NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — President Barack Obama created the first national monument to gay rights Friday, designating the site of the Stonewall riots in Manhattan where the modern gay rights movement took root nearly five decades ago.
The Stonewall National Monument will be anchored by Christopher Park, a small park just across from the iconic Stonewall Inn tavern, and covers a 7.7-acre swath of Greenwich Village where the uprising took place after police raided the gay bar in 1969. Obama said the monument would “tell the story of our struggle for LGBT rights” and of a civil rights movement that became a part of America.
“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,” Obama said in a video announcing the monument. “That we are stronger together, that out of many, we are one.”
“We tell the story of who we are through our national treasures, and the president’s decision represents a new definition of inclusivity for our national park system,” said Rhea Suh, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council. “Stonewall’s tiny urban park has a powerful cultural history — and using the Antiquities Act to declare it a monument helps us preserve for future generations the lesser-told story of the LGBTQ community’s struggle for equality.”
To herald the new monument, the video of Obama along with footage from the uprising is scheduled to be played at noon Saturday on the billboards in Times Square just as New York’s annual pride celebration is getting underway, the White House said. The declaration also comes as advocates celebrate the one-year anniversary Sunday of the Supreme Court decision legalizing gay marriage nationwide.
“I am proud to stand here today with those who have fought for equality, justice and love at a site that serves as a profound symbol of a painful past, a hopeful future and the transformative change that happens when New Yorkers take action,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio.
Robert Woodworth said he remembers watching news reports, but it was a period in history when they had to think twice before joining the riots.
“I was about to go into the Army, and I was gay. So it was very weird to be not out,” Woodworth told CBS2’s Christine Sloan.
All the attention has Stacy Lentz, one of the owners of the Stonewall, thrilled.
“It’s really honoring the Stonewall veterans, everyone that was here during the riots and all the activists and all the years later everyone who has worked on the struggle for equality,” Lentz said.
Designating the small area marks a major act of national recognition for gay rights advocates and their struggles over the last half-century. In addition to the Supreme Court decision, since the 1969 uprising the U.S. has enacted anti-discrimination protections, allowed gays and lesbians to serve openly in the U.S. military and seen prominent athletes and entertainers come out of the closet.
“This happened way before I was even born, and it’s amazing to see this is still here and now it is protected,” said Michael Conroy, a Greenwich Village resident.
The move also comes as the gay community comes to grips with a fresh and agonizing reminder of ongoing threats to their safety. In announcing the monument, the White House said the mass shooting at a gay bar in Orlando, Florida, illustrated that LGBT people still “face acts of violence, discrimination and hate.”
Gov. Andrew Cuomo joined gay rights groups in praising the new monument, along with New York lawmakers who had long advocated for a national designation. Last year, New York City made it a city landmark — the first named primarily because of significance to LGBT history.
“There is no more fitting location for the first monument to LGBT history than Christopher Park across from the Stonewall Inn,” Cuomo said. “Since 1969, New York has led the nation in the fight for LGBT rights. The Stonewall Uprising sparked a movement that we still feel to this day, and I am proud that we uphold that legacy by continuing to push for equal rights for all New Yorkers.”
“Stonewall is finally taking its rightful place in American history,” said Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., who had advocated for federal recognition for the site.
The Stonewall Inn has not been in continuous operation ever since the 1969 riots. In fact, the original bar went out of business in late 1969 – just months after the uprising – and the space was used variously as a bagel shop, a shoe store and a Chinese restaurant in the 1970s and ’80s, according to published reports.
The western half of the building reopened as a bar called Stonewall in the early 1990s, and the entire building was put into use for a new Stonewall Inn in 2007.
The Stonewall Inn was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1999.
(TM and © Copyright 2016 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2016 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)