Long A Symbol, Stonewall Inn May Soon Become Monument To LGBT Rights President Obama may use his executive authority to declare the site of the Stonewall riots in New York City as the first national monument dedicated to the struggle for LGBT rights.
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Long A Symbol, Stonewall Inn May Soon Become Monument To LGBT Rights

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Long A Symbol, Stonewall Inn May Soon Become Monument To LGBT Rights

Long A Symbol, Stonewall Inn May Soon Become Monument To LGBT Rights

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AILSA CHANG, HOST:

The White House is taking steps to name the first national monument dedicated to the struggle for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights. A likely location is in New York City. That's where the Stonewall Riots sparked the modern gay-rights movement almost 50 years ago. NPR's Hansi Lo Wang reports.

HANSI LO WANG, BYLINE: You can walk through the same streets in New York's West Village where police and patrons clashed in 1969, outside a gay bar called the Stonewall Inn. The brick buildings that housed the original Stonewall are still standing. One of them is now a nail salon. But inside the other, you can still order drinks at the bar.

RICK MARK: Can I get another double Ketel and soda?

WANG: Rick Mark says he hangs out here every few weeks.

MARK: I come here because I want to make sure the Stonewall is never going to go out of business because it's important to our history.

WANG: LGBT history that Martin Boyce helped make on a hot and humid June night.

MARTIN BOYCE: It sounded like screaming and real cries of agony and desperation finally being released.

WANG: After years of police raids on gay bars, beatings on the street and arrests for homosexual acts or for wearing clothing that did not match your sex.

BOYCE: It was so much violence up to that time on the part of the police, so much discrimination. We bore it all, you know. We didn't think we could have a riot. But that night was so different.

WANG: Because hundreds of bar patrons and onlookers like Boyce fought back against the raid with loose change, glass bottles and burning trash on the night that sparked the Stonewall Riots. Since then, the bar has been named a historic landmark. And now momentum's building for a national monument.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

SALLY JEWELL: The National Park Service is America's storyteller. And we know that there are very, very important parts of our story that have yet to be told.

WANG: This is the secretary of the Department of the Interior, Sally Jewell, speaking at a recent public meeting in New York City about the proposed monument.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

JEWELL: That have yet to be told in a way where all American people feel their sense of place in this country, feel their sense of rights and can go to a place where that is all fused together.

WANG: A bill in Congress would designate Stonewall and the area around it as part of the National Park service. Reverend Franklin Graham, Billy Graham's son, and an evangelical Christian leader, has criticized such a proposal for creating a, quote, "monument to sin." But at the public meeting in Manhattan, dozens said they supported the proposal, including Melissa Sklarz, a transgender woman.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

MELISSA SKLARZ: Stonewall is like a pebble in a pond, with ripples that go forward.

WANG: Sklarz also spoke about the role of transgender activists at Stonewall, which she said some have overlooked over the years. Past attempts at memorializing Stonewall with plaques and statues have been criticized for not acknowledging transgender people and people of color.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

SKLARZ: Those that had seats at the table made sure that their voices were heard and their faces were seen.

WANG: For historian Lillian Faderman, author of "The Gay Revolution," this is part of a debate that has always tested the unity of the LGBT umbrella. Still, she points to photos taken that night that show that the crowd outside Stonewall was mixed, in terms of race and gender identity.

LILLIAN FADERMAN: There's no doubt that Stonewall is a symbol for the entire LGBT movement.

WANG: But she says there are many details we may never know for sure, like, who exactly was in the crowd? And who started the rioting.

FADERMAN: There are all sorts of mysteries still shrouded in Stonewall. And I think most of the people who were there are no longer with us. They can't clear the mysteries up for us.

WANG: It's also not clear when a national monument at Stonewall will be officially announced. But even if Congress doesn't act, President Obama could use his executive authority under the Antiquities Act, to declare a historic site just in time for pride month in June. Hansi Lo Wang, NPR News, New York.

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