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September 11, 2009

 

First gay Ohio history plaque may honor Dayton native

Dayton--The state’s first historical marker noting that someone is gay or lesbian may appear in the Miami Valley, honoring lesbian author Natalie Barney.

Barney was born in Dayton in 1876 and died 96 years later. Her novels extensively covered lesbian and feminist themes.

The Dayton LGBT Center and the Gay Ohio History Initiative worked together to raise $2,300 to create the iron marker, similar to others scattered around the state. It is now up to the Dayton commissioners to decide whether to allow it to be installed in Cooper Park.

They were expected to vote on it during their August 26 meeting.

“Barney’s sexual orientation was part of her life’s work,” John Zimmerman of the Dayton LGBT Center told the Dayton Daily News.

She began holding literary salons in Paris in 1900, the same year the first book of her poems was released. She kept up the salons for six decades.

“If you wanted to meet people who published, you would wrangle in invitation to Natalie Barney’s salon,” Zimmerman noted.

“She was an important author,” said city commissioner Matt Joseph. “She has an acknowledged place in history and I support this. I think if a Daytonian made an important contribution to the world, we should recognize it.”

Dignity Dayton and the Living Beatitudes Community also worked with GOHI and the LGBT center to raise the funds.

If they are successful in getting this marker installed, there are already a few other queer notables whose markers are in the offing, like photographer Berenice Abbott, born in Springfield; composer-pianist Billy Strayhorn, and attorney and former HRC director Elizabeth Birch, both from Dayton.

The last hurdle, however, is still the vote.

The Dayton Metro Library supports the proposed marker, and Dayton City Commissioner Nan Whaley believes it is a good idea.

“She had a significant life. She contributed to the world,” she said. “When groups in our community want to recognize someone like that, I think we should support them.”

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