BY PAUL SCHINDLER | In an unmistakable sign of the role private philanthropy can — and may have to — play with federal funding threatened across a broad array of worthy social goals, Google has committed $1 million to support efforts at the LGBT Community Center to develop oral histories and other narratives related to the Stonewall Rebellion of 1969 that can be preserved and disseminated in digital formats.
The funding, announced at a press conference on June 18 — the beginning of Pride Week in Manhattan — will allow the Center to partner with the National Park Foundation (NPF), a non-profit advocacy group that supports the mission and facilities of the US National Park Service, to enhance the experience visitors enjoy when they travel to the Stonewall National Monument. The national monument was created in Christopher Park, across the street from the Stonewall Inn, last June 24 in an executive proclamation by President Barack Obama.
According to a written statement from the Center, the Google funding, which comes in the form of a two-year grant from its charitable arm, Google.org, will allow the 13th Street community facility and the NPF “to seek out and document robust, diverse narratives of the Stonewall Uprising and transform the reach of the national park beyond a physical place. The result will be a digital experience that broadly shares the story of LGBTQ civil rights, firmly establishing LGBTQ history in the fabric of American history.”
That digital experience, speakers at the press conference emphasized, would be available to millions worldwide, whether or not they are able to visit the West Village national monument.
The announcement of the Google grant was made at the Center by US Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, and West Side Congressmember Jerrold Nadler, and Schumer did not shrink from emphasizing the significance of the Silicon Valley giant stepping up in this political climate.
“This announcement sends an unmistakable message to Washington: that the America we know celebrates and cherishes its diversity; it doesn’t hide from it or fear it,” Schumer said. “Google’s generous pledge could not come at a more vital time. With federal funding under assault, Google’s investment will be a shot in the arm for the Center and its work to better the LGBTQ community.”
Schumer’s remarks went beyond the shift in funding priorities in the new administration. He also noted that there are “people in Washington who would see our country backslide on equality,” and pointed to more than 100 anti-LGBTQ measures passed by state and local governments since Donald Trump became president.
Perhaps most ominously, Schumer warned that an executive order from Trump has empowered the secretary of the Interior to review all national park designations made through the Antiquities Act – on which authority Obama relied in creating the Stonewall National Monument. Pledging to fight any effort to overturn the designation, the senator saluted those “brave New Yorkers who nearly 50 years ago taught this country the power of resistance.”
When the national monument was dedicated last June, Obama’s secretary of the Interior, Sally Jewell, and the director of the National Park Service, Jonathan Jarvis, were in attendance, as was Valerie Jarrett, a top White House advisor. At Sunday’s event, the federal government was represented by Joshua Laird, the commissioner of National Parks of New York Harbor.
Nadler’s remarks emphasized the sweat equity he has put into the project during the past several years.
“Over the past two years since I and key partners started the effort to create the Stonewall National Monument, I have been overwhelmed with the response we have seen, locally, nationally, and even internationally,” he said. “I am deeply grateful to Google.org for providing the funding and expertise to ensure that future generations are able to access this vital part of the American story.”
Glennda Testone, the Center’s executive director, emphasized the value of making the Stonewall National Monument a digital story available worldwide.
“The inspirational funding that Google is providing to the LGBT Community Center will lift up LGBTQ history on a global platform, further magnifying the Stonewall Uprising’s place in the overall story of the LGBTQ civil rights movement,” she said.
Will Shafroth, the NPF’s president, explained that $250,000 from the Google grant will go directly into the projected $2 million budget for “effectively launch[ing]” the national monument, which is expected to host a visitor’s kiosk on-site as well as the digital experience his group and the Center will help the National Park Service make available.
“The national parks community is grateful for Google’s support to develop education programs for New York City students — and eventually students worldwide — that focus on the important issues of equality, human rights, civil rights, and more,” Shafroth said.
According to a story in the New York Times, the idea for Google’s support of the national monument and the Center came from William Floyd, the company’s out gay head of external affairs for New York. Floyd was praised by several speakers at the press conference.
Eric Schmidt, executive chair of Alphabet, Google’s parent company, said, “The Stonewall National Monument is a testament to the brave people whose actions that night sparked the beginning of the modern LGBTQ civil rights movement. With our donation, my hope is we can capture and preserve their stories and, through technology, share them with the world to inspire all those who continue to strive for human rights.”
The work that Google’s donation and additional fundraising by the NPF will allow is expected to be completed by June 2019, when World Pride will celebrate the Stonewall Rebellion’s 50th anniversary in New York.
Among others at the Sunday press conference were Public Advocate Letitia James, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, West Side Assemblymember Dick Gottfried, and out gay City Councilmember Corey Johnson, who shepherded the transfer of Christopher Park ownership from the city to the National Park Service.
Among veterans of the Stonewall Rebellion present was Tommy Lanigan-Schmidt, who was 18 when police raided the bar. At last year’s designation of the national monument, Lanigan-Schmidt recalled the Stonewall of that era as “a dingy non-descript building that was like a speakeasy, run by the Mafia” –– but one, at least, where slow dancing, “a full embrace,” was allowed.
In his proclamation last year designating the Stonewall National Monument, Obama acknowledged the role the Rebellion and the location continue to play in the lives of LGBTQ New Yorkers.
“The Stonewall Uprising is considered by many to be the catalyst that launched the modern LGBT civil rights movement,” the then-president wrote. “On June 26, 2015, within moments of the issuance of the Supreme Court’s historic ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges, LGBT people headed to Christopher Park to celebrate the Court’s recognition of a constitutional right to same-sex marriage… Within minutes of the recent news of the murders of 49 people in a nightclub in Orlando, Florida — one of the most deadly shootings in American history — LGBT people and their supporters in New York headed again to Christopher Park to mourn, heal, and stand together in unity for the fundamental values of equality and dignity that define us as a country.”
©2017 Community News Group