As we’ve been writing about since before the new year, 2016 (August 25, to be precise) marked the 100th anniversary of the National Park System. While much of the focus has been on the grand national parks (e.g. Zion National Park, Glacier National Park, Olympic National Park, etc.), the National Parks System includes a much broader network of national treasures. For instance, there are 84 National Monuments—”historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest”—managed by the National Parks System.
This year, we did more than celebrate the National Park Systems Centennial, we also celebrated another historic moment because, on June 24, 2016, the Stonewall Inn in New York City was designated as a National Monument. The monument represents the first National Monument to recognize the history of the LGBT movement for equality.
Viewfinder Tip: Seek out National Monuments as you travel. Many of them represent our rich national culture and the bold individuals / groups who have shaped it.
A few years back, we wrote about the monumental progress the country had made in recognizing the rights of the LGBT community. In that column, we imagined what it would be like to share with the participants of the uprising at the Stonewall Inn just how much had changed since they had chosen to take such a bold stand. We wrote:
“As the police pour into the Stonewall Inn—one of the few establishments in the country catering to the marginalized LGBT community in 1969—we would tell the group that in exactly one year the events of this night will be celebrated with a massive parade. We would tell them that in 2000 President Bill Clinton will name June Gay & Lesbian Pride Month.
As the group refuses to act when told to show their IDs, we would say that in 1977, a man named Harvey Milk will become the first openly gay person to be elected to public office. And in 2013, he will appear on a US postage stamp.
As a drag queen refuses to prove her gender, we would say that in a few decades, a drag queen named RuPaul will have a series of hit singles and go on to host a wildly popular reality TV show about drag queens.
As tensions mount, we would tell the increasingly unruly crowd that in the years to come, a lesbian comedian will come out on a prime time TV show, that an openly gay man will seem to host practically every awards show and play a comically straight character on an extremely popular sitcom.
As a handcuffed woman screams to the crowd, “Why don’t you guys do something?” we would say that in 1983 tennis star Billie Jean King will become the first prominent professional athlete to come out.
As the police—likely as scared as the protesters—barricade themselves inside the Stonewall Inn while they wait for back up, we would let them know that in 2007 Theresa Sparks will become the first openly transgender police commissioner in the US and that, in 2003, she will be the first openly transgender woman to be named “Woman of the Year” by the California State Assembly.
As a kick line forms to taunt the riot police marching forward with batons, we would say that an openly gay man will become one of the most powerful business figures in the world when he is named CEO of Apple Computers.
As hundreds of protesters stand firm, we would tell them that in 2004, same sex marriage will become legal in Massachusetts. We would tell them that in 2013, our home state, Washington, will extend marriage rights to same-sex couples and, just a few months later, the federal government will recognize those rights.”
Now we would be able to add that in the summer of 2016, 47 years after that flashpoint event that kicked off the modern LGBT rights movement, the President of the United States would name the Stonewall Inn and surrounding area, including Christopher Street park, a National Monument.
“I’m designating the Stonewall National Monument as the newest addition to America’s National Park System. Stonewall will be our first national monument to tell the story of the struggle for LGBT rights. 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.”— President Obama, June 24, 2016
While we obviously can’t go back to the summer of 1969, we can now visit the Stonewall Inn with a renewed sense of pride and gratefulness for the movement that started there, and celebrate the individuals who stood up to oppression. We wish they knew just how historic that night was and what a monumental impact their actions truly made.
Is there a National Monument that deeply resonates with you? Tell us about it!