December 18, 2015 at 10:19 am EDT | by Chris Johnson
New legislation seeks historic site to honor Stonewall riots
Roland Emmerich, Stonewall movie, gay news, Washington Blade,

Jonny Beauchamp, left, as Ray, and Vlad Alexis as Cong in ‘Stonewall.’ (Photo courtesy Roadside Attractions)

Members of New York’s congressional delegation announced on Thursday they’ve introduced legislation that would designate a historic site commemorating the 1969 Stonewall riots.

In the U.S. House, Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) introduced the measure, the Stonewall National Historic Site Establishment Act, without any co-sponsors.

“A Stonewall National Historic Site will help ensure that we do not forget the legacy of Stonewall, the history of discrimination against the LGBT community, or the impassioned individuals who have fought to overcome it,” Nadler said in a statement. “The story of Stonewall and those who participated in it are American stories that deserve to be recognized and preserved. Expanding our National Parks system to include the location of the spark that launched the LGBT civil rights movement will protect it for future generations to reflect on and learn from.”

In the U.S. Senate, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) introduced the legislation along with Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) as an original co-sponsor.

“At the end of this momentous year for gay rights in America, I am proud to introduce legislation that would establish a Stonewall National Historic Site,” Gillibrand said. “The events at Stonewall in 1969 were a turning point for the LGBT rights movement in America – a critical chapter, alongside Selma and Seneca Falls, in the long history of America’s quest for equal rights. I look forward to working with my colleagues in Congress to pass this bill and designate Stonewall a national historic site.”

The legislation would establish a Stonewall National Historic Site in New York City following an agreement delineating the responsibilities of the National Park Service and the city regarding operation and maintenance of the site.

The introduction of the legislation follows a campaign initiated by New York’s delegation in September aimed at building support for the idea of a national historic site to honor the 1969 riots, which were seen to have galvanized the modern LGBT rights movement.

Lawmakers introduced the bill on Dec. 10, but waited until Thursday to announce it. A Nadler spokesperson told the Washington Blade lawmakers held off on the news because they thought it would be lost amid developments on omnibus legislation to continue funding for the U.S. government.

Among the groups coordinating the campaign is the National Parks Conservation Association, a non-profit that advocates for the national parks and the National Park Service.

Theresa Pierno, CEO of the National Parks Conservation Association, said in a statement the bill introduced by New York lawmakers would “ensure our national parks tell the stories of all Americans.”

“Two-thirds of America’s more than 400 national parks are dedicated to sites with cultural and historical significance, including women’s rights and the civil rights movement,” Pierno said. “Yet none are dedicated to the struggle for LGBT rights.

In 2000, the U.S. government designated the privately owned Stonewall Inn as a national historic landmark, but that’s considered a lower-tier designation given to 2,500 sites throughout the country.

Advocates have called on President Obama to designate a historic site in honor of the Stonewall riots on his own accord using his authority under the Antiquities Act of 1906. A Nadler spokesperson said the introduction of the legislation represents a two-pronged approach to getting a site designated to honor the riots.

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest had no comment on the legislation Thursday in response to an inquiry from the Washington Blade, saying the administration was unfamiliar with it.

“I haven’t seen it,” Earnest said. “We’ll take a look at it and let you know if we have a position to announce.”

Earnest similarly had little to say when asked if there was any reason why Obama couldn’t designate a historic site for Stonewall on his own accord.

“I wouldn’t want to speculate on a presidential decision like that prior to any sort of presidential decision being made,” Earnest said. “So we’ll keep you posted.”

In September, Nadler raised the possibility of designating Christopher Park, the area across the street from the Stonewall Inn where the rioting began, as the national historic site. A Nadler spokesperson said a general consensus is now in place to have the area designated as the site.

Since Christopher Park is owned by the city, making it a national historic site would require a transfer of land to the federal government. To initiate the transfer, New York City would have to approve a home rule message requesting the transfer, followed by approval of alienation legislation by the New York state legislature before the city votes again to hand Christopher Park over to the federal government.

Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, announced his organization’s support for the legislation in a statement.

“A Stonewall National Monument would pay tribute to the brave individuals who stood up to oppression, and it would also help inspire a new generation of Americans across the country to stand up for equality,” Griffin said. “We are proud to support this legislation and the efforts of national, state, and local advocates to honor this key moment in the fabric of our nation’s history.”

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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