WASHINGTON — New York’s iconic Stonewall Inn, where the modern gay rights movement took root, will become the first national monument honoring the history of gays and lesbians in the U.S. under a proposal President Barack Obama is preparing to approve.
Designating the small swath of land will mark a major act of national recognition for gay rights advocates and their struggles over the last half-century. Since the 1969 uprising in Greenwich Village, the U.S. has enacted anti-discrimination protections, allowed gays and lesbians to serve openly in the U.S. military and legalized same-sex marriage nationwide.
Though land must still be transferred to the federal government and other details worked out, the president is expected to move quickly to greenlight the monument following a public meeting Monday in Manhattan, according to two individuals familiar with the administration’s plans. The individuals weren’t authorized to discuss the plans publicly and requested anonymity.
The gritty tavern, known colloquially as the Stonewall, became a catalyst for the gay rights movement after police raided it on June 28, 1969. Bar-goers fought back, and many more joined in street protests over the following days in an uprising widely credited as the start of large-scale gay activism in New York and around the word. Annual pride parades in hundreds of cities commemorate the rebellion.
The White House declined to comment. Yet Obama has paid tribute to the site before, most notably in his second inaugural address in 2013. In what’s believed to be the first reference to gay rights in an inaugural address, Obama said the principle of equality still guides the U.S. “just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall.”
New York lawmakers have long advocated for a national designation for the Stonewall. Last year, New York City made it a city landmark — the first named primarily because of significance to LGBT history. In Congress, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and Rep. Jerrold Nadler — both Democrats — are pushing legislation to make the Stonewall a national park while urging Obama to commemorate the site through executive authority.
Nadler said the site would serve as “an important reminder of the struggle for equality in our country,” including the ongoing fight for rights for transgender people.
Proposals the Obama administration is considering include Christopher Park, a small public area on the street where the Stonewall is located, as well as the surrounding vicinity. At 51 Christopher St., where two adjoining buildings once housed the gay bar, the building where the current Stonewall Inn operates is still a popular gay gathering place. Originally built as stables in the 1840s, the structures still have the brick-and-stucco facade that greeted bar-goers in 1969.
A number of procedural steps stand between the Stonewall and formal designation by the president. The first step comes Monday evening at a public school in Manhattan, first reported by The Washington Post. The Interior Department said Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis will attend an open meeting about proposals to “protect Christopher Park for future generations.”
Obama has made wide use of his power to designate monuments, not only to protect millions of acres of wilderness and ocean but also to honor groups whose struggles for equal treatment have become milestones in U.S. history. Last month, Obama named an historic Washington home as the Belmont-Paul Women’s Equality National Monument.
The Human Rights Campaign and other gay rights groups cheered the forthcoming announcement. Corey Johnson, an openly gay New York City councilman who represents the area, said it was “incredibly important” for the federal government to recognize the site.
“What happened at Stonewall and at Christopher Park is a key chapter in American history,” Johnson said.