ST. LOUIS, Mo. - Trinity Episcopal Church in St. Louis' Central West End today held an outdoor dedication of a permanent plaque commemorating the church's placement on the National Register of Historic Places for its significant place in LGBTQIA+ history - the first and only such site in Missouri and the first Episcopal parish in the country so honored.

 

TrinityPLaque1Trinity rector, The Rev. Jon Stratton, presided over a ceremony held on the church steps that featured Nick Dunne, the St. Louis Mayor's Public Information Officer, who read Mayor Tishaura Jones' proclamation declaring the day to be Trinity Episcopal Church Day; activist Greg Smith, who was arrested after appearing in drag on Halloween 1969; Trinity parishioners Riley Luebbers, Alicia Hernandez and Cody Burleson; and the Rt. Rev. Deon K. Johnson, Eleventh Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Missouri, who formally unveiled and blessed the freestanding outdoor plaque on church land at the corner of Euclid Avenue and Washington Boulevard.

 

Trinity was supported by a number of elected officials and members of the Episcopal clergy from St. Louis and Missouri churches.

 

Trinity is recognized for the years 1969 to 1993, which include its early support of gay rights, its embrace of LGBT parishioners and community members, and its compassionate response to the first AIDS patients in the 1980s. The recognition of Trinity is part of an effort by the U.S. Department of the Interior to document a more complete story of the gay rights movement, a project announced in May 2014 by Secretary Sally Jewell. The NRHP is the U.S. federal government's official list of districts, sites, buildings, structures, and objects deemed significant to American history and worthy of preservation. Currently there are more than 96,000 sites across the country, with LGBTQIA+ sites numbering 24.

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"Trinity, as an Episcopal church that embraces the radical love and inclusion of Jesus Christ, continues today as an energetic supporter of the LGBTQIA+ community," said Rev. Stratton. "We are honored by the NRHP recognition and wear this designation with pride."

 

Steven Brawley, founder of the LGBT History Project in St. Louis, notes that "Trinity's longtime support for the LGBTQIA+ community dates back to its serving as a meeting space of St. Louis' first gay rights organization - The Mandrake Society - in 1969.

 

The NRHP designation came after a concentrated period of reflection, recollection and research by members of the church and those involved in the preservation of St. Louis' early gay and lesbian history.

 

Aiding the application process were longtime Trinity Church parishioners who are keepers of the parish records and institutional memory for the years cited in the NRHP designation - Ellie Chapman, wife of the late Trinity rector Rev. William Chapman; Etta Taylor, church archivist; and Jym Andris, community historian. Their work was supplemented by Ian Darnell, curatorial assistant for the LGBTQ Collection at the Missouri History Museum, and Steven Brawley.

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University of Kansas professor Katie Batza wrote the application as an extension of a current book project as part of her ongoing work with the National Park Service LGBT Heritage Initiative. She said that as the application took shape, Trinity Church's ties to the LGBTQIA+ community were inspirational.

 

"It was encouraging to see how committed Trinity was to the rights of all of its gay and lesbian parishioners at a time when these rights largely were unknown to the mainstream," she said. "The first Mandrake Society meeting at Trinity was one of a handful of local, national and global political actions and protests in 1969 - including the Stonewall Riots in Greenwich Village - that marked the start of a new civil rights movement."

 

Trinity Episcopal Church, founded in 1855, has stood at the corner of Euclid and Washington Avenues in the City of St. Louis since 1935. Trinity is urban, socially progressive and Anglo-Catholic in its worship. Its parishioners are from many backgrounds and of diverse orientations. It's rector is 36-years-old Jon Stratton, a social justice activist and a member of the leadership team with Missouri Jobs with Justice.

 

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