In Brief

President Obama Declares Stonewall Inn First National Monument to LGBTQ History

The Stonewall Inn on Christopher Street in Greenwich Village, as seen in August 2008 (photo by Johannes Jordan/Wikimedia)
The Stonewall Inn on Christopher Street in Greenwich Village, as seen in August 2008 (photo by Johannes Jordan/Wikimedia)

Today the beige Stetson hats of the National Parks Service (NPS) will start appearing at the Stonewall Inn on Christopher Street in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village, as the site was declared a national monument on Friday. Designated by President Barack Obama, it’s the first of the United States’ 122 national monuments to commemorate the gay rights movement.

President Obama said in a statement:

I’m designating the Stonewall National Monument as the newest addition to America’s National Park System. Stonewall will be our first national monument to tell the story of the struggle for LGBT rights. 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.

George Segal's "Gay Liberation" sculptures in Christopher Park across the street from the Stonewall Inn (photo by The All-Nite Images/Flickr)
George Segal’s “Gay Liberation” sculptures in Christopher Park, across the street from the Stonewall Inn (photo by The All-Nite Images/Flickr) (click to enlarge)

On June 28, 1969, the Stonewall Inn was subject to a police raid, something which was common in an era of cop crackdowns on gay bars (the Bowery Boys podcast has an episode that gives a good overview of the history of police entrapments and raids leading up to that night). On that summer evening, however, people would not comply, refusing to go home even if the police let them, and what’s known as the Stonewall riots broke out as the crowd resisted unnecessary force and arrests. Their disobedience encouraged a movement for gay rights that spread around the country.

Discussing the designation of Stonewall, Brian Q. Clay wrote at the National Park Foundation: “Fundamental to its role as America’s storytellers, the National Park Service ensures that the stories of all Americans are preserved and interpreted for this and future generations.” National monuments can be declared by the president or congressional legislation, and President Obama has been particularly prolific: This is his 23rd, following the naming of the Belmont-Paul Women’s Equality National Monument in Washington, DC, this past April.

In addition to the Stonewall Inn itself, the national monument designation includes surrounding streets in which the riots took place and the neighboring Christopher Park, where George Segal’s “Gay Liberation” sculpture has commemorated the event since 1992. According to the Washington Post, the National Park Foundation is now concentrating on raising funds for a temporary ranger station and a visitor center, as well as organizing a nonprofit group dedicated to the site. NPS rangers will also be on hand for short-term stints.

The Stonewall Inn looks quite different today than it did in the 1960s, but it remains an important symbolic site. It served as a gathering place for vigils for the recent Orlando shooting and a hub for this past weekend’s NYC Pride parade, which NPS participated in with a bus emblazoned with a photograph of the inn.

In the video from the White House below, you can hear President Obama speak about Stonewall’s designation as a national monument:

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