RELEASE: CAP Analysis Finds that Presidents Have a Stronger Record than Congress in Creating National Parks and Monuments that Reflect America’s Diversity

Washington, D.C. — Presidents are 50 percent more effective than Congress at designating national parks and monuments that reflect America’s diversity and traditionally underrepresented communities, according to a new Center for American Progress analysis released today.

The new analysis examines the attention given by presidents and Congress to building an inclusive system of national parks and monuments, finding that 33 percent of those established by presidents and their administrations are inclusive, meaning that they have a primary focus on women, communities of color, or other traditionally underrepresented communities, while only 22 percent of congressional designations are inclusive. The issue brief also emphasizes the essential role that presidents and their administrations have played in increasing the inclusivity of our country’s system of national parks and monuments, particularly through the president’s use of executive authority under the Antiquities Act to establish new national monuments.

“While President Barack Obama has taken significant steps to protect places that reflect our country’s growing diversity, the current Congress seems focused on rolling back that progress by undermining the Antiquities Act,” said Nidhi Thakar, CAP Deputy Director of the Public Lands Project. “As the National Park Service’s centennial anniversary approaches next year, the Obama administration can and should continue the progress our country has made toward building a system of parks and historic places that tells the stories of all Americans.”

While America’s national parks and monuments have continued to become more inclusive over the past 25 years, the system still does not adequately reflect the nation’s growing diversity. The analysis finds that only one-fourth of our nation’s parks and monuments have a primary focus on women, communities of color, and other traditionally underrepresented communities, while none are focused on lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender, or LGBT, Americans.

Last week, the Department of the Interior announced the protection of the Henry Gerber House in Chicago, Illinois, as the second national historic landmark that honors the LGBT community. Although it is not formally a National Park Service unit, this designation is the country’s second landmark focused on the LGBT community, marking significant progress for the Obama administration’s LGBTQ Heritage Initiative.

“Our nation’s progress toward equal rights and dignity for LGBT Americans is an important chapter in our country’s history,” said Laura E. Durso, Director of the LGBT Research and Communications Project at CAP. “By protecting the Henry Gerber House as a National Historic Landmark last week, the Department of the Interior took a significant step toward honoring the contributions of LGBT Americans and preserving the moments in history that have made this a fairer, more perfect union. The Obama administration should build on this progress by establishing a full national park unit or monument that commemorates the perseverance, courage, and work of the LGBT Americans who have helped shape our country.”

In addition to emphasizing the critical importance of tools such as the Antiquities Act and the Land and Water Conservation Fund, today’s brief provides recommendations for directed action that Congress can take to increase the inclusivity of the National Park System.

Click here to read the brief.

Related resources:
STATEMENT: CAP’s Winnie Stachelberg on the Designation of the Henry Gerber House as a National Historic Landmark
Better Reflecting Our Country’s Growing Diversity by Jessica Goad, Matt Lee Ashley, and Farah Z. Ahmad

For more information on this topic or to speak with an expert, contact Tom Caiazza at tcaiazza@americanprogress.org or 202.481.7141.