As expected, President Barack Obama on Friday named Christopher Park, across the street from the Stonewall Inn in New York City, as a national monument, making it the first official LGBT historic site.
(The Stonewall Inn.)
The designation was made via presidential proclamation June 24. It will create the first official National Park Service unit dedicated to telling the story of LGBT Americans, a fact sheet from the White House said, just two days before the one-year anniversary of the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage in all 50 states.
Additionally, the designation comes ahead of New York City’s Pride festival this weekend.
A ceremony will be held Monday, June 27 in New York City that will include Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis, and White House Senior Adviser Valerie Jarrett.
The Stonewall Inn itself was designated a National Historic Landmark in 2000, making it the first LGBT site to be so named.
The Stonewall riots, which occurred June 28, 1969, are considered the birth of the modern gay rights movement. That night, the bar was raided by the New York City Police Department to enforce a law that made it illegal to sell alcoholic drinks to “homosexuals.” Customers and their allies resisted the police by refusing to show identification or go into a bathroom so that a police officer could verify their sex, and a crowd gathered outside, the White House statement read. As word spread, the gathering grew in size and a riot ultimately ensued. Within days, Stonewall galvanized LGBT communities across the country, with LGBT activists organizing demonstrations to show support for gay rights.
LGBT groups were quick to praise Friday’s national monument designation.
“Thank you, President Obama, for this historic designation of Christopher Street Park by the Stonewall Inn as a national monument,” said a statement from the National LGBTQ Task Force. “This is a great tribute the courage, leadership, and action of the LGBTQ community in our continuing quest for full freedom, justice and equality. Trans and gender non-conforming people of color led the riots at Stonewall nearly five decades ago — and it is a cruel irony that today these folks face some of the highest levels of poverty, homelessness, discrimination and violence in our community.”
The National Park Service Conservation Association also praised the move.
“There are places in America so powerful, they helped shape our nation’s history and culture, and must never be forgotten,” said Theresa Pierno, president and CEO for National Parks Conservation Association. “Stonewall Inn, and the area surrounding this historic site, is one such place. Thanks to President Obama, Stonewall is protected and its story will be told for generations to come.”
Two-thirds of America’s more than 400 national park sites are dedicated to cultural and historic significance, the Park Service said. Some are focused specifically on the struggle for civil rights, including the Women’s Rights National Historical Park in Seneca Falls, New York, which tells the story of the fight for women’s civil rights, and Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail, which tells the story of the fight for African-American civil rights. And now, after more than 45 years since the uprising, Stonewall National Monument will tell the story of the LGBT community’s struggle for civil rights.
“Today’s historic designation reaffirms the administration’s commitment to preserving special places that define who we are as a nation and that better reflect our diverse and evolving population, added Pierno. “Adding underrepresented stories like Stonewall’s within the National Park System is critical. Today’s designation will forever honor the events at Stonewall that have come to mean so much for so many people, and will continue to inspire many for years to come.”
The association praised Congressman Jerrold Nadler (D-New York), New York Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D) and Chuck Schumer (D), New York state Senator Brad Hoylman, New York state Assembly member Deborah Glick and New York City Council member Corey Johnson for their leadership on the project.
“I am thrilled that today, the events of the Stonewall uprising take their place in history and in the National Parks System as the civil rights watershed it was,” Nadler, a longtime ally, said in a statement. “Honoring and memorializing Stonewall – which helped launch the modern LGBT civil rights movement – will allow America to hear and remember the stories of all of the brave individuals who stood up for justice and equality for all at Stonewall. Thank you everyone who lent their voices to this effort and especially to NPCA for all of their advocacy and leadership.”
The Interior Department was also pleased with the designation.
“This designation ensures that the story of the courageous individuals who stood up for basic rights for LGBT Americans will be forever told, honoring their sacrifice and inspiring our Nation towards greater tolerance and understanding,” Jewell said in a statement. “The tragic events in Orlando are a sad and stark reminder that the struggle for civil rights and equality continues – where who we love is respected and honored – on our march toward a more perfect union.”
The 7.7 acre site includes Christopher Park, which the National Park Service now owns, at the intersection of Christopher Street, West 4th Street, and Grove Street directly across from the Stonewall Inn in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village, the Stonewall Inn itself, and the surrounding streets and sidewalks that were the site of the 1969 Stonewall Uprising.
The bar, while remaining a privately owned business, will be included in the interpretation for telling the full story of Stonewall, according to the National Parks Conservation Association.
There is the possibility that a visitor’s center or museum will be erected nearby or on the site to explain the story of Stonewall. For now, Park Service rangers will be stationed in the park this summer to help interpret the site for visitors.
“The Park Service will go through a process for deciding how the park will evolve over time. It takes about three years to go through that process,” explained Cortney Worrall, the conservation association’s northeast regional director. “They will be having conversations with the community, LGBT leaders, and people interested in making sure this park becomes a place for interpretation and history.”
To coincide with the president’s designation, the National Park Foundation launched a fundraising campaign Friday to raise approximately $2 million for the new park. The effort is part of the foundation’s $350 million Centennial Campaign for America’s National Parks.
The money will go toward having dedicated National Park Service rangers, a temporary ranger station, and visitor center at the site. It will also pay for research and materials, exhibits, LGBTQ community outreach, public education, and scholar engagement.
“The National Park Foundation is honored to support and jumpstart critical projects at Stonewall National Monument to help ensure that the ongoing LGBTQ fight for civil rights is highlighted in a way that inspires people to reflect on how the story of the Stonewall uprising relates to their lives,” stated Will Shafroth, president of the National Park Foundation, which serves as the official charity for the national parks. “As we move from the National Park Service’s first century into its second, we couldn’t be more proud to be part of a national park community that is committed to telling a more complete American story.”
The foundation will also help establish a local Friends Group to provide ongoing philanthropic support to the new monument. To donate to the campaign, visit www.nationalparks.org/Stonewall.
A video released by the White House about the Stonewall National Monument can be viewed here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ywtvJyXDWkk.
– Matthew S. Bajko contributed to this report.