National Park Service on mission to identify places and people important to LGBT history

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NEW YORK (PIX11) — The National Park Service launched an initiative on Friday to identify places and people important to the history of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans.

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell acknowledged the plan is controversial.

“Yes it’s controversial. There are parts of our civil rights history that are controversial,” Jewell said. “It doesn’t mean the story shouldn’t be told. And we feel strongly it’s part of the National Park Service’s job to tell the story of all Americans.”

“We can help promote a dialogue across the board. We can make the issue more relevant to people who visit National Park sites, and engage school children,” said Joshua Laird, Commissioner of National Parks of New York Harbor.

The announcement was made in front of the Stonewall Inn on Christopher Street in Greenwich Village. Violent demonstrations by members of the gay community broke out there in response to a police raid in 1969. The riots are considered the single most important event leading to the modern gay civil rights movement. Stonewall was made a national historic landmark in 2000.

The so-called theme study to find more relevant sites was financed with $250,000 from the Gill Foundation.

“In some ways it’s a really small step, but in other ways it’s a really big step because ten years ago this would not have happened,” said Tim Gill, whose organization donated the money.

A small group of gay rights activists holding up a banner that read “Don’t Stop at Our History—Full Federal Equality Now!” rallied across from the press conference to remind President Obama that much more work needs to be done.

“Our movement is not over, and it’s beyond marriage,” said Caleb-Michael Files who came to New York City on Thursday from his home in Missouri for a summer internship program. “We cannot stop fighting until we have our trans brothers and sisters having trans inclusive health benefits and the right to be able to be who they are every day in their workplaces.”

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A panel of 18 scholars will convene in June to kick off the study. It’s a 12 to 18 month process in which there will be many opportunities for public input. Some are already passionate about people and places they say deserve recognition.

Keiran Kanakkanatt, who was at the rally, said she would like to see a memorial at the spot where 21-year-old gay college student Matthew Shepard was savagely beaten, tied to a fence and left for dead on the outskirts of Laramie, Wyoming in 1998.

“This man lost his life for being who he is. There’s no memorial, nothing there,” Kanakkanatt said.

Six years later, ABC’s “20/20” interviewed Aaron McKinney, one of the two men convicted of Shepard’s murder. McKinney denied it was a hate crime, and said the motive was to rob him.