Community Pioneers: Creators of DC's LGBT Community

In 2003 The Rainbow History Project established the Community Pioneer Award as a means of recognizing people whose contributions to the community merited special recognition. The recipients of this award are chosen for their pioneering work in helping to create the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community of metropolitan Washington, DC.

The LGBT community is an amalgam of many small communities; as a whole it encompasses spectacular diversity of gender, race, age, class, income and wealth, geography, spirituality, education, and personal interests. Some of the institutions we have established seek to serve the LGBT community at large, but most explicitly focus on smaller communities of interest. All contribute to our overall well-being. At the same time, many members of the LGBT community have worked tirelessly and successfully to change the shape of the law, health care, social services, and personal services available to the general public in order to make them more attentive to LGBT needs.

Tens of thousands of individuals have contributed to these accomplishments. How, then, does the Rainbow History Project identify a small number of individuals for special recognition?

We start by reaching out to all of our supporters – not just board members and other volunteers, but also our advisory board, existing Community Pioneers, and the hundreds of supporters with whom we communicate by Constant Comment – asking them to submit nominations, with a brief statement of support. Since we are such a diverse community, no RHP board member will personally know all the nominees and in some cases there are nominees that none of the board members knows. Thus our next step is to do research. There is a lot of information in our current collection, but an especially effective way to expand our knowledge is to obtain the oral history of nominees. Rainbow History Project has significantly enlarged its roster of volunteers who perform oral history interviews; many recently obtained oral histories are those of Community Pioneer nominees.

Our volunteers then summarize the collected information on the nominees and present it for the board to make the final selections.