Last summer, by unanimous vote, the Landmarks Preservation Commission for the first time landmarked a building due to its involvement in the gay rights movement: the Stonewall Inn, site of the 1969 Stonewall riots. Since then, activists and politicians have been pushing to make the small triangle of green space across from the bar, Christopher Park, a national monument, which would make it the first national park dedicated to LGBT history. Now, the AP reports that President Obama is preparing to designate the park a national monument, citing sources familiar with the administration's plans.
That designation could take place as soon as early June, in time for Pride Month and ahead of the Gay Pride parade on the 26th. On May 9th, federal officials will hold a public meeting in Greenwich Village to hear words of support for the monument. Secretary of Interior Sally Jewell, National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis, and Congressman Jerrold Nadler will be among those in attendance.
"We must ensure that we never 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. "Stonewall was the spark that ignited the movement for LGBT civil rights that continues to burn around the world today. We now have an opportunity to ensure that the contributions of all of the brave individuals who helped launch the fight for civil rights are recognized, including those who have not always been acknowledged, such as transgender women of color."
Nadler, along with Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, is asking Obama to protect Christopher Park under the 1906 Antiquities Act, which gives the president the power to proclaim national monuments to protect important cultural, natural, or scientific features. But making the park a monument isn't quite that simple: the site isn't entirely publicly owned, and declaring it a national park requires a transfer of land from the city to the federal government. However, in a rare moment of harmony, the proposal has received essentially unanimous support—from the local community board to the mayor's office and the state—and last month, Governor Cuomo signed legislation that will allow the city to transfer ownership of the park to the federal government if (and, it seems, when) Obama makes his declaration.
In the rare event that Obama does not declare the park a national monument, Gillibrand and Nadler, as well as Senator Chuck Schumer, are also pushing legislation that would create the national park through a congressional vote. A spokesperson for Gillibrand told the New York Times that the politicians are making "good progress" on the legislation, and it recently received support from a Republican senator.
After police raided the Stonewall Inn in the summer of 1969, protests broke out at the bar, and are seen by many as the catalyst of the gay rights movement. Speaking in favor of the national park at a Community Board 2 meeting this winter, Janet Weinberg, a former executive at Gay Men's Health Crisis, said that "certainly the Stonewall uprising changed my life and the lives of many, many people throughout the world. It's an important piece of the history of the village. It's a piece of history that is now a global history...and we have an opportunity to mark that history."
The public meeting on the proposal to designate Christopher Park a national park will take place on Monday, May 9th, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at 116 West 11th Street (PS 41). Those wishing to attend and/or submit comments should RSVP here.