Lawmakers press to make Stonewall Inn a National Park

New York Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney was one of several government officials to speak in support of Stonewall National Park. Photo by Jordyn Rolling

The birth of the modern LGBT equal rights movement began in June 1969 in front of Stonewall Inn and Christopher Park. Lawmakers are now looking to make this Greenwich Village site the nation’s first national park honoring LGBT history.

Congressman Jerrold Nadler, the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA), the Human Rights Campaign, city and state elected officials, advocacy groups and community members gathered in front of the Stonewall Inn on Christopher Street yesterday afternoon to launch the new campaign.

“We urge President Obama to designate the first ever National Park Service site dedicated to the history of the LGBT community, so that this story may be preserved and retold for future generations,” said Nadler.

Stonewall Inn, still a popular gay bar, was lacking its usual colorful flair due to construction, inside near the front door still hangs a framed sign that read,”THIS IS A RAIDED PREMISES.”

As one of the few bars that openly welcomed LGBT people in the 1950s and 1960s, it became a place of acceptance for the poorest and most discriminated against LGBT members. Police raids on gay bars were common and eventually protests and violence erupted at Stonewall Inn after LGBT members fought back.

Stonewall uprising witness, Martha Shelley, told the crowd how proud she was of the campaign.

“We who had to keep the most central part of our souls hidden in shame will now be celebrated as full human beings,” Shelley said.

National parks are created by either congressional legislation or presidential proclamation of a monument under the Antiquities Act. NPCA believes a presidential proclamation is a possibility if the City of New York donates Christopher Park to the National Park Service, since it is not federally owned.

“We must continue to protect and preserve these places, urban and rural, natural and historic, that speak to and represent who we are as a nation,” said Cortney Worrall, the Northeast regional director for NPCA. “And by the best storytellers in the business, the National Park Service.”

According to NPCA, if this happens, the bar would remain privately owned, but the events that happened there in 1969 would be considered part of the historical narrative for the new monument.

“The legacy of the Stonewall Rebellion mirrors that of our nation, a group of individuals standing together against all odds to demand their freedom,” said Nadler.

Two-thirds of America’s more than 400 national park sites are dedicated to cultural and historic significance. Supporters of the new campaign think Stonewall has that historical importance and believe others should be made aware.

Over nine million Americans identify as LGBT, according to the Human Rights Campaign website. Since the Stonewall Rebellion, gay marriage has been legalized, but the LGBT community still seeks more equality and recognition.

Jaron Barney, 24, of Hell’s Kitchen and member of the LGBT community said, the first time he heard about the Stonewall Rebellion was at the University of Utah during a queer theater course. He attended the event to gain more knowledge.

Jaron Barney, 24, said making Christopher Park a national park would be important for LGBT history. Photo by Jordyn Rolling

Jaron Barney, 24, said making Stonewall Inn and Christopher Park a national park would be important for LGBT history. Photo by Jordyn Rolling

“For me the stories of everything that happened are still pretty unclear,” said Barney. “There’s not a ton of information I’ve been able to gather other than it’s the birth of the Gay Rights Movement.”

Lawmakers hope to make information and history easily accessible to people like Barney through Stonewall National Park.

“The resounding support for this effort underscores that it is time to have a national park site that tells the story of the LGBT rights movement,” said Worrall.

Barney said he hopes Stonewall National Park could bring changes like more emphasis on LGBT history being taught in public schools.

“I think it’s positive, and I understand the community might be mad about this land being owned federally but, I think the people (speakers) made a good point in saying it’s for our posterity,” Barney said.

NPCA said Christopher Park itself would not undergo very many changes. Over time one to two interpretative exhibits to educate the public could be installed along with a discrete national monument sign and National Park Service Arrowhead at the park entrance.

Community members in attendance were able to sign a petition in support of the campaign.

The list of officials announcing their support includes both U.S. senators form New York, 11 members of Congress, 13 New York State Senators, 37 New York State Assembly Members, five New York City Council members, as well as the New York City Comptroller, Public Advocate, and Manhattan Borough President.