On June 27th, 2016, President Obama designated the Stonewall National Monument, the 412th National Park site, and the first U.S. National Monument chosen specifically for its LGBT history. This milestone moment brought national attention to the Village site that transformed LGBT lives forever.
When the police raided the Stonewall Inn on the evening of June 28th, 1969, one of many frequent police raids on bars that served gay patrons during this period, the bar’s patrons fought back. Protesters uprooted parking meters, trapped the police inside the bar, lit fires, and pelted the police with coins and rocks. For two nights thereafter, LGBT New Yorkers and their allies gathered outside of Stonewall, demanding that they be able to live their lives free of violence and discrimination. Half a century later, these events are credited with catalyzing the modern LGBT-rights movement.
The Stonewall National Monument permanently protects Christopher Park, which was transferred from the City of New York to the Federal Government in preparation for this designation. However, the monument’s boundary is wider, encompassing the two Stonewall buildings at 51 and 53 Christopher Street, Christopher Park, and other streets and sidewalks where the Stonewall Riots took place in 1969. President Obama announced the designation of the Stonewall National Monument on June 24th, 2016, following campaigning by New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, U.S. Representative Jerrold Nadler, the National Parks Conservation Association, Community Board 2, Village Preservation, and other local individuals and advocacy organizations. The designation came in the wake of the mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida just a few weeks earlier — the deadliest attack on a gay target and one of the largest mass killings in American history.
The designation of the Stonewall National Monument followed several other designations of the site: listing on the State and National Registers in 1999, the National Historic Landmark designation in 2000, and the New York City Individual Landmark designation in 2015. National Monuments are similar to National Parks, with one primary difference. While both can be designated via legislation passed by Congress, a National Monument can also be created by a U.S. president. The Antiquities Act, which was passed by Congress in 1906, authorized the president to “create national monuments from federal lands to protect significant natural, cultural, or scientific features.” Since a presidential proclamation is generally a more streamlined process than congressional legislation, National Monuments tend to be created by the executive branch rather than the legislative branch. As of May 2017, 16 presidents had designated 157 monuments, many of which were later redesignated by Congress and subsumed within the National Park system.
While the creation of the Stonewall National Monument is a great success for the LGBT community and the country at large, there are still many sites of LGBT importance that remain unacknowledged. Village Preservation celebrated the recent landmarking of six LGBT sites by New York City’s Landmarks Preservation Commission, including two buildings we proposed and advocated for landmark designation: the LGBT Community Center at 208 West 13th Street and the former Gay Activists Alliance Firehouse at 99 Wooster Street. We have also compiled an LGBTQ Sites tour in our interactive online map, Greenwich Village Historic District, 1969-2019: Photos and Tours, which makes over a century’s-worth of rich LGBT Village history available to the public.