On the same day that the Justice Department and the state of North Carolina filed dueling lawsuits over whether transgender Americans have the right to access the restroom facilities of their choice, administration officials took a step toward designating the first national monument commemorating the gay rights movement.
Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis joined New York officials Monday night in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village to get public feedback on whether to make the Stonewall Inn — the bar frequented by gay men that was the site of a 1969 public uprising after police raided it — and nearby areas into a national park. About 250 people attended, according to participants, all of whom endorsed the idea.
“Do I hear unanimous support?” Jarvis asked at the end of the meeting, according to several attendees. The crowd called out in response, “Yes!”
Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), who convened the meeting along with Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), said in a statement that he is confident that President Obama will declare nearby Christopher Park a monument under the 1906 Antiquities Act. Nadler and Gillibrand have sponsored legislation to make the area into a monument, but that bill is unlikely to become law this year.
“As Director Jarvis noted in his closing remarks, there was unanimous support for designation at last night’s meeting from all stakeholders, including neighbors, LGBT and park activists, historians and Stonewall participants,” Nadler said. “I believe such a universal call to create a national park to honor Stonewall’s history bodes well for the secretary of the Interior’s recommendation and gives the president the mandate he needs to act.”
The proposal to incorporate Christopher Park and some of the surrounding streets, where rioting took place over six days, into the National Park Service has received significant support from members of the nation’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community as well as from local and state officials in New York.
The move has sparked some criticism from religious conservatives, such as Franklin Graham, president and chief executive of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, who posted on Facebook last week, “A monument to sin? That’s unbelievable.”
But in New York City on Tuesday, nearly 50 people spoke in favor of a designation during the 21/2-hour meeting, participants said, describing it as a long overdue recognition of the contributions that LGBT Americans have made to the United States. Stonewall is widely considered the launchpad of the modern fight for gay rights.
“There was so much enthusiasm for this park, and the idea of this park,” said Cortney Worrall, Northeast regional director for the National Parks Conservation Association, adding that Jewell and Jarvis did not say definitively whether Obama would use his executive authority to designate the monument. “People need to make their voices heard.”
Some of those who argued for the designation referred to state bills that require transgender people to use the bathroom corresponding to the gender on their birth certificate or that allow businesses to withhold services to same-sex customers. Formally recognizing a historic monument for LGBT Americans, supporters said, could foster greater social tolerance nationwide for people regardless of their gender identity or sexual orientation.
That the town hall meeting took place on the same day federal and North Carolina officials started a legal battle over that state’s “bathroom bill,” Worrall said, “says the civil rights struggle in this country is not over.”