Today, President Barack Obama designated the Stonewall Inn as a national historic monument, marking the first addition to the National Park System that focuses on the history of the LGBT community in America. The monument in New York’s Greenwich Village spans almost 8 acres including the historic Stonewall Inn, a legendary gay bar known as the birthplace of the modern LGBT rights movement.
“Stonewall will be our first national monument to tell the story of the struggle for LGBT rights,” Obama said. “I believe our national parks should reflect the full story of our country, the richness and diversity and uniquely American spirit that has always defined us. That we are stronger together. That out of many, we are one.”
On June 28th 1969, queer and trans patrons at the Stonewall Inn fought back against what had become consistent, tolerated and city-authorized persecution by the police department in what would come to be known as the Stonewall Riots. The Stonewall Inn, and the rebellion there, became the iconic turning point that ignited the long, arduous battle towards equality for all members of the LGBT community.
In the late 1960s, police regularly raided gay bars. These police raids were backed by laws that made it illegal to serve LGBT people alcohol or for LGTB people to dance with one another. Police expected women to wear at least three articles of clothing “appropriate” to their gender, and would be arrested if not they were not wearing them. In a typical raid, the police turned on the lights, lined up the customers, and checked their identification. People without identification or dressed in drag were arrested. It was also typical for the employees and management of the gay bars to be arrested. By 1966 in New York, over 100 people a week were arrested as a result of these types of police raids.
But on the night of the Stonewall Uprising, patrons resisted unjust arrests. Resistance was led particularly by trans women of color, including Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera. “This was started by the street queens of that era,” Rivera recounted. The situation quickly escalated: crowds gathered on the street and police barricaded themselves into the bar. Riot officers in helmets and nightsticks infiltrated the scene. There was so much outrage at the inequality of the LGBT community that the protests and demonstrations continued for almost a week.
The Stonewall National Monument is a crucial step toward creating a inclusive National Park system that recognizes all stories and experiences making up the diverse tapestry of American history. An unmutable part of that history are the experiences of marginalized and persecuted groups that have fought—and still fight—for equality in this country. By naming Stonewall a national monument, President Obama has signaled his desire to usher in a new era: One in which LGBT stories may no longer be erased from the annal of American history.
“Raids like these were nothing new,” Obama said in the video announcing Stonewall’s new designation, “but this time the patrons had had enough. So they stood up and spoke out. The riots became protests. The protests became a movement. The movement ultimately became an integral part of America.”