By GENE KARPINSKI
Pride month gave us the opportunity to reflect on a year of historic victories for the LGBTQ community and the overarching equality movement. After last June’s landmark Supreme Court decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, which gave the fundamental right for all couples to marry, regardless of gender, the march toward equality has never looked so promising. Across the nation, reinforced by the court system, public opinion has shifted toward freedom and acceptance.
This June there was one more reason for all of us to be proud: thanks to the tireless efforts of community leaders, activists and President Obama, the historic site of the Stonewall uprising is now a national monument.
The Stonewall National Monument is the first site in the National Park Service focused on commemorating the LGBTQ rights movement. The monument recognizes the importance of the June 28, 1969 uprising at the Stonewall Inn in New York City – when LGBTQ patrons stood up to police raids and led days of public demonstrations to bring attention to the fight for equal treatment. One year later, on June 28, 1970, the first Pride Parade took place in New York to commemorate Stonewall, and it continues to serve as a symbol for the modern LGBTQ rights movement. This monument honors all who fought, and all who continue to fight, to advance LGBTQ equality, and demonstrates how we can use conservation law to ensure that our nation’s LGBTQ history isn’t kept in the closet.
President Obama’s creation of the Stonewall National Monument is an important step toward protecting historic cultural sites that represent the diverse history of this country in addition to their more traditional use in protecting more land and water for future generations. We are grateful that President Obama has not only used the Antiquities Act to protect more land and water for future generations than any other president in history, but has also used it to protect sites that highlight our diverse heritage. When announcing the designation, he said, “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.” We completely agree.
There is, of course, more work to do. In spite of this step forward for the LGBTQ community — as well as many others — we must remember that LGBTQ Americans still face discrimination every day, and the community still lacks basic civil rights protections enjoyed by many others in our country. As the tragic attack at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando just six weeks ago reminded us, LGBTQ people in this country continue to face violence in their daily lives.
Our national parks should tell stories from the rich tapestry of the American experience. We celebrate the designation of the Stonewall National Monument as a vital step toward a more inclusive and representative park system, building on the spirit of the uprising decades ago.
Gene Karpinski is president of the League of Conservation Voters Education Fund. (This op-ed was written in cooperation with Rep. Jared Polis.)