Wednesday, May 04, 2016

In N.Y., White House poised to create
first monument to gay rights struggle

President Obama is poised to declare the first-ever national monument recognizing the struggle for gay rights, singling out a sliver of green space and part of the surrounding Greenwich Village neighborhood as the birthplace of America’s modern gay liberation movement.
While most national monuments have highlighted iconic wild landscapes or historic sites from centuries ago, this reflects the country’s diversity of terrain and peoples in a different vein: It would be the first national monument anchored by a dive bar and surrounded by a warren of narrow streets that long has been regarded the historic center of gay cultural life in New York City.
Federal officials, including Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis and Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), will hold a listening session on May 9 to solicit feedback on the proposal. Barring a last-minute complication — city officials are still investigating the history of the land title — Obama is prepared to designate the area part of the National Park Service as soon as next month, which commemorates gay pride.
Protests at the site, which lasted for several days, began in the early morning of June 28, 1969 after police raided the Stonewall Inn, which was frequented by gay men. While patrons of the bar, which is still in operation today, had complied in the past with these crackdowns, that time it sparked a spontaneous riot by bystanders and those who had been detained.
Source: The Washington Post, Juliet Eilperin, May 3, 2016. Read more...

An Inspirational Role

Stonewall indeed came to play an inspirational role in gay culture and politics in the decade following the event — but the riots were preceded by an increasingly assertive gay, lesbian and trans movement in the 1960s and were subsequently adopted as a cultural symbol initially in a somewhat fitful fashion before taking on the national and international significance they now hold.
Notably on the West Coast, many activists apparently responded to the news about Stonewall (which received no coverage in the mainstream media outside New York) with something of a yawn and an attitude of "What took you so long?" The call from New York militants to mark the anniversary likewise generated just a modest amount of enthusiasm, with only a tiny march in San Francisco in 1970 and no activities at all in 1971.
LGBT activists in San Francisco had every reason to take a while to see Stonewall as a useful symbol, since claims about the riots marking the start of "America’s modern gay liberation movement" didn't make sense from their perspective given the milestones San Franciscans had already passed before 1969.
For instance, LGBT San Franciscans had seen the first openly gay candidate in the world run for public office in 1961, had put an end to routine bar raids by early 1965, had staged the city's first militant gay street protest in 1966, had held a small (and little noticed at the time) riot at Compton's Cafeteria in 1966, and had founded the nation's first transgender peer advocacy organization in 1967.
So here's hoping the Stonewall Inn National Monument helps the public think about how this historical event became a symbol that in some ways obscures the more complex and dynamic history of the era. Stonewall will be a great place to ask questions about which stories of the queer past matter, who's included and who's left out.
It will be an equally great place to think about how the cultural symbol of Stonewall came into existence, how it has functioned, and how social change has actually happened for LGBT people beyond the folk historiography offered by the conventional tale of the riots in New York in June 1969.
-- Gerard Koskovich, May 3, 2016. Mr. Koskovich is a San Francisco-based historian and LGBT activist.

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