A project honoring pioneers of LGBT history will be unveiled in San Francisco on September 2.
Called the Rainbow Honor Walk, twenty bronze plaques posthumously memorializing members of the LGBT community will be permanently embedded in the sidewalks of the Castro district.
The Rainbow Honor Walk is separate from another public project honoring LGBT history, which will install twenty historical factoids about the Castro in its sidewalks as part of a plan to improve San Francisco’s streetscape.
Public relations professional David Perry told the Bay Area Reporter, “Twenty years ago this idea came to me. It is incredibly moving to me to see the hundreds of people who came together over the years to make it happen.”
Perry is working on the plaques’ finishing touches in preparation for their official dedication, which will take place at Harvey Milk Plaza on September 2 at 11:00 am. After the speeches, members of the honor walk board and local LGBT community leaders will assist in officially dedicating the plaques.
The Rainbow Honor Walk’s twenty honorees consist of six women and fourteen men, all from the last two centuries. The plaques are being arranged in alphabetical order by last name, beginning with Jane Addams and ending with Virginia Woolf. Sixteen of the plaques are being installed between Market and 19th Street, on both sides of Castro Street’s 400 and 500 blocks, and the other four will be on 19th Street between Castro and Collingwood.
A confirmed guest for the event is Phyllis Lyon, who co-founded the Daughters of Bilitis organization with LGBT rights activist Del Martin, her late wife. Martin will be honored with a plaque on 19th Street, not far from a former home of the couple’s.
Lyon, now eighty-nine, told the Bay Area Reporter, “I think [the Rainbow Honor Walk]is absolutely wonderful. Why haven’t we done it before?”
The idea of an installation in the Castro honoring figures from LGBT history was first suggested by Perry in 1994, but it never got off the ground. Finally, in 2009, the idea of a sidewalk memorial project recognizing LGBT pioneers was proposed by businessman and Castro resident Isak Lindenauer, who also suggested naming it the Rainbow Honor Walk. After the Bay Area Reporter ran a story on the idea, he and Perry formed an all-volunteer committee to oversee the project and help it to fruition.
Making the Rainbow Honor Walk into reality was a community project, with the public nominating over a hundred and fifty historical figures for consideration. The $100,000 cost of the plaques was raised via crowdfunding, both online and off.
The plaques scheduled to be unveiled on September 2 are only the first half of the Rainbow Honor Walk. The selection process for the next twenty honorees will begin later that month, when the committee meets again. According to Perry, they will ask the general public to nominate LGBT historical figures in late 2014 or early 2015.
The original qualification criteria called for nominees to already be deceased, to have self-proclaimed themselves as LGBT, and to have made “considerable” contributions to society. The committee has not clarified if the same criteria will be used again.
Those who will be honored on September 2 are:
Jane Addams (1860-1935), women’s suffrage leader and author; the first American woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize
James Baldwin (1924-87), who wrote extensively on racial and sexual issues in the mid-1900s in the US, revealing and analyzing what it meant to be black and gay at a time when both groups were extremely marginalized
George Choy (1960-1993), AIDS awareness activist who convinced the San Francisco Board of Supervisors to approve a counseling program for LGBT teens in public high schools
Federico Garcia Lorca (1898-1936), Spanish poet, playwright, political activist whose work cut across all social and educational barriers; used his fame to fight Spanish fascism
Allen Ginsberg (1926-97), American poet opposed to militarism, materialism and sexual repression; a leading figure of the Beat Generation in 1950s San Francisco
Keith Haring (1958-90), artist and political activist whose work portrayed universal concepts such as birth, death, love, sex and war; his distinctive style and explicit attacks on the stigma surrounding AIDS have made his work widely recognized to this day
Harry Hay (1912-2002), English-born writer who founded the Mattachine Society, one of the first LGBT rights groups in the US
Sylvester James (1947-88), child gospel star, American disco star, soul singer, and drag artist whose record “You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real) was inducted into the Dance Music Hall of Fame
Christine Jorgensen (1926-89), MTF transgender pioneer who was the first widely known figure to undergo gender confirmation surgery
Frida Kahlo (1907-54), Mexican artist known for her work depicting the female experience and form, and her portrayal of Mexico’s national and indigenous tradition
Del Martin (1921-2008), co-founder of the Daughters of Bilitis, the first lesbian social and political organization in the US, along with her partner Phyllis Lyon; the two became the first same-sex couple to legally marry in California on June 16th, 2008
Yukio Mishima (1925-70), considered one of the most important Japanese authors of the 20th century; his work as a playwright, poet, actor, and film director broke cultural boundaries and focused on sexuality, death, and political change
Bayard Rustin (1912-87), though largely behind the scenes, he was a major figure in the civil rights movement of the 1960s and counseled Martin Luther King, Jr. on nonviolent resistance; later became an active gay rights advocate
Randy Shilts (1951-94), known as the first openly gay reporter with a gay “beat” in the American mainstream press; also wrote three best-selling books on LGBT history
Gertrude Stein (1874-1946), American writer and philosopher who surrounded herself with not only famous works but famous people, including her life partner Alice B. Toklas; her essay “Miss Furr and Miss Skeene” is perhaps the first published use of the word “gay” in the modern sense
Alan Turing (1912-54), British scientist, cryptanalyst, logician, mathematician whose techniques for interpreting German ciphers in World War II saved tens of thousands of lives in the process; credited as the father of computer science, his theories are still relevant today
Tom Waddell (1937-87), a physician and athlete who founded what came to be known as the Gay Games; he and partner Charles Deaton appeared on the cover of People in June 1976, making them the first gay couple to appear on the cover of a major national magazine
Oscar Wilde (1854-1900), a poet, novelist, and essayist who was also one of the most popular playwrights in early 1890s London; during one of several trials in which he was accused of “gross indecency,” he made famous the line “the love that dare not speak its name”
Tennessee Williams (1911-83), an American dramatist, poet, and novelist who was awarded two Pulitzer prizes for drama and four Drama Critics Circle awards; his work has been translated into more foreign languages than any English-language playwright but Shakespeare
Virginia Woolf (1882-1941), English novelist, essayist, and publisher who was part of the circle of writers and artists that came to be known as the Bloomsbury Group; she is regarded as one of the twentieth century’s primary modernist literary figures
More detailed biographies of all twenty can be read here.
Perry said, “These people courageously stood up as openly and self-expressed members of the LGBT community and made the world a better place through their work. They have walked the walk for human dignity and equality and so created a pathway the rest of us are humbled to tread.”