June 24, 2016 at 12:00 pm EDT | by Chris Johnson
Obama designates Stonewall national monument

Barack Obama, ENDA, United States of America, Democratic Party, gay news, Washington Blade

President Obama has designated a national monument in honor of the Stonewall riots (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key).

President Obama has designated a national monument in New York City in honor of the 1969 Stonewall riots considered the start of the modern LGBT rights movement — the first-time ever such a distinction has been made for LGBT history.

Obama announced the designation of the Stonewall National Monument in a video made public on Friday, which is a shorter version of a video set for broadcast on billboards in Times Square beginning Saturday at noon as New York City celebrates Pride.

“I believe our national parks should reflect the full story of our country, the richness and diversity and uniquely American spirit that has always defined us: That we are stronger together. That out of many, we are one,” Obama says in the video.

According to a White House statement, the new Stonewall National Monument “will permanently protect” Christopher Park at the intersection of Christopher Street, West 4th Street and Grove Street directly across from the Stonewall Inn in New York City.

The monument’s boundary encompasses about 7.7 acres of land that constitutes Christopher Park, the Stonewall Inn and the surrounding streets and sidewalks that were the site of the Stonewall riots. The Stonewall Inn itself and other buildings in the area will remain privately owned.

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.

Prior to the designation of the National Stonewall Monument, other sites important to the LGBT community had the distinction of “historic place,” such as the home of gay rights pioneer Frank Kameny and the Greenwich Village gay bar Julius’ — but none have obtained the status of national monument.

Secretary of Interior Sally Jewell commended Obama in a statement for establishing the Stonewall national monument, citing the recent Orlando shooting as a reason for why the designation is needed.

“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. “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.”

On Friday, the National Park Foundation was set to announce it will aid a newly created local “friends group” to support the monument and work with local and national organizations and the community to raise funding for dedicated National Park Service personnel, a temporary ranger station and visitor center, research and materials, exhibits and community outreach.

In order to make designation of the monument possible, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio approved the transfer of New York City park land at Christopher Park to the federal government for the purposes of creating a national park, which had the support of Council member Corey Johnson and the New York City Council. Approval of the transfer was made possible by state legislation sponsored by New York State Senator Brad Hoylman and New York State Assembly member Deborah Glick, which was signed into law by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

Considered the start of the modern LGBT rights movement, the Stonewall riots took place in New York City in 1969 after patrons of the Stonewall Inn refused arrest during a police raid and rioted in the streets. At the time, New York had a law prohibiting the sale of alcohol to gay people and police would often raid gay bars.

In his second inaugural address in 2012, Obama recognized the Stonewall riots along with other historic civil rights moments in Selma and Seneca Falls and declared “our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law.”

The White House makes the announcement during Pride month days before June 26, which is the anniversaries of milestone Supreme Court decisions in Obergefell v. Hodges, Windsor v. United States, Perry v. Hollingsworth and Lawrence v. Texas — an occasion lawmakers are seeking to have designated as Equality Day.

New York lawmakers Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) as well as LGBT advocates and the National Parks Conservation Association led the charge to designate a national monument in honor of the Stonewall riots starting with a campaign launched in September. Last month, a public meeting was held in New York City in anticipation of the designation of the monument.

Nadler said in a statement following the announcement the Stonewall is “finally taking its rightful place in American history” and he’s proud to have led the effort.

“President Obama’s designation of the Stonewall National Monument recognizes that the events of Stonewall launched the modern LGBT civil rights movement here and around the world — like Selma did for racial justice and Seneca Falls did for women’s rights,” Nadler said. “We are faced with painful reminders daily of how much further we must go to achieve true equality and tolerance for the LGBT community, but honoring and preserving the stories of all of the diverse participants in Stonewall in our National Park System is a clear symbol of how far we have come.”

Tim Gill, a gay Denver-based philanthropist who backed a separate effort within the National Park Service to find LGBT historic sites, also commended the move.

“LGBT history is American history, and it’s vital for our stories to be told and retold and remembered,” Gill said. “The designation of Stonewall today helps to ensure that legacy for generations to come.”

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

1 Comment
  • We need a monument at the mall in DC honoring LGBT Americans. Just like Amsterdam they have in Amsterdam and I believe Berlin has something, too.
    Even better if they had a GBLT museum discussing our history in America, major milestones in our movement, our heroes, our struggles and our enemies and the impact they’ve had on us. This could be a place that serves as a place for our community and allies to gather. Maybe they can have exhibits like art work we’ve produced.

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