President Obama is making preparations to declare the Stonewall Inn and the area around it a National Park, a move that advocates have been pushing for some time.
While most national monuments have highlighted iconic wild landscapes or historic sites from centuries ago, this reflects the country’s diversity of terrain and peoples in a different vein: It would be the first national monument anchored by a dive bar and surrounded by a warren of narrow streets that long has been regarded the historic center of gay cultural life in New York City.
Federal officials, including Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis and Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), will hold a listening session on May 9 to solicit feedback on the proposal. Barring a last-minute complication — city officials are still investigating the history of the land title — Obama is prepared to designate the area part of the National Park Service as soon as next month, which commemorates gay pride.
Nadler and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) have asked the president to protect the site under the 1906 Antiquities Act. In a sign of how much has changed since 1969, the three officials who represent the area — City Council member Corey Johnson, state assembly member Deborah Glick and state senator Brad Hoylman — are all openly gay and endorse the idea of making it a monument, as does the local community advisory board.
New York lawmakers have been pushing for the designation for years.
In June 2014, Jewell announced a theme study of the area:
Said the organizers of that rally: “There are more than 400 national parks in America, two-thirds of which are dedicated to sites of cultural and historic significance. In Seneca Falls, New York, Women’s Rights National Historical Park tells the story of the first Women’s Rights Convention held there in July 1848. The Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail in Alabama traces the march led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in the struggle for civil rights. A national park for Stonewall would tell the story of the LGBT community’s fight equal rights in America.”
Said Nadler to the Washington Blade at that time:
“The National Park Service, through national monuments, through national battlefields, all kinds of national things, illustrates the story of this country. It’s important to expand the diversity of this story presented by the National Park Service, in this case, to present the story of the struggle for civil rights of LGBT Americans. There is nothing in the National Park System that deals with this, and that’s a huge omission in terms of the history of this country, the history of this struggle and the ongoing struggle for human rights.”
The Blade added:
The U.S. government already designated the privately owned Stonewall Inn in 2000 as a national historic landmark, but that’s considered a lower-tier designation given to 2,500 sites throughout the country. Last year, the Department of the Interior announced it was undertaking a theme study to examine ways to incorporate LGBT stories into the the National Park Service. The new effort to have a national monument dedicated to the Stonewall Riots shares a similar goal, but is separate and distinct from the agency-led initiative.
The push has been gathering supporters from far afield as well. In March, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti wrote a letter.
“Two and a half years before the Stonewall Riots in New York City, the first documented demonstration for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) rights in the nation occurred outside the Black Cat Bar in Silver Lake on Sunset Boulevard. The demonstrations happened after undercover LAPD officers arrested and assaulted bar patrons for kissing during a New Year’s Eve celebration in 1967. Displaying great courage and bravery, 200-300 Angelenos protested these police actions against the LGBT community. In 2008, as then City Council President of Los Angeles, I worked to successfully designate the Black Cat Bar as registered landmark in the City of Los Angeles.
“Los Angeles has played an influential role in the nation’s LGBT history that includes the formation of first American gay rights group, the Mattachine Society; the first gay publication, One Magazine; the first gay pride parade on the one year anniversary of the Stonewall Riots; and the first parade protesting the military’s LGBT ban. It is with this history in mind that I write in support of designating the Stonewall Inn in New York City as a National Monument through the Antiquities Act.
“Although the struggle for equal rights extends from coast to coast, the Stonewall Riots in 1969 served as an historic turning point in LGBT history. Recognizing the Stonewall Inn and Christopher Park in New York City’s West Village would honor the American LGBT experience in every city and help to teach people of an important historical event that has helped to shape our nation.
“The struggle for equality touches us all and our National Monuments are an excellent apparatus for telling America’s history. I hope that by designating Stonewall as a National Monument we preserve a part of history that has long lived in the shadows.”
White House officials said no decision had been made. President Obama has the power to create national parks and monuments, as he has done repeatedly during his two terms.
Even if Obama decides not to make the designation, it could still happen through Congress, and Gillibrand and Nadler say they have prepared legislation and are gathering support for it already.
(Stonewall Inn photo, top, Johannes Jordan Wikimedia Commons)