New York City’s Stonewall National Monument commemorates 50 years of history this week as NPCA and our supporters continue to explore preserving important sites in LGBTQ history.
This month, New York City is hosting World Pride — a supersized celebration of the LGBTQ community that is expected to bring millions of people to the city and will culminate in this weekend’s Pride March.
At the geographic heart of World Pride is a historic bar and city park in Greenwich Village that NPCA and its supporters led a campaign to preserve as part of the National Park System: Stonewall National Monument. This Friday, the famous bar will mark the 50-year anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising, the night that patrons of the bar, tired of being harassed by police, fought for their rights and gained the attention of the world. It was not the first time the LGBTQ community took a stand against discrimination and brutality, but the uprising catalyzed the movement, gave it widespread visibility and encouraged LGBTQ people to feel a sense of pride and strengthened identity and demonstrate more assertive tactics in the fight for their human rights.
NPCA officially became involved in the campaign to preserve Stonewall as a national monument in September 2014, after conducting numerous listening sessions with members of the LGBTQ community to ensure that this designation was how people involved wanted to preserve and showcase their collective history. NPCA collected passionate input from members, supporters and others for whom Stonewall holds special meaning and ultimately provided the Department of the Interior with detailed comments from nearly 50,000 supporters advocating for a national park for Stonewall.
This groundswell of support combined with help from elected officials at the federal, state and local levels and influential national LGBTQ organizations ultimately led President Barack Obama to designate Stonewall National Monument three years ago today.
The designation may have been so popular in part because the Park Service was long overdue in interpreting this history. Today, Stonewall remains the only site in the National Park System specifically commemorating the LGBTQ community.
But just as Stonewall was not the beginning of the movement, it was also not the end.
NPCA is a proud participant in World Pride, and we plan to use this extra visibility to gather input on future interpretation and programming at Stonewall. We’re also gathering comments from the public about other potential sites that could be added to the National Park System.
Here are three other sites among many potential places that could be worthy of national recognition.
Harvey Milk’s Camera Shop, San Francisco, California
Harvey Milk was a champion of civil and human rights and the first openly gay elected official in California. Originally from New York, Milk moved to San Francisco where he opened a camera shop on Castro Street in the middle of the city’s growing gay community. The shop became a neighborhood center where Milk was able to support gay rights in the community. He founded the Castro Village Association, the first organization in America comprised of predominantly LGBTQ businesses, and he organized the Castro Street Fair to attract more customers to the area. Milk also lived in this house in the three years before his assassination in 1978, less than a year after he took office on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. The house was an art gallery until 2011 when it was turned into a Human Rights Campaign Store. It is currently a San Francisco City Landmark.
Henry Gerber House, Chicago, Illinois
Henry Gerber was an early LGBTQ rights activist who was born in Bavaria and moved to Chicago. He established America’s first-known gay rights organization, the Society for Human Rights, in 1924, and published a newsletter to detail the group’s work and spread the word. Gerber likely used the basement of his house for society meetings. In 1925, his home was raided, and he and several other members of the society were arrested, though the charges were eventually dismissed. The Gerber House was designated a National Historic Landmark in 2015.
Pulse nightclub, Orlando, Florida
The Pulse Nightclub was a bar and club that served the LGBTQ community. In the early hours of June 12, 2016, it became the site of a shooting that claimed the lives of 49 people and injured 53 — the deadliest act of violence against LGBTQ people in the country’s history. The event represented the ongoing struggle for many LGBTQ Americans to live their lives safely and openly. Legislation was recently introduced in Congress that would establish the Pulse site as a national memorial.
LGBTQ history is American history, and it needs to be told. NPCA will be participating in several events this week, including hosting a panel at the Human Rights Conference and participating in the Pride March. If you’ll be in New York City and want to march with us to mark this historic anniversary, please join us!
About the author
Timothy Leonard Northeast Program Manager , Northeast
Timothy is program manager of NPCA’s northeast outreach and engagement initiatives.