Historic Stonewall Inn Space at Risk Even as Pride Month Gets Underway

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Thursday June 10, 2021

Stonewall Inn
Stonewall Inn  (Source:Associated Press)

Stonewall Inn, the site of the famous June 1969 uprising that energized the LGBTQ civil rights movement, is facing the prospect that part of the bar's original space will become another generic business rather than a long-hoped-for community and visitor center, The Daily Beast reported. (Article is behind a paywall.)

Stonewall Inn has the distinction of being "the first national monument honoring the LGBT rights movement," as noted by The Daily Beast, a designation that was granted the bar in 2016. The space became a city landmark a year earlier.

While a namesake bar is still in operation in part of the original establishment's space, another section long ago became its own storefront and is currently empty. There had been plans to turn that space into a community and visitor center dedicated to the monument's historical significance.

But despite more than two years of negotiations between the owners of the space and the National Park Service and the National Parks Conservation Association, The Daily Beast reported: "The owners of 51 Christopher Street told Pride Live that they had one week to sign a long-term lease." This ultimatum came down right after Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland paid a visit to the space.

The Daily Beast also noted that the designation of the national monument does not protect the space from market forces since, unlike national parks, monuments receive no federal subsidies.

Philanthropist Tim Gill, who has been active in efforts to protect sites of particular importance to the LGBTQ community, "blamed the impasse at the historical site on the fact that many important LGBT historical spaces are held in private hands, and are therefore seen as potentially lucrative bargaining chips in negotiations over locations of extreme historical and sentimental value to the community."

"It shows how easily we can be exploited to protect our own story," Gill summarized.

Stonewall Inn is unique in how the 1969 uprising that erupted at the bar galvanized the long, arduous civil rights push that has, over the past half-century, seen the LGBTQ community achieve significant legal and social gains. The fact that June is Pride Month is no coincidence.

The COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on businesses — which has been keenly felt by LGTBQ bars, which have been in decline since even before the pandemic — has worsened matters. Last month, the New York Times reported that Stonewall Inn, like other establishments, had to close its doors due to public health concerns around the virus.

"The lights are out, the doors are locked and the metaphorical pews are empty," the publication reported at the time. "But the bills — rent, insurance, utilities and more — keep piling up."

Stonewall Inn co-owner Stacy Lentz told the Times: "It is just horrific. Stonewall is one of our original safe spaces."

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.