U.S. Ambassador: Obama's Election Was 'Last Closing Chapter of Our Civil War’

Penny Starr | June 16, 2014 | 2:25pm EDT
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John Berry, U.S. ambassador to Australia, spoke on June 10, 2014 at the Department of Interior in Washington, D.C. (CNSNews.com/Penny Starr)

(CNSNews.com) – John Berry, the U.S. Ambassador to Australia, said Barack Obama’s election to president was the “true last closing chapter of our Civil War.”

Berry, who is married to a man, made the comment last Tuesday at a National Park Service event focused on the history of the LGBT “civil rights” struggle.

“I reminded her that it took 100 years to strike off the shackles of slavery, and 100 more to write the true last closing chapter of our Civil War with the election of our first African American president,” Berry said he told a woman in Australia who asked about civil rights in America.

Berry, who was director of the Office of Personnel and Management in the Obama administration before being appointed an ambassador by President Barack Obama in 2013, is described on the Embassy of the United States website as “the highest ranking openly LGBT executive in U.S. history.”

“Why is America moving so fast on so many fronts in civil rights?” Berry said the woman asked. “And she was, of course, referring to the election of an African American and the re-election of our African American president.

“But she was also referring to our advances in LGBT equality both in military service and for marriage,” Berry said. “My answer -- just as this very important project seeks to capture history that (Interior) Sec. (Sally) Jewell and (NPS) Director (Jonathan) Jarvis are launching today – my answer was that you really have to look at history to appreciate the answer to that question.”

Berry cited the Declaration of Independence’s phrase, “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

“This is a solemn promise that we continue to perfect,” he said.

“I reminded her that it took 100 years to strike off the shackles of slavery, and 100 more to right the true last closing chapter of our civil war with the election of our first African American president,” Berry said, adding that the LGBT movement has benefitted from “his leadership.”

“Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis will host a panel discussion including leading historians and scholars to discuss ways to celebrate and interpret lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender history in the context of broader American history,” the press release announcing the event stated.

CNSNews.com asked the National Park Service several questions about the “theme study,” including what gives NPS the authority to conduct it.

Mike Litterst, public affairs specialist for the NPS, said the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, as amended, gives the Interior Secretary the authority “to expand and maintain a National Register of Historic Places composed of districts, sites, buildings, structures, and objects significant in American history, architecture, archaeology, engineering, and culture.”

Litterst said some of the theme studies conducted in the past were “mandated by Congress,” while others are determined by NPS.

This study was determined by NPS, but Litterst said Jewell received letters from both the House and Senate encouraging the project. The letter from the House was signed by 18 Democrats and two Republicans. The Senate letter was signed by five Democrats.

“To ensure that the story includes the full diversity of our nation, we respectfully request that the Department conduct a theme study on the many contributions of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Americans,” the Senate letter stated. “There are important stories of the role of members of this community have played in our nation’s history, including as part of the modern LGBT civil rights movement.

“These parts of our national narrative add to the rich tapestry of the American experience and deserve to be told,” the letter stated.

“Over the years, theme studies have evolved as an effective way of identifying and nominating properties, because they provide a comparative analysis of properties associated with a specific area of American history as well as the necessary national historic context required to assess the significance of a number of related properties,” Litterst told CNSNews.com.

“The National Park Service has completed more than 75 theme studies, on topics as diverse as the fur trade, earliest Americans, women's history, Greek Revival architecture, Man in Space, or labor history,” he added.

Litterst said a $250,000 donation from the Gill Foundation is paying for the study. The foundation is “one of the nation's largest funders and organizers of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender civil rights work,” according to its website.

When CNSNews.com asked about specific sites related to bi-sexuals or transgenders, Litterst said the need to find those sites is why the project is taking place.

Litterst said that the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar and site of riots in the 1960s by drag queens objecting to a raid by police, “is the only site to be designated as a National Historic Landmark by NPS. That designation took place in 2000.”

Four LGBT-related sites have been added to the National Register of Historic Places: The Franklin E. Kameny Residence (home of the homosexual activist) in Washington, D.C.; the Cherry Grove Community House and Theatre on Fire Island (“one of the first and, for many years, the only gay and lesbian influenced geography in the United States” in New York; the James Merrill House (a gay poet who lived there with his partner) in Connecticut; and the Carrington House (a vacation home on the gay-friendly Fire Island) in New York.

Litterst said the LGBT theme study should be completed by 2016.

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