Stonewall: Legal Protections for LGBTQIA+ Cultural Heritage
30 June 2020 8:51 PM | Kate Kaplan
A Heritage of Struggle
The Stonewall Inn, a small brick bar nestled in New York’s Greenwich Village, first opened as a gay bar in 1967 and provided a safe, welcoming respite to LGBTQIA+ Americans during the unease of the 1960s. However, police continued to frequently raid gay bars in an effort to expel the “disorderly” gathering of the queer community. Stonewall’s management used their ties to the mafia to obtain tips about impending police raids.
However, there were no tips on the night of June 28, 1969.
Armed with a warrant, Deputy Inspector Seymour Pine led police into the club. These officers attacked and arrested over a dozen patrons. However, rather than running, crowds began to fill the street in front of the Stonewall Inn. In what is now regarded by many as history’s first major protest on behalf of equal rights for LGBTQIA+ people, hundreds of people began to riot, throwing stones bottles, and objects at police. Over the next week, these riots grew to the thousands and are now regarded as an important fulcrum point for LGBTQIA+ rights in the United States; as historian Lillian Faderman has written, Stonewall was "the shot heard round the world...crucial because it sounded the rally for the movement.”
President Obama Declares Stonewall a National Monument
Less than 50 years after the riots began, President Obama recognized Stonewall’s important place in our national history when he took executive action and designated the Stonewall Inn as a national monument in 2016. In his speech, President Obama said:
President Obama’s action officially created the Stonewall National Monument, a cultural heritage site that is under the protection and purview of the National Park Service.
Legal Protections for National Monuments
The Antiquities Act of 1906 permits the President of the United States to designate sites of historic interest as national monuments, granting them protections under the law. The Act, signed into law by Theordore Roosevelt, is used to protect our nation’s most precious sites, from the Grand Canyon to the Washington Monument. In the case of the Stonewall Inn, designation under the Antiquities Act continues to provide the site with federal protections from vandalism, looting, destruction, and other actions that would harm its historic integrity, as well as access to federal conservation resources.
When President Obama created the Stonewall National Monument, he had to make a legal case that Stonewall fell under the Antiquities Act’s definition of an “object of historic or scientific interest.” He argued that Stonewall is nationally significant due to its “immediate impact on young gay men and lesbians from all parts of society,” an impact that continues to “outstandingly represent the struggle for gay civil rights in America.” In doing so, President Obama affirmed Stonewall’s cultural significance for the LGBTQIA+ community and the country as a whole, he assured that the legacy of Stonewall would be codified in our country’s cultural heritage for generations to come, a history that cannot be erased.
The Lawyers’ Committee for Cultural Heritage Preservation (LCCHP) is a not-for-profit organization that fosters the stewardship of the objects, places, and traditions that define us as societies, nations, civilizations, and even human beings. We are lawyers, legal scholars, and law enforcement agents --- but also anthropologists, archaeologists, architects, art historians, students, and others --- who champion preservation through the justice system. Through our educational programs and resources, we are also working to prepare a new generation of advocates, as well as educate the public.