What should have been a celebration dedicating the raising of the Rainbow Flag at the Stonewall National Monument in Greenwich Village on October 11 at noon turned into another attack on LGBTQ people by the Trump administration in a week full of such attacks. When it saw the pre-publicity on the ceremony, the National Park Service under Secretary Ryan Zinke’s Department of the Interior worked to certify that the flagpole adjacent to Christopher Park was not technically on federal land so that no Rainbow Flag would be flying on US government property.
The National Park Service’s Barbara Applebaum, who arranged the permit for the event, dropped out as a speaker at the ceremony — her office citing a schedule conflict — and organizers of the event said in a release that the Park Service dropped its sponsorship of the event for which it had issued the permit to veteran gay activist Michael Petrelis.
Ann Northrop, co-host of Gay USA, who will preside over the dedication, said, “This is an unbelievably petty, sleazy, transparent bit of cruelty by the Trump administration. Evidently, we are so filthy to them and their right-wing supporters that they can’t even be associated with a few yards of rainbow fabric.”
Veteran gay activist Ken Kidd, one of the main organizers of the event, said, “This is emblematic of what’s happening in the country right now to LGBTQ Americans citizens. We’re being told at every turn — including Trump’s first decision to appoint Pence — that actions will be taken to make us second-class citizens again. The very idea that taxpayer dollars were spent researching a flagpole on a national monument when there are so many other things at stake in the country is an outrage. Some employee of the Park Service or Interior read that Newsweek preview article on this because Donald Trump’s name was mentioned by me. They are so thin-skinned and so bigoted that they were going to spite us and not let that Rainbow Flag fly on federal property.”
President Barack Obama created the Stonewall National Monument last year using his powers under the Antiquities Act. The monument includes Christopher Park across from the Stonewall bar and the Christopher Street block where the Stonewall Rebellion against a police raid of the bar took place over several days in June 1969. It is 7.7 acres in total. In order for the designation to be made, the city had to cede the land to the federal government, which they did after a campaign led by Congressmember Jerry Nadler that enjoyed the full support of neighborhood, city, state, and LGBTQ leaders.
Mindy Anderson, chief of communications for National Parks of New York Harbor, said, “The only federal property is within the fence line of Christopher Park and some of the gardens. The other area is of historical significance because of the history there for interpretation purposes.”
Anderson said that in the course of issuing a permit for this event, the Park Service learned that “the flagpole is not on federal property. It’s a separate monument to the first person killed in the Civil War. It has never been part of the Stonewall National Monument, although it is located there. The flagpole is not managed by the Park Service. We gifted the flag to New York City Parks,” which continues to administer Christopher Park with the Park Service.
“We always knew that the only area that the Park Service managed was the area within the fence line,” Anderson asserted. “The location of the flagpole is not on federal land. In good faith, because of working with the community, we raised the Rainbow Flag. So with our strong partnership with NYC Parks, we gifted the flag to them so they could continue to fly it.”
Anderson said she would be at the ceremony but did not know if any Park Service personnel would speak in Applebaum’s stead.
Maps of the monument, including those provided to Petrelis, do include the flagpole. And whatever other status it may have, it sits within the designated monument area — though not on federal land, the Park Service is now saying. On the Park Service website, the page that had the map for the Stonewall National Monument has been taken down.
Kidd said, “What we had planned with great people from the National Park Service was a lovely, small-town all-American celebration of our rightful place as citizens and of Stonewall’s rightful place in the struggle for equality in the USA. Our plans are to continue with that celebration.”
Despite the sudden kerfuffle created by the Trump administration, Petrelis, in a written release, said it “is a victory for our Community to have these symbolic colors flying majestically over our Stonewall, designated as a National Monument by President Obama, even as our LGBTQ brothers and sisters are under attack by the current regime in power.”
The right-wing Family Research Council indicated before Trump was inaugurated that it wanted him to take back the monument designation for Stonewall entirely. The new administration is currently reviewing presidential designations made in the recent past under the Antiquities Act, though no statement has been made about the Stonewall National Monument’s status.