of which were at 819 13th Street NW and at 14th and H Streets NW. In 1970, Womack launched the short-lived gay newspaper The Gay Forum. Prosecuted in 1971 for allegedly using under-age models in his beefcake magazines, Womack entered into a plea-bargain in which he shuttered his businesses in exchange for receiving a much-reduced sentence. He then left D.C. and lived in Boca Raton, Florida, where he died in 1985 at the age of 62. His home, the location of Guild Press, the two bookstores, and the site of the Mark II Theater (which was still standing when I moved to D.C. in 1988) should all be listed with historic markers.

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