BY DONNA ACETO AND PAUL SCHINDLER | On the eve of a National Coming Out Day ceremony dedicating the Rainbow Flag at the site of the Stonewall National Monument, the National Park Service abruptly pulled its sponsorship, citing a technical reading of the boundaries of Christopher Park — ceded to the federal government as a condition of establishing the monument — that found that the flagstaff where the rainbow colors would fly was outside its area.
That action was widely viewed in the LGBTQ community and among organizers of the ceremony as a smack-down intended to signal the Trump administration’s unwillingness to allow the Rainbow Flag to fly over federal land on a permanent basis. The removal of the National Park Service flag from the flagstaff and of the monument’s page from the NPS website only exacerbated the outrage.
Six days later, on October 17, Michael Petrelis, who secured the permit for the National Coming Out Day ceremony, and several other activists returned to the monument site to raise a second Rainbow Flag clearly within the fenced-in area of Christopher Park.
In a release announcing the October 17 flag-raising, the activists stated, “If the NPS is going to change the parameters for what constitutes federal land then we’re going to meet them on federal land but we’re bringing the Rainbow Flag with us. We dare them to remove it.”
Maps of the monument, the release noted, including those provided to Petrelis as he secured the October 11 permit, “did 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.”
When President Barack Obama created the Stonewall National Monument in June 2016, using his powers under the federal Antiquities Act,, the overall area designated amounted to 7.7 acres around Christopher Park and the Stonewall Inn. The city ceded a small portion of that, the territory encompassing the park, to the federal government to allow the national monument designation to go forward.
The flag placed within the fenced-in portion of Christopher Park is clearly intended as a temporary assertion of the right to fly the Rainbow Flag over federal land; it is fastened to a pole using twist ties. Still, the activists see it as a victory. According to Petrelis, Joshua Laird, the commissioner of the National Parks of New York Harbor, which has jurisdiction over the Stonewall National Monument, told him, in a conference call, that the NPS could “live with” the second flag that will fly, however briefly, over US government property.