The United States has 122 federally protected areas called national monuments. The Antiquities Act of 1906 authorizes the President to proclaim “historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest” as national monuments.
The first national monument, Devil’s Tower in Wyoming, was given the honor by President Theodore Roosevelt on September 24, 1906. Since then every president except Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush has created one or more national monuments. President Barack Obama has created or expanded 24 monuments; the most of any president.
There are national monuments in 30 states and several territories. They include such natural and historic landmarks as the Canyon de Chelly (Arizona); Castillo de San Marcos (Florida); George Washington’s Birthplace (Virginia); Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad (Maryland); Fort Sumter (South Carolina); Little Big Horn Battlefield (Montana); and the Statue of Liberty (New York and New Jersey). National monuments do not have to be “monumental” to qualify.
Recent additions include significant places in the history of African-Americans (Charles Young Buffalo Soldiers House, Ohio); Japanese-Americans (Honouliuli Internment Camp, Hawaii); Mexican-Americans (Cesar Chavez House, California); American labor (Pullman, Illinois); and American Women (Belmont-Paul House, Washington, DC).
The Stonewall Inn, located at 51-53 Christopher Street in Greenwich Village, New York, certainly qualifies as a national monument. Though LGBT resistance in America pre-dates the Stonewall Riots of 1969 - queers revolted at Cooper’s Donuts in Los Angeles in 1959 and at Compton’s Cafeteria in San Francisco in 1966, just to name two - the Stonewall Uprising led to a new demand for LGBT rights and equality, not only in the U.S. but around the world. The Stonewall Inn closed after the riots and the locale was occupied by various businesses; it was a bagel shop when I visited the site in 1977. In 1990 a bar called “Stonewall” opened at 53 Christopher Street. It became the Stonewall Inn in 2007, and became a popular photo op for LGBT tourists. Stonewall was named a National Historic Landmark in 2000 and a New York City Landmark in 2015.
On June 24, 2016, President Obama proclaimed the Stonewall National Monument; the first one honoring the LGBT rights movement. According to a statement issued by the White House, “President Obama designated a new national monument at the historic site of the Stonewall Uprising in New York City to honor the broad LGBT equality movement. The new ‘Stonewall National Monument’ will protect the area where, on June 28, 1969, a community’s uprising in response to a police raid sparked the modern LGBT civil rights movement in the United States.” The Stonewall National Monument consists of 7.7 acres of real estate in the West Village and includes the Stonewall Inn, the nearby Christopher Park, and some surrounding areas. The dedication of Stonewall National Monument took on special significance following the recent massacre of 49 LGBT people and supportive straights at the Pulse night club in Orlando. The National Park Foundation plans to raise $2 million to build a ranger station, a visitor center and interpretive exhibits for the Stonewall National Monument.
The Stonewall National Monument is an important and long-awaited addition to our list of national monuments. It proclaims that the fight for LGBT rights and equality is a major part of our American history; one which deserves a place alongside the struggles of Native Americans, African Americans, Latin Americans, American women, American labor and other groups.
Justin Flippen, the openly gay “People’s Commissioner” of Wilton Manors (itself an LGBT landmark) called “the designation of Stonewall National Monument an important acknowledgment and incorporation of the LGBT civil rights movement and the contribution of the LGBT community to the history and evolving story of our nation. In the wake of the Orlando mass shooting, the importance and right of LGBT people to feel safe whether in places of our own like a gay bar or out in public at a restaurant for a dinner as a couple or with friends is reaffirmed by the United States with President Obama officially designating the Stonewall Inn as the first LGBT National Monument.”
Located near the Statue of Liberty, the Stonewall National Monument reminds us that our hard-earned American liberties belong to all of us.