Linda Poon is an assistant editor at CityLab covering science and urban technology, including smart cities and climate change. She previously covered global health and development for NPR’s Goats and Soda blog.
The Stonewall Inn was the scene of the 1969 riots that sparked the LGBT movement in America.
People come to the legendary Stonewall Inn in New York’s Greenwich Village for the drinks, the drag shows, the Monday-night bingo, and for the overall lively vibe. And soon, patrons there may be grabbing a drink at America’s first national monument to the gay rights movement.
According to the Associated Press, President Obama is preparing to approve a proposal that would designate the bar—the scene of the June 1969 riots that led to the birth of the contemporary gay rights movement—as a national monument commemorating the social and political work that lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender advocates have done over the past 50 years. Proposals also call for nearby Christopher Park and surrounding streets to also be protected under the National Park Service.
If there are no complications with transferring the rights to the land—some of which involves private property—to the federal government, the designations could come as early as next month, just in time for LGBT Pride month. The timing is also critical considering setbacks the LGBT community has faced over the past several months, as various states have killed anti-discriminatory laws protecting the LGBT community and enacted bathroom restrictions for transgender individuals.
The bar and surrounding streets that are now described as “the historic center of gay cultural life in New York City” were the center of a very different scene back on June 27, 1969. That night, police raided the bar for allegedly operating without a license and arrested 13 people. Six days of rioting followed as young gay men, lesbians, and transgender people fought back against the police, according to The Atlantic:
The conflict over the next six days … would see: fire hoses turned on people in the street, thrown barricades, gay cheerleaders chanting bawdy [versions] of New York City schoolgirl songs, Rockette-style kick lines in front of the police, the throwing of a firebomb into the bar, a police officer throwing his gun at the mob, cries of, "Occupy—take over, take over," "Fag power," "Liberate the bar!", and "We're the pink panthers!", smashed windows, uprooted parking meters, thrown pennies, frightened policemen, angry policemen, arrested mafiosi, thrown cobblestones, thrown bottles, the singing of "We Shall Overcome" in high camp fashion, and a drag queen hitting a police officer on the head with her purse.
New York lawmakers and historic conservationists, along with organizations like the Human Rights Campaign and National Parks Conservation Association, have long pushed for the designation as a reminder of LGBT America’s fight for equal rights.
The site has been recognized in other ways for its legacy. New York City made it a city landmark last year, and it has been dubbed the birthplace of a global LGBT movement by Corey Johnson, a New York City Council member whose district includes the Stonewall. And in 2013, Obama stunned the nation when he name-dropped Stonewall during his second inaugural address, becoming what the AP reports to be the first president to reference gay rights at such an event.
Today, Stonewall is a place tourists visit for fun and to see a significant piece of queer history. But back then, it was more than just a bar, as Garance Franke-Ruta wrote for The Atlantic. It “operated as a sort of de facto community center for gay youth rendered homeless by familial and institutional rejection, who had taken refuge in New York City in hopes of finding a place where they could be in the world.”