Donald Trump cynically held up a Rainbow Flag with “LGBTs for Trump” scrawled on it during his campaign last year and has proceeded as president to roll back LGBTQ rights and appoint virulent bigots to cabinet posts and federal judgeships. So when the administration learned that the National Park Service was going to dedicate a Rainbow Flag at the Stonewall National Monument on October 11 — National Coming Out Day — the Park Service was ordered to withdraw its sponsorship of the ceremony, certify that the flagpole within the monument commemorating the Stonewall Rebellion was technically not on federal land, take the NPS flag down, and cede the Rainbow Flag to the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation.
What was intended as a happy celebration brought out the spirit of the Stonewall Rebellion as speakers at the dedication protested the anti-LGBTQ bigotry of the administration in Washington.
As more than 100 activists gathered at noon, Tom Viola, longtime executive director of Broadway Cares/ Equity Fights AIDS, which funded the event, said, “It’s a shame that on what is an extraordinary day that behind the scenes it descended into a nasty fight that reflects the vindictiveness that is at the top of the food chain, which is the White House. But all told, a great day for the LGBT community. We will prevail.”
Administration scrambles to ensure Rainbow Colors don’t fly over federal land
Veteran activist Ann Northrop, co-host of “Gay USA,” emceed.
“We’re here to celebrate the flying of the Rainbow Flag inside the Stonewall National Monument,” she said.
It had been billed as the first Rainbow Flag to permanently wave on federal property, but a Newsweek story previewing the event caught the attention of someone higher up in the administration. It included a comment from Ken Kidd, who coordinated the event, saying that the Rainbow Flag will be “flying on this national monument during a time when we have a president who is not particularly kind or loving to the LGBT community.” Kidd’s comment cited some of Trump’s recent attacks.
The administration insisted that the flag not fly on federal property. While the monument is 7.7 acres and includes Christopher Park and the block of Christopher Street where the Stonewall bar is, the only “federal property” is the park itself within its fence line. The flagstaff, erected by the city, the state, and the Greenwich Village Historical Society in 1936 to honor Ephraim Ellsworth, the “first man of his rank killed” in the Civil War, is still city property. (On the Park Service website, the page that had the map for the Stonewall National Monument has been taken down.)
The Park Service’s Barbara Applebaum, who had coordinated the ceremony for the NPS and was scheduled to speak, withdrew on Tuesday in the wake of the kerfuffle created by the administration, citing a schedule conflict. Joshua Laird, commissioner of the National Parks of New York Harbor, ended up attending the ceremony and offered to speak or have Applebaum do so. Northrop said, “We told them we love the local Park Service people, but we’re furious at the Trump administration,” and Laird’s offer was declined, though Appelbaum was acknowledged during the ceremony.
The brief event started with Broadway’s Telly Leung, the out gay star of “Aladdin,” singing the Star Spangled Banner with some in the crowd taking a knee.
Northrop acknowledged the late Gilbert Baker, creator of the Rainbow Flag — who died earlier this year and was celebrated in a memorial march from the Stonewall — calling his creation a flag “that embraces everybody no matter who opposes us.”
Lesbian and peace activist Leslie Cagan told the crowd, “Thanks to everybody who came out — and who keeps coming out. I came out 45 years ago. I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve come out. It’s not something you do once and for all. We are still part of a country that doesn’t get it. We’re here. We’re queer. And we’re not going away.”
Kiara St. James, director of the New York Transgender Advocacy Group, led the crowd in a chant of “It is our duty to fight. It is our duty to win.” She invoked the memory of transgender and Stonewall pioneers Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, and warned, “If we work in our silos, we cannot bring down this system of white supremacy.”
St. James added, “If you are silent, they will kill you and say you enjoyed it.” She called for a movement in the spirit of Occupy Wall Street, saying, “It is not enough to come out, be enraged, go back, and post on Facebook.” Activism involves staying in the streets, she said.
Michael Petrelis, the gay and AIDS activist from San Francisco who campaigned to get the Park Service to fly the Rainbow Flag and hold the ceremony, said, “We’re fighting for inclusion and doing it fabulously.” He cited individuals in the community who have made enormous differences — Bayard Rustin, Larry Kramer, Marsha P. Johnson, and others.
“It will take people like you,” Petrelis said, pointing to the assembled, to keep making change. He dedicated the occasion to Egyptian activists who were arrested and face long prison sentences for waving a Rainbow Flag at a concert recently.
The crowd moved to the flagpole as Cantor Steve Zeidenberg of Congregation Beit Simchat Torah sang “Over the Rainbow.”
The Rainbow Flag has been up since September 28. But now it is owned by the city, and the parks department has indicated it would like to see a larger Rainbow Flag up on the flagpole.
The Stonewall National Monument will continue, though it is on a hit list of national monuments that the ultra-right Family Research Council wants rescinded by Trump — just as energy companies and developers want to see large tracts of preserved federal land lose monument status similarly granted by former President Barack Obama under the Antiquities Act. Trump has launched a review of recent federal designations made under that federal statute, but the Stonewall National Monument has not publicly been discussed by the administration.
When Northrop first learned of this week’s controversy, she 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.”
Kidd said, “This is emblematic of what’s happening in the country right now to LGBTQ American 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. 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.”
Obama created the Stonewall National Monument last year. In order for the designation to be made, the city had to cede Christopher Park to the federal government, which it did after a campaign led by West Side Congressmember Jerry Nadler that enjoyed the full support of neighborhood, city, state, and LGBTQ leaders.
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.”
Despite the controversy created out of Washington, 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.”