DC’s Rainbow History Project reflects on 60 years of LGBTQ history ahead of World Pride

WTOP is marking Pride Month by showcasing the people, places and important issues in the LGBTQ+ communities in the D.C. area. Check back all throughout June as we share these stories, on air and online.

One of many photos archived by D.C.'s Rainbow History Project, which may be seen during the World Pride exhibit in June 2025. (Courtesy Rainbow History Project)

A D.C. organization has been documenting the history of the LGBTQ community in the District since 2000. This year, that same organization told WTOP of its plans to share the region’s history ahead of next year’s World Pride celebration.

Vincent Slatt, Director of Archiving at the Rainbow History Project, told WTOP that LGBTQ history is a critical part of the history of local Washington.

“However,” Slatt said, “it’s not documented as well as other histories and presented as publicly as other histories.”

That’s why a group of elders and activists interested in documenting their own history, and conducting research on the history of LGBTQ-identifying people in D.C. founded the Rainbow History Project in 2000, according to Slatt.

CLICK PHOTO TO ENLARGE: Vincent Slatt is the Director of Archiving at the Rainbow History Project in D.C. (Courtesy Vincent Slatt)

He said the founders looked around at the area libraries, universities, the National Archives and the Library of Congress, but realized there was really no one collecting and preserving D.C. LGBTQ history.

So, Slatt said, the Rainbow History Project began recording oral histories.

Out of that grew the social geography project called “Places and Spaces.” The database on its website tracks almost 500 different locations where moments and pieces of LGBTQ history took place.

It’s not just bars and clubs, Slatt told WTOP. “It’s arts and performing places, coffee shops, bookstores.”

He said elders and activists also came forward with paperwork, old newsletters, files from the different organizations, and started to craft an archival collection.

“We’ve now grown to approximately a quarter of a million pages of documentation,” Slatt said.

The group also started an archival partnership with the DC History Center, a nonprofit group that focuses on D.C. history, which houses the group’s archives.

Planning for a global celebration

The Rainbow History Project is also putting together a massive history exhibit for World Pride, which will be hosted in D.C. in June 2025. The exhibit is being called “Pickets, Protests and Parades.”

“For us, the story is really going to start … with those pickets at the White House in April of 1965 and go all the way until 2025 — 60 years later,” Slatt said.

CLICK IMAGE TO ENLARGE: Image and QR code provided by Rainbow History Project.

He added that the community is a lot safer and a lot better off in the District than similar communities across the U.S.

“In general, when I look at LGBTQ Washington versus the state of LGBTQ affairs across the country, I can really say that here in the District of Columbia, we have advanced by leaps and bounds,” Slatt told WTOP.

More Pride Month stories

He credited Mayor Muriel Bowser, whom he called one of most pro-gay mayors in the country, and a supportive D.C. Council for the progress made.

Slatt said the exhibit is going to show just how far the region has come.

“We’re going to show them what we did here and how we leveraged pride in order to get equal rights,” Slatt said.

More information on the collection is available online at rainbowhistory.org.

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Stephanie Gaines-Bryant

Stephanie Gaines-Bryant is an Anchor and Reporter for WTOP. Over the past 20 years, Stephanie has worked in several markets, including Baltimore, Washington, Houston and Charleston, holding positions ranging from newscaster to morning show co-host.

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