Written statement by Chad Lord, NPCA Senior Director of Water Policy, for the House Committee on Natural Resources on July 24, 2019.
My name is Chad Lord and I work for the National Parks Conservation Association. It is so nice to be with you today.
NPCA was formed 100 years ago to be the citizen voice for the new network of public lands being set aside for the nation’s enjoyment. We have pursued our mission to preserve and protect national parks for future generations from the very beginning.
NPCA has grown in its 100 years. We’ve moved over time beyond just focusing on parks that protect large landscapes increasing our advocacy for sites that protect our shared American story. For us our American network of special places – which we set aside - must reflect Americans of color, women, Latinos, and people like me.
I’m a gay man who loves to go to national parks with his family. We like road trips and have visited a lot of national park sites across the country. If your experience at a national park is like mine, then you’ve experienced the National Park Service as “America’s storyteller.” There is something special about the way a park ranger can capture the essence of our country – explain grand landscapes and unique geology, our most inspiring people and important events.
Yet, even with all our travels, before 2016 something was not there. In all our visits, my husband, daughter and I would see other Americans memorialized, but the faces of people like me were missing. The people and places associated with my community were absent from our national narrative. And my husband and I began to really feel its absence as we began thinking about how our daughter would not see her family’s story protected by our parks.
The stories of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer-identified Americans were ignored in what we chose to protect, preserve and represent in our system of public lands. Until June 2016 there was not one national park site the American people set aside to tell the LGBTQ story. Of course that changed when President Obama created the Stonewall National Monument.
Why start with Stonewall? Because Stonewall is an important touchstone in the fight for LGBTQ rights. Before Stonewall, we lived in the closet out of fear. There was no out; just in.
But in the 60s things were changing. The African American Civil Rights movement was fighting against Jim Crow and discrimination. The anti-war movement showed people how to protest and resist. The beginnings of our movement had also already begun.
In 1965 the Mattachine Society picketed the White House and with the Daughters of Bilitis later marched at Independence Hall.
The first known instance of collective LGBTQ resistance to police harassment took place at Compton’s Cafeteria in San Francisco in August 1966
Following a violent police raid on New Year’s Eve in 1966, protesters stood in front of L.A.’s Black Cat demanding an end to police intimidation, humiliation and brutality.
Stonewall, however, marks a turning point.
This dirty, expensive mafia-run bar opened in 1967 and became a popular gay spot in New York City. It was the only club featuring unfettered dancing for its patrons with two dance floors and a good jukebox.
It was only a matter of time before something exploded – and something did on June 28, 1969. For the second time that week a group of police showed up at Stonewall. This time, instead of watching LGBTQ people walk away, the police faced an enraged crowd.
The homeless gay youth and the trans women were some of the first to resist. Their actions inspired the crowd, which turned on the police, who retreated inside the club to save themselves. Riot police were called in and the blocks around the Stonewall Inn were fought over for six nights.
The intensity and the scale of resistance were unprecedented and shocked LGBTQ people and our allies.
What happened was powerful.
It was unexpected and unplanned.
The police were astonished by what they witnessed.
The world would be astonished at the consequences.
We had stood up for ourselves and won!
Less than half a year later, New York’s LGBTQ leaders would vote to annually celebrate what had happened. Pride marches and festivals, first celebrated in New York, surged across the country and then the world. A movement - started in rebellion – stayed alive with that very spirit.
There is a lot to learn about what happened on that Greenwich Village block 50 years ago. The story of Stonewall raises challenging questions that confront us as we think about the obvious progress we’ve made. How the discrimination before Stonewall can be reconciled with the progress that came after and the struggles that still exist.
The creation of the Stonewall National Monument is a significant sign of how far we’ve come. It’s addition to the National Park System added a new voice to the “cumulative expression of a single national heritage” the Park Service protects.
But it’s a voice. There are many more out there deserving to be heard.
Not every place will become a national park site. The National Park Service, however, can and is helping communities across the country expand what is protected and preserved—helping to tell the many untold stories that are too often overlooked. The Park Service, through its programs and theme studies, is ideally situated to help with integrating our stories not only in communities across America but where appropriate at new and existing places on our public lands.
And not just stories about civil rights heroes like those at Stonewall, but the doctors, scientists, politicians, factory workers and the many others that have helped shape our cities, states, and nation. The Park Service needs continuing support to help it address the backlog of this work.
Thank you for the committee for hosting this forum and for elevating our stories and increasing representation on our public lands.
I am honored to be part of this conversation.
For More Information
Senior Director of the Waters Program, Government Affairs